Rx - ART

The Power of the Arts

La Familia by Roman AndradeHealth is defined as the condition of being sound in body, mind, and spirit. But many healthcare institutions over the years focused on the body, to the exclusion of the mind and spirit. That is now changing as more and more providers and individuals incorporate the arts into healthcare settings and treatment to bring the mind and spirit back into the equation.

La Familia by Roman Andrade Llaguno was purchased by DUMC in conjunction with Cultural Services' Hispanic Festival. It will be used as way-finding art.

Turn left at the picture of the fish is a phrase you might hear in the corridors of Duke University Medical Center (DUMC). Art abounds at the Center and "way-finding art" is just one of the many ways the arts are integrated into the healing process at Duke.

In fact, DUMC is a national leader in the Arts in Healthcare movement, where its Cultural Services program has brought "the power of the arts and humanities to people who are suffering and to those that care for them" (from its mission statement) since 1979. Janice Palmer, who started and directed Cultural Services until her recent retirement, is known throughout the healthcare world for her pioneering work in the field.

An early project of Cultural Services placed more than 2000 artworks by North Carolina artists in patient rooms and public areas of the hospital. Quilts appeared on the walls. Music and literature followed with a writer-in-residence, strolling musicians, and performances in the hospital courtyard, to name just a few of the programs. In the spirit of healing the healer, students and staff began meeting for weekly lunch-time roundtable discussions of literature (and have met every Friday since 1987). Artists are now often included in the design of new structures in the hospital complex as well.

Recent projects include multicultural festivals held in the hospital for staff, patients, and patients' families. Recent festivals featured Hispanic and Pacific Rim cultures, and future festivals will feature Middle Eastern and Indian cultures. A work of art is being purchased to represent each culture.

In 1989, Duke hosted the first national gathering to discuss the arts in healthcare, and since then the Society for the Arts in Healthcare has been established and has grown into a thriving national organization with 350 members, including arts administrators, artists, therapists, doctors, nurses, medical students, designers, architects, and patrons from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Europe, and Japan. The Society acts as a clearinghouse for materials on the arts and healthcare, presents nationally touring art exhibitions, publishes a newsletter, supports research on the beneficial effects of the arts in healthcare, and presents an annual conference.

In Spring 2000, the Society will launch a national Leadership Initiative, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), to help transform the healing environment. Hospitals, hospices, programs for persons with disabilities, day-care programs for older adults, public health education providers, and others will be invited to apply for funds to bring one of the Society's specialists on site to help develop arts in healthcare programs.

Janice Palmer may have retired from Cultural Services, but she has not left the field. She is coordinator of the Leadership Initiative and is one of the specialists who will travel to sites to share expertise. And that is fitting, because Cultural Services started with a study funded by the NEA to assess the feasibility of an arts program at Duke. It was not only feasible - it has proven to be essential. After all, art does speak to the essence - that part of an individual where body, mind, and spirit come together and where healing takes place.