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Artists work next to doctors to help with healing in hospitals
Nick Schifrin: About half the nation's hospitals include arts programming, and the number is growing.
One of the leading institutions studying how art can assist in recovery is the University of Florida's arts and medicine program, which offers its own degree.
Jeffrey Brown recently visited the artists in resident helping to heal. It's part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.
Jeffrey Brown: For nearly her entire life, 18-year-old Kinsey Bogart (ph) has come to the hospital three days a week for more than four hours at a time for dialysis attached to a machine which saves her life.
And here at the University of Florida Shands Hospitals, part of Kinsey's therapy also includes art. Today, she and fellow patient Andy Herrera Reyes are painting while undergoing treatment.
Sarah Hinds, Visual Artist in Residence, University of Florida Shands Hospital: We do painting, drawing, sculpting, crafts.
Jeffrey Brown: Sarah Hinds is an artist in her own right. Some of her glass-blown works are elsewhere in the hospital, and an artist in residence working three days a week with patients and families, including Quan Howard (ph) and his mother, Chantel Davis (ph).
Months after a stroke in March, Quan suffers from expressive aphasia, a communication disorder that makes it difficult to speak.
Sarah Hinds: Art and music have a way of taking us outside of ourselves, so Quan can get out of these four walls when he's painting this owl.
Do you like Sarah, working with Sarah?
Sarah Hinds: we have a good time. We laugh a lot, huh?
Michael Claytor, Musician in Residence, University of Florida Shands Hospital: It's escapism. It's it's a distraction, but it's a connection, most of all.
Jeffrey Brown: Michael Claytor is a musician in residence, performing for and sometimes with patients.
Michael Claytor: People are very vulnerable here. I'm always surprised by how many people are willing to welcome me into their room.
Many, many people, most people say yes and want music in these dire moments in what might be the most stressful time of their life.
Jeffrey Brown: We watched Claytor sing for Dave Darbyshire, a 68-year-old patient recovering from a double lung transplant.
Dave Darbyshire, Patient: He came over. I was at lowest point in my journey at that -- right at that moment. It was a game-changer for me, and it just lifted my spirits exponentially in a very dark time in that recovery process.
Michael Claytor: It's incredibly fulfilling for me. It's -- I leave patient rooms all the time in disbelief that this is my job, this is what I get to do.
Jeffrey Brown: That job is part of the hospital's arts in medicine program, bringing the arts directly into patient rooms, on walls and ceilings, in lobbies and spaces throughout. It began small back in 1990.
Jill Sonke, University of Florida Shands Hospital: When I came to Gainesville for family reasons, I discovered this little arts and medicine program was bubbling up at the hospital. And I had what really was my first life epiphany. I realized I could be an artist in a health care setting.
Jeffrey Brown: A professional dancer earlier in life, Jill Sonke began her work here dancing at the bedside of patients.
Years of study and practice later, with a Ph.D. in arts in public health, she is the research director of the program and a leading figure in the field.
Jill Sonke: No one is suggesting in arts and health that the arts can replace medicine or health care or other therapies or interventions. But the arts have a place in the sphere of whole person care. There's so many ways in which the arts can address things like loneliness and social isolation.
Jeffrey Brown: So, you do see, I mean, we are at a shifting point where this is becoming more normal?
Jill Sonke: It is. It is, yes.
So, we are at a moment where patients can expect to be able to engage creatively as a part of the holistic care that they receive in hospitals.
Jeffrey Brown: It wasn't always that way.
Dr. Michael Okun, University of Florida College of Medicine: Not only were those things not accepted. They were shunned. It wasn't viewed as a humane thing to do. It was viewed as you might actually be unwanted here in this scenario.
Jeffrey Brown: Dr. Michael Okun is a neurologist who has been with the arts in medicine program since he was a medical student. He says there is now an understanding that this goes even beyond the bedside human connection.
Dr. Michael Okun: Absolutely. The brain networks are changing. And so dopamine appears and the reward network. We see the network for memory, the network for facial expression, all of these things change. And as these networks change, diseases change. And as our brains change, our symptoms change.
This Parkinson patient can't stop painting, so there's about 15 layers of paint on here.
Jeffrey Brown: Dr. Okun is now chair of neurology at University of Florida College of Medicine and director of the Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases, where the walls are lined with art done by patients battling brain disorders of all kinds.
How integrated would music and other arts be into care?
Dr. Michael Okun: I think it's going to be a staple. I think it's going to be something that's expected, that you go to the hospital and you're going to have access to these things.
And we need to think about it not only just in terms of the medicine, but in terms of the healing. And we need to think about it not only in terms of our life span, but our health span. How long will we live and how long will we live well?
Jeffrey Brown: That can happen in many ways.
Person: We are looking to see if music can improve the experience.
Jeffrey Brown: In an interdisciplinary research lab, students and faculty study connections that could make their way into therapies.
Jill Sonke is also interested in what's known as social prescription, the idea that art or art experiences can be prescribed by doctors, just like medication. It's a concept that has gained traction in the United Kingdom and other countries, but not yet here.
Jill Sonke: So we really need to explore, what would a social prescribing model look like in the United States? And even that language can be a little bit problematic in the U.S.
Jeffrey Brown: I would think it would be very problematic for many people.
Jill Sonke: Yes.
So we're looking at models for the United States wherein access to the arts through a health provider can provide access to people who maybe aren't engaging in the arts yet or don't understand their health benefits. But we're also looking at a system wherein it can just provide direct access, where there's more arts and cultural activities available in a community.
Jeffrey Brown: A new initiative in Gainesville called SPARC352 aims for just that, bringing art directly to people, especially historically more marginalized communities.
Dionne Champion, SPARC352: Part of what we're doing is trying to provide activities and services and opportunities and access for people to get what they need as individuals to lead healthy lives.
Jeffrey Brown: Dionne Champion, who studied and worked as a chemical engineer before becoming a dance educator, is a research assistant professor with the Center for Arts in Medicine and co-director of SPARC352.
She led an opening event at a Gainesville community center, complete with a story circle, performances and art making.
Dionne Champion: Our vision of how this whole thing comes together is that we see arts as being at the core of healthy communities.
So, when people have the opportunity to engage creatively and the space to create, then cities and communities become unified. Then cities and communities become far more active, and the people in those communities become more engaged in their own community development.
Jeffrey Brown: The hope now is to use this as a model for similar programs in cities around the country.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I am Jeffrey Brown in Gainesville, Florida.