IAM Lab Hosts Inaugural Arts in Medicine Meeting at Johns Hopkins

Art therapist painting with pediatric patient

Healing through arts is ancient practice with innumerable applications in modern day medicine. Yet integration of the arts into contemporary healthcare has its challenges, requiring thoughtful cross-sector collaboration to shape and grow the field. With this mind, the International Arts + Mind Lab (IAM Lab) at Johns Hopkins University gathered a diverse group of researchers, artists, healthcare officials and Baltimore community leaders in October for an inaugural meeting focused on cultivating strategic partnerships and discussing the future of arts in medicine.

The IAM Lab hosted keynote Jill Sonke, Director of the University of Florida (UF) Center for Arts in Medicine and Assistant Director of UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine. Sonke described the transformation of the hospital experience through the arts that began nearly two decades ago, upon the recommendation of UF clinicians and staff members who turned to art as a way of addressing their own stressors and burnout.  The hospital department now employs 19 artists-in-residence and four creative arts therapists offering bedside programming and patient workshops in the visual, literary and performing arts.

Sonke emphasized the importance of the research underpinning clinical programming, where the triadic concordance between artists, patients and therapists can be studied with science. The UF Center for Arts in Medicine is home to a research lab with 30 members including faculty, paid staff and graduate students and has several studies running at any given time. Current projects include a randomized double-blind study of Music in Emergency and Trauma Medicine. This study has produced promising data that attests to the value of providing preferential music intervention as a stress and pain reduction strategy. It also includes a qualitative arm which outlines best practices for the use of music in trauma care.

Sonke also shared her team’s critical field-building activities that help to document, define and professionalize the practice of arts in medicine. The widely cited Florida Arts in Health Mapping Project cultivated concrete data on the landscape of arts and health programs in the state of Florida. It now serves as a template for mapping arts in health programs across the country.  Sonke explained that identifying and monitoring arts in health programs in a systematic way will advance the field by benchmarking best practices and providing supporting data for funding requests and policy development.

In partnership with the National Organization for Arts in Health, Sonke’s team is also working to articulate professional definitions and boundaries for therapeutic arts that will maximize value to the patient while identifying the necessary levels of education and training involved in their application. Sonke introduced plans for an innovative core curriculum and certification program for Artists in Healthcare, expected to become available within the next two years.

Lastly, Sonke introduced Creating Healthy Communities, an arts and public health initiative borne out of UF that seeks to establish evidence-based practices that utilize the arts for public health promotion and communication. The initiative brings together stakeholders across the country to focus on translating research and knowledge into practice and public policy.

The IAM Lab meeting emulated this concept of cross-sector collaboration and knowledge sharing, with multiple representatives from Florida and DC, along with Baltimore-based leaders presenting their programming. The Baltimore Museum of Art runs The Art of Examination:  Grand Rounds at the BMA, a program that brings med school and nursing students into the gallery to carefully observe and describe art and listen to their colleagues’ interpretations. The program is designed to foster greater empathy and consideration of the human condition, improving future clinicians’ bedside manner, observational skills and quality of care. Representatives from Hopkins, including the Peabody Center for Music and Medicine and Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, shared innovative strategies to help patients. Patrice Brylske, Director of Child Life Services at the Children’s Center, reviewed the hospital’s Healing Arts Program, which offers a closed-circuit children’s TV channel that includes a kid-produced show and interactive programming to create a virtual playroom for pediatric patients in isolation. Bill O’Brien, Senior Advisor for Program Innovation for the National Endowment of the Arts, along with art therapist Melissa Walker, discussed the latest work of Creative Forces, an exemplar for using therapeutic arts with military service members that has significant transferable implications for other populations.

Sonke, who presented an impressive body of work spanning decades in the field of arts and medicine, left the day feeling equally inspired her colleagues.  “It was exciting to witness the convergence of energy and momentum at JHU around the arts and health,” she said.  The IAM Lab plans to build on this momentum in the new year by hosting working groups to help facilitate research-to-practice work in the field of arts and health.

Written and reported by IAM Lab Contributor Juliet King ATR-BC, LPC, LMHC. Juliet King is currently an Associate Professor of Art Therapy at The George Washington University in Washington, DC and Adjunct Associate Professor and Research Scientist at the IU School of Medicine Department of Neurology in Indianapolis, IN.

Lead Image:  Courtesy of UF Center for Arts in Medicine

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