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Arts and Health promotes artistic environment at Duke Medicine

After undergoing its own makeover, Arts & Health at Duke is ready to revamp Duke Medicine’s artistic environment.

Arts & Health at Duke—formerly known as the Health Arts Network at Duke—allows hospital staff, University students and a range of artists and volunteers to participate in projects related to the arts in order to provide a creative outlet to patients receiving treatment and to improve the hospital’s environment. The program underwent a name and logo change this May to overcome the ambiguity of their old title and to broaden the range of opportunities the program can provide.

“Sometimes writing, listening to music, reading a poem or looking at a piece of artwork on the wall can help people manage their feelings, and express themselves or feel connected in some way,” said Elizabeth Von Brocklin, communication specialist for Arts & Health at Duke.

Program Coordinator Sharon Swanson said the previous moniker limited the scope of the program to three disciplines, whereas Arts & Health at Duke aims to incorporate a broader scope of activities.

“HAND, although a handy acronym, didn’t really tell people what we do,” Swanson said.

The program allows patients to participate in various art programs in order to ease the anxiety associated with treatment and recovery. Programs include the Eye Center’s touchable gallery, which allows patients with limited vision to enjoy tangible art, and the journaling session, which provides an outlet for patients to write about their experience in the hospital.

Arts & Health at Duke is working in line with numerous studies that have cited the physical and psychological benefits to patients, Swanson said. For example, in a study led by Nancy Morgan—director of the Arts and Humanities Program at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center—patients who participated in a 20-minute creative writing exercise reported having positive changes in their thoughts about their illness.

The program is currently organizing events for patients awaiting or recovering from surgery. The Duke Eye Center is organizing an art cart that will display touchable art for those awaiting surgery. Additionally, professional musicians who play in the wings of Duke Medicine will serve as mentors to hospital volunteers as part of the revamped musical students program.

Swanson added that Arts & Health also provides an outlet for artists and musicians to showcase their talents throughout the hospital. A visual arts committee is constantly reviewing requests from artists and donors who have works they’d like to give to the hospital, and Duke Medicine’s Chorus and Orchestra, composed of hospital staff, perform throughout the year.

“The hospital staff are our biggest fans,” Swanson said. “When you have a musician on the unit, it’s not that unusual for the staff to start dancing in the hallways. It’s really lovely to be able to provide that sort of service.”

A Duke student organization under the same name works in tandem with the program to connect interested Duke students with available opportunities at the hospital. Students can take bimonthly volunteering shifts at the hospital and contribute to a Holiday Concert that takes place every December. Along with volunteer opportunities, the group meets throughout the year to reflect and discuss their volunteer experiences.

Senior Diana Christensen, co-president of Arts & Health at Duke, attested to the success of the organization during her three years as a volunteer.

“A doctor once told me that the minute students begin performing in his unit each week, he notices a real difference in the ambiance, stress levels and attitudes of both the patients and staff,” Christensen recalled. “I’ve gotten feedback like this and heartfelt thank you’s from doctors and patients each volunteer shift I’ve put in at the hospital.”


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