Medicine Cures the Body, But Art Heals the Spirit

Written by on August 1, 2014 in Art - No comments

The Creative Center at University Settlement


Artist-In-Residence Nikki Schiro helping patient create jewelry

The Creative Center, founded in 1994 on the belief that “medicine cures the body, but art heals the spirit,” began as a series of free art workshops for women with cancer. 20 years later, with immeasurable recognition in the field of arts in healthcare and the nonprofit sector, The Creative Center is proud to have hospital artist-in-residence programs in more than 25 sites in New York area hospitals, as well as 60 sites across the US through a national replication, including Bellevue Hospital, Englewood Hospital, Mt. Sinai Medical Center, New York Presbyterian Hospital, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt, Terence Cardinal Cooke Healthcare Center, and Woodhull Hospital. They also offer free-of-charge art workshops every day of the week, a training program bringing The Creative Center’s proven approach to arts in healthcare around the country, and an online gallery representing professional artists living with illness.

In 2011, The Creative Center merged with and became a program of University Settlement, the oldest settlement house in the U.S., expanding into the growing field of “creative aging”. This merge puts into practice what recent research has shown; that arts activities and experiences provide not only opportunities for artistic and self expression, but also measurable health benefits to seniors at all stages in the aging continuum, enabling them to live better and healthier lives. The Creative Center is now integrated throughout University Settlement’s senior programming.

Robin Glazer, the Director of The Creative Center at University Settlement, states they have four major programs: the Art Workshop Program, the Arts-In-Residence Program (AIR), the Training Institute, and the Art Gallery.

Art Workshop Program

The Creative Center provides daily free-of-charge art workshops to people with cancer and other chronic illnesses on a semester basis. Class curriculum covers a variety of mediums including photography, drawing, writing, painting, jewelry design, dance, acting, sculpting and is taught by professional artists and art educators.

Artist-In-Residence Program (AIR)


Artwork created by a patient and his wife while receiving chemotherapy

The mission of The Creative Center’s Hospital Artist-In-Residence Program is to bring artmaking experiences to patients, their families and staff in New York City area hospitals. Artists offer patients the opportunity to be absorbed in their own creative process as an antidote to the anxiety, pain and boredom that are often part of the hospital experience. The Creative Center’s Hospital Artists-in-Residence work at the bedside and in small group settings with men, women, and children – in oncology units, bone marrow transplant units, general medical/surgical floors, intensive care/respiratory units, hospice and palliative care programs, pediatrics, cardiology, geriatrics and dementia, HIV/AIDS and outpatient clinics – offering their patients the opportunity to learn about and become absorbed in their own creative resources as they meet the challenges of diagnosis, treatment and survivorship.

The program enables hospitals to offer their patients a multitude of benefits:

•  Relief from anxiety
•  Distraction from pain
•  Respite from boredom
•  A safe outlet for their emotions
•  Extended contact with a caring and supportive individual, which can augment the hospital’s patient support services
•  The opportunity to engage in creative expression, which may lead to a new appreciation of their innate ability to express themselves through the arts
•  An experience of mastery at a time when they have little control over their daily lives
•  The discovery that their own creativity may augment their coping skills by accessing resources they did not realize they had
•  Strengthened communication with the hospital staff, especially when patients’ artwork is displayed and the staff has the opportunity to interact with the patient as a creative and unique individual
•  An enhanced perception of the hospital as a nurturing and healing environment, raising patient satisfaction

The following are some excerpts from AIR logs that reflect how effective the program is and how it touches the participants at very tumultuous time in their lives:

“I commenced my morning with a new patient, a young with an eye patch. He spoke of being a pessimist but that he needed to be a pragmatist at this time. He was once a security guard but that now he’s just a landlord in a brownstone, living with his family. He chose a ceramic star ornament and was very specific of his design, blue border, white interior and then painted a sun on it with water underneath and birds. The water that he painted was turbulent. He asked me to paint the clouds and birds in light of his hands. I found that he has a rare cancer that has affected his vision and his hearing.”

“Although I had approached a new patient from Bangladesh who did not speak the language, he turned me down. However one of the nurses would not accept a ‘no’. She felt that he was harassing her too much with questions on his first day, so she “bullied” him in a nice way into making the ornament. We made the snowman pony bead ornament together. He and his family member got into counting the beads per row to get the image to come out right.  It helped him to stop thinking of his chemo. At the end of our work together, I was able to get a smile out of him. His face had been riddled with terror in light of the fact that he cannot speak the language and that it’s his first day.”

“My last patient speaks Spanish. I asked her if she’d like to do an ornament. She chose a ceramic snowflake, painted it blue and white. I showed her how to paint brushstrokes in a manner that is impressionistic. She placed rhinestones and then varnished it. Not bad for a first timer. She stated that she had been waiting for hours to see the doctor.”

“Harry was in and wanted to make a Valentine’s card to go with the box that he made. He spent some time picking out colors and patterns and told me that he wanted to make a floral collage on the card. He seems to have many physical problems including a trache, which makes it a bit difficult to communicate. He also has a problem with his hands that make him unable to use them for very much, but making the card made him so happy. He had a twinkle in his eye when he said he would write a message in it at home.”

“Janet was in with her mom this time. She had been in the cardiac ICU apparently as a result of side effects from the chemo she was getting. She has a nine-month old baby and two school age children and is now awaiting a bone-marrow transplant. She decorated one of the huge heart boxes with an assortment of orange-candy patterned papers. She relishes doing these things and is very careful and competent at it”.


Caring for the Caregiver: Staff Jewelry Workshop

An evaluation study funded by the United Hospital Fund resulted in the publication of the Final Report: Satisfaction and Outcomes Assessment of the Hospital Artist-in-Residence Program of The Creative Center. Patients responded to open-ended questions to describe their experience. The most commonly used words were fun, interesting, enjoyable, and nice.

Here are some of the comments collected from patients:

•  The experience made me feel better.
•  The artist was encouraging and helpful.
•  The experience was good, even though I was in a depressed mood.
•  I loved it even though my hands are shaky.
•  It is a pleasure to come here for a creative experience -  great assistance – all the materials were here for us.
•  It was a great distraction from chemo.
•  The artist inspired me and it was good to talk with her.
•  The artist’s visit was the bright spot of my day.
•  I appreciated the gift of humanity from the artist.

There were no negative comments recorded.

Training Institute

Training in The Creative Center’s approach and methods is given to artists and administrators from healthcare institutions around the country. They come to New York and are given everything they need to create “best practice” arts programming in their healthcare facilities. They then return home to design and implement a program tailored to their sites.

The next training, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, which has named The Creative Center a “Best Practice Site”, is scheduled for Sunday, March 15 through Friday, March 21, 2015. The focus will be on both arts-in-healthcare and creative aging. For more information, email Applications will be available on their website and by request in early fall, 2014.

Specific consulting is also available. Robin Glazer has trained staff at numerous institutions including the University of Michigan Medical Center and the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts.

Publications and DVDs

The Creative Center has two books available for purchase on their website. Artist-In-Residence: The Creative Center’s Approach to Arts in Healthcare offers artists and healthcare professionals a unique look at artmaking with patients and caregivers in healthcare settings. Still Life: Documenting Cancer Survivorship shares the words and photographs of twenty-five cancer survivors as they learned the art and craft of documentary photography to convey their experiences in survivorship.

A DVD is also available entitled Hospital-In-Residence Training. It is a two disc set containing lectures from physicians, social workers, bereavement counselors, artists, art therapists, writers, artists-in-residence, and participants about what to expect in starting a hospital artist-in-residence program.

Art Gallery & Sales

The Creative Center’s Art Gallery, a unique social enterprise, represents artists who are in treatment for, or survivors of, illness as well as their caregivers and those working in the healthcare field. Purchases of original art or reproduction rights helps support the mission of The Creative Center with 40% of art sales benefiting programs in public hospitals that can’t afford them.

The Creative Center at University Settlement
Phone: 646-465-5313/5314

By Thomas Hibbard
Creative Director, Med Monthly

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