Hey, guess what? The mayors of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester, and Hudson, WI have issued proclamations declaring April 2010 "Arts in Healthcare Month". You can check out the The Midwest Arts in Healthcare website for a listing of events.

There are a few performing arts events, including a "Storytelling as a Healing Art" workshop at Plymouth Congregational Church on April 10 at 10 a.m. and a panel discussion on “art, community, spirituality, and healing” at Vine Arts on April 17 at 4 p.m. The schedule also lists the Guthrie Theater’s production of M. Butterfly as one of the events, which seems like a stretch, but okay.

The Arts in Healthcare Month culminates with the 21st Annual Partners for Health conference put on by The Society for Arts in Health Care (SAHC). The conference will have panel discussions and keynote speakers talking about ways that arts can be used in healing, and there will also be performances and demonstrations by artists.

The conference actually looks pretty good. Reading through the press release I noticed that there’s going to be a presentation by Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theatre talking about their Caring for the Caregiver program which helps healthcare professionals find expression for the stress in their work. There’s also going to be presentations by Kevin Kling and a play called Running on Empty about eating disorders put on by Park Nicollet Melrose Institute.

The society delineates different categories where arts can be used in health care. The first is as a treatment method in "patient care"—as a therapeutic tool to reduce stress and loneliness or to provide opportunities for self expression. They claim that research has shown that arts can reduce patient’s use of pain medication and their length of stay in the hospital.

The arts can also create a safer, more supportive environment for healthcare facilities, provide care for caregivers, and promote community well being, according the society’s website.

In 2004 and 2007, the SAHC along with Americans for the Arts and the
Joint Commission studied arts programs in healthcare institutions. They found that the majority of healthcare institutions invest in the arts. 73% display art on the walls, 48% offered performances in lobbies or other public spaces, and 24% offered arts activities in waiting rooms. Interestingly, In 2007, over half of the funding that healthcare institutions used for arts programming was from their general operating budgets.

Clearly, healthcare institutions invest in arts programming. The studies found that the main reasons for this investment was a belief that the arts help in healing patients, and also create a healing environment.

Drama therapy isn’t used as often as visual arts or music, according to SAHC, but there is potential. The 2009 Field Report on Arts in Healthcare says that of all the arts disciplines, drama has been “extremely effective in creating understanding.” The report states that not only can drama be an extremely effective education tool on health care issues (such as Pulitzer Prize winning play Wit), but it can be used as a treatment method. For example, in one study, participating in drama proved beneficial as an intervention technique targeted at cognitive functioning and quality of life issues for older adults.

For artists and theater artists, the statistical findings may not come as a surprise. Perhaps one of the reasons we are drawn into the profession is because of its healing effects. The good news is that as the arts in healthcare industry grows, it may provide more opportunities for artists to work in the field, helping to make the world a healthier place.