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The Arts Will Save Health Care

June 5, 2015

By Kendra Delicaet (@UHNOpenLab)

From theatre, to visual arts, music and dance, the arts are a significant bridge between the patient experience and healthcare professionals. The Art Heals Health | Health Heals Art symposium brings together artists, healthcare professionals and patients to celebrate the extraordinary practices at the intersection of the arts and health care. This inaugural event – a collaboration between OpenLab @UHNOpenLab, the Al and Malka Green Artists’ Health Centre and the Artists’ Health Alliance @health4artists – will provide a platform for sharing insights, setting the foundation for future collaborations, and building recognition of the value of the arts in healthcare with healthcare executives and policy makers while fostering network linkages through existing arts and healthcare organizations.

Art Heals Health Health Heals Art logo

History of art in healthcare in Canada

The use of art in healing has been a core tenet for many cultures throughout history. From the healing energy created through dance by the Saan Bushmen of Bostwana and Namibia to Canadian Indigenous societies where art, music, dance, and storytelling are integral to their holistic approach [1], art has played an important role in healthcare.

More recently art therapy has emerged as a hybrid of the disciplines of art and psychology. In 1942 the term ‘art therapy’ was first used by Adrian Hill, a British artist, who was noting the beneficial effects of drawing and painting during his convalescence from tuberculosis [2]. In Canada, art therapy was first seen in the work of Marie Revai (artist, Montreal) and Dr. Martin Fischer (psychiatrist, Toronto), Irene Dewdney (artist, London) and Selwyn Dewdney (artist, London) [3]. From these early innovators, the field of art therapy has continued to develop with the creation of training programs as well as associations supporting practitioners with one of the first, The Canadian Art Therapy Association, being established in 1977 [4]. Today, art therapy is used widely across society, including education, social services (shelters, correctional institutions) as well as healthcare (hospitals, community care, and in private practice). The practice of art therapy has also grown to include art in all of its forms.

The application of arts in healthcare, however, is not limited to therapy. There is neuroscientific research examining the benefit of the arts in brain function [5] as well as studies into the enhancement of well-being through health-based creative arts [6]. Art is also being used in medical and nursing school training to facilitate student’s creative expression and exploration of self-care and also as a medium to develop their understanding of the patient experience. Even medical images such as biopsies and MRI scans are being turned into works art.

Challenges faced by arts in healthcare

Despite this growing presence of the arts in healthcare and recognition of its healing benefits, the practice of the arts in healthcare remains a challenging field. The traditional clinical framework governing healthcare is often at odds with the arts due to differences in values, language, methodology and evaluation. While traditional healthcare practices are supported by quantitative, evidence-based assessment, arts achieve and measure output through qualitative methodologies; this dichotomy can hinder collaboration.

Funding for the arts in healthcare also poses problems. Emerging arts programs must obtain sustained operational funding at a time when hospitals are working to reduce budgets. Funding supporting arts in healthcare is available through various foundations and organizations. However application processes can be lengthy with smaller amounts provided and limited to specific timeframes resulting in no long term funding for continuing programs. Even large established organizations are encountering funding issues – the Arts & Health Alliance, an US-based, non-for-profit organization that has worked to promote the arts in healthcare since 1991 has had to cancel its annual conference this year “due to lack of funding and support.” [7]

#hcsmca and Art Heals Health | Health Heals Art 

A one-day event on October 28th, 2015, Art Heals Health | Health Heals Art invites patients, practitioners and artists to a showcase of artistic projects that have enriched the healthcare and art experience. The day will feature key-note speakers as well as opportunities to meet a diverse group of professionals and engage in experiential arts-based activities. We will explore and celebrate the remarkable work that is happening in health and the arts in Toronto and elsewhere. Our aim is to break open the silos and build bridges among the people who are pioneers in this work so that these innovations will grow exponentially and advance the patient and provider experience.

Open Lab would like to get feedback from the #hcsmca community as we prepare this exciting day. Help us brainstorm a meaningful panel. On June 10 at 1pm ET let’s explore the possibilities in bringing the arts more fully into healthcare, using these questions as our discussion guide.

  • T1: In what areas of the health system could the arts could be used? Examples of where it is already being done?
  • T2: How can social media be used to advance the use of arts in healthcare?
  • T3: What topic would you like to see for the panel discussion at the inaugural AHH-HHA Symposium for which the theme is Conversation?
  •  T4: What other types of organizations do you think would be interested in partnering to help support the arts in healthcare?


4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 10, 2015 8:00 pm

    Hi Colleen – sorry I missed your #hcsmca chat today (I was hanging out with my new grandbaby!) but I wanted to add that some major hospitals boast extensive art collections thanks to generous benefactors and grateful patients. The Mayo brothers who founded the famous Mayo Clinic hospital in Rochester, Minnesota “used art, architecture, and beauty in surroundings to address the spiritual aspects of medical care.” Art donors over the decades have included many U.S. presidents, King Hussein of Jordan, and lots of other wealthy patrons.

    When I was there in 2008, we went on both guided and self-guided art tours throughout the campus, including in The Plummer Building, their oldest existing building, opened in 1928 and now a national historic landmark constructed in the exquisite Art Deco style.

    The Mayo collection of priceless art would make most gallery curators green with envy – from Warhol’s Endangered Species to blown-glass by Dale Chihuly and Tiffany, 15th century Chinese pottery, Rodin sculptures or Joan Miro lithographs. Everywhere you look, there seems to be another breathtaking piece of museum-calibre art!

    Mayo also has a humanities program called “Arts at the Bedside” for patients and their families who can create their own masterpieces while in a hospital room. This started as a pilot project in 2008 and has now expanded to include music and creative writing at the bedside too. Here’s a video (2:20) about the early project:



    • June 11, 2015 1:34 pm

      Carolyn, coincidentally, I am going to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester MN next week to present at the Social Media Summit. Knowing now that they are such gems housed at Mayo I signed up for the tours that are being offered outside of conference hours. Thanks for the tip.

      We didn’t talk about architecture specifically on yesterday’s chat, but I would submit that space and its design also influences health either positively or negatively. So not only what is hung on the walls but the walls themselves.

      Arts at the Bedside – even the name is great. I’d like to find out more about the program and how it has evolved since 2008. Is it still running?

      Liked by 1 person

      • June 11, 2015 7:01 pm

        Oh, wow! Congrats on going to Mayo. It is indeed a magical place. (When I returned home from Rochester in 2008, I said to my family: “Had I not seen this with my own eyes, I could never believe that such a place exists on this earth!!”) When you go into the massive atrium of the Gonda Building, look up – waaaaaay up! – at the 13 Chihuly glass chandeliers!

        Here’s a link to their Arts At The Bedside page –

        You are SO right about architecture and space. When the late architect/designer/wheelchair user Michael Graves spoke at MedX three years ago, he observed that sometimes hospital architects design magnificent lobbies (big donors love big lobbies!) but truly substandard patient rooms.

        Have a wonderful trip, Colleen!


  2. June 12, 2015 8:40 am

    Thanks Carolyn. I’ll be sure to look up and look around.


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