When school administrators and doctors realize the arts can help them do their jobs better, we should all take note.
The connection between the arts and physical health is one that’s increasingly appreciated by medical professionals. As research continues to show that the arts can play a role in healing, hospitals are taking note.
The University of Florida medical system has what it calls the “arts in medicine” program at its various facilities. Its music offerings are particularly creative. It provides piano concerts in hospital lobbies, singing workshops for people with Parkinson’s disease, songwriting workshops for individuals ages 60 and older, and, the one I’m most intrigued by, musicians on call whose job it is to perform at the bedside of hospital patients. Think about that for a moment.
In New York, the “Health + Hospitals” project curates one of the largest public art collections in the city. There are art exhibits and installations in the hospital lobbies and art upstairs in waiting areas, corridors, patient rooms and other public spaces. The managers of the program explain that regardless of the individual ailment, exposure to art both reduces patient stress and helps the healing process.
The Cleveland Clinic is perhaps the most energetic institution making a concerted effort to incorporate the arts into its conception of health. Last year its “Arts and Medicine Institute” celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Its four-fold program encompasses a contemporary art collection, art and music therapy, ongoing research into the connections between the arts and health and community outreach programs. It has more than 20 musicians-in-residence, thousands of fine art prints and original works, has published dozens of research reports and sponsored thousands of live performances throughout the city.
In a similar program elsewhere in Cleveland, the Canterbury Elementary School is working with the renowned Cleveland Orchestra to explore how a few minutes of orchestral music each day can help students cope with stress. Every morning at 9:00, everything stops, and students hear about four minutes of music played through the school’s PA system. Some classes sit with their eyes closed and listen, students in other classes can draw quietly; it varies by teacher, but the point is to let the music help with relaxation and focus. The principal says that it’s a great way to start the day because it re-centers everyone. Joan Katz Napoli, who runs the Cleveland Orchestra’s educational programs says that no school is immune from stress and anxiety, and that music can stimulate parts of the brain to offset those negative factors.
About 30 schools in the greater Cleveland area now use the program to start the school day. Throughout the United States, around 100 schools are doing something similar.
Taken all together, these programs testify to the fact that the arts are much more than mere entertainment.