"Arts in Healing" gains support from healthcare professionals

Louisville, KY – While Congress considers how America manages its healthcare system, some art and health organizations in Kentucky are pushing to instill art into the healing process. As Kentucky Public Radio's Elizabeth Kramer reports, their efforts are increasingly gaining support from healthcare professionals.

At the Kentucky Center, Louisville artist Graciela Perrone is dancing flamenco for about 20 other artists.

Perrone whirls as rotates her wrists - her fingers elegantly furling into her palms. She and others here are being trained in the Center's Arts in Healing program. And they're learning from nationally known artists and administrators in this growing field. Today, they're working with Robin Glazer who gives Perrone feedback on her presentation.

Robin Glazer: This is probably the most appropriate form of dance that I can imagine bringing to a hospital. You know, you can do something very small at the bedside and make it really very big? Could you do that with even the most limited of motion?

Graciela Perrone: Yes. I encourage you to put your arms like this.

Glazer is director of the New York-based Creative Center. It trains artists to help people living with chronic illnesses. It also has artist-in-residence programs in 26 health care facilities. Glazer emphasizes that Creative Center artists aren't art therapists who use a medical model with specific goals. Instead, they help people cope and find joy in creating art.

Anything that makes the walls fall away, spans time, opens people up to a new experience is what we're going after.

She's seen first hand how patients feel better making art. But not all health facilities are willing to invest in these kinds of arts programs.

This is a hard sell for a community that's never heard of it before.

Sure, art and music therapy programs already exist in many hospitals. And schools, including the University of Louisville, train these therapists whose work has specific medical outcomes. But having artists in health care centers, like the Kentucky Center is doing, is different, says Jeffrey Jamner, who oversees this new program.

The intent of the program is to provide opportunities for patients, their families, for staff to encounter the arts, to have an artistic experience, that we believe will enhance their healing process.

That idea has made inroads at some health care organizations. This year in Louisville, Norton Hospital, the James Graham Brown Cancer Center and other facilities have worked with the Kentucky Center to have artists there for a short-time with funding from the Humana Foundation. Administrators say the artists helped lighten the often somber and stressful environments.

And there is some science that backs that up. In October, the Society for the Arts in Healthcare released a report detailing programs around the country and citing studies that show how art programs can reduce pain medication use, hospital stays, patient and caregiver stress and costs.

Judy Rollins, who compiled the research, is on the society's board of directors.

Ultimately, what we'd like is that hospitals and other health care institutions will recognize that it's an important part of health care and not just an add on and actually put it in as an item in their own budgets.

Many say that goal is ambitious, given limited funding in this recession. But it's not impossible. This kind of work is flourishing at university hospitals in Florida and Iowa.

In Lexington, the University of Kentucky is building the new Albert B. Chandler Hospital. It's set to open in 2010 with art work throughout and a performance auditorium. Michael Karpf is the executive vice president of health affairs and managing the project. He says he sees all this planned art making a difference for future patients here.

There is now data that suggests very strongly that in fact music and art can make people heal better and faster.

But, like others, he says some of the biggest players in health care aren't yet on board. So far, the university has had to raise private money because there are no public funds for arts-in-healthcare programs or for research about them. Even the Kentucky Center is working hard to find funding for its program.

But funding could be available if Congress acts on requests from Americans for the Arts. Since last spring, the national advocacy group has been urging Congress to request the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study about arts in healthcare and fund research on the subject.