CREATIVE PEAKS: Art Heals

By on July 12, 2016

St. John’s Medical Center launches new public art program.

Among the art that will hang to heal at the hospital is Mountain Town by Virginia Moore.

Among the art that will hang to heal at the hospital is Mountain Town by Virginia Moore.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Nearly half of all hospitals in the United States have arts programs as part of their goals to serve patient needs. Now, with the leadership of hospital foundation vice president Jennifer Simon, St. John’s Medical Center has joined the ranks. A reception next week celebrates the new Art and Healing program.

“More than just being pretty or sounding nice, art and music are modalities that can make your healing go better and faster,” Simon said.

The hospital’s new Art and Healing program is founded on research that shows the positive impact art can have on a patient’s healing process. Simon cites a landmark study that showed that people who had a view of nature from their hospital room healed faster and with fewer pain medications than patients with no view. Follow up studies were similarly conducted on patients that had calming art available to look at. They too healed quicker.

“There is evidence that breast cancer patients who are in the presence of inspiring art report less anxiety when they are receiving chemo,” Simon said.

The reputable Cleveland Clinic, which has an extensive art collection, recently found that more than 60 percent of its patients reported a reduction in stress because of the hospital’s contemporary art collection. A 1993 study with postoperative heart patients in Sweden found that exposing heart surgery patients in intensive care units to pictures of nature improved their outcomes.

The national organization Center for Health Design has found that art makes patients and staff feel better. It also provides a positive distraction, makes the hospital seem less intimidating, reduces stress, and can serve as wayfinding landmarks.

Not only are there direct benefits to patients’ conditions from seeing art, there are system-wide benefits for health care facilities.

Senior Fellow with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement Blair L. Sadler has said, “I am optimistic that promising new research will show these programs will reap the additional benefits of shorter hospital stays, less medication, and fewer complications—potentially saving our healthcare system significant dollars, annually.”

Pilot program takes off

Simon had the data and passion, but did not have access to the large budget typical of a major hospital to work with when launching the program. But she did have an art committee already in place, and a background in the arts herself.

“There was a lot of serendipity involved,” she said. “It just so happened that I landed here and there was an art program that needed some attention.”

Because Simon was starting with a small budget and a lot of wall space, especially in the professional office building, she decided to partner with local organizations to curate the walls.

Center for the Arts’ Art in Public Spaces coordinator Carrie Richer helped bring a show by Alissa Davies to the corridor near Dr. Tom Pockat’s office. Davies’ show is about the early years of motherhood, and she liked the idea of having the artwork near her pediatrician’s office.

“I am interested and passionate about using creativity to explore my personal journey—the twists and turns of life—as well as how art can give voice to others’ stories,” Davies said. “Healing is at the heart of my art process.”

Noted professor of integrative medicine Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen has said that art and healing overlap just as Davies experienced. “At the deepest level, the creative process and the healing process arise from a single source,” Remen said.

Another community partner is the Wyoming Council for the Humanities, which brought the photo-documentary work of Anne Muller. Simon also worked with the author of this column in her other role as director of Daly Projects to bring the aerial landscape paintings of Virginia Moore.

“It’s a great opportunity to showcase local artists,” Simon said. “Fifty thousand people come through here each year. How amazing that we can put art in front of them and have them talk about it.”

Artist Shannon Troxler finds it personally meaningful that her art is included in the program. “One of my dearest friends passed away from cancer this past year. She and her friends and family spent a great deal of time in hospital rooms and corridors, mostly waiting,” Troxler said. “If my artwork can help fill those endless minutes with a meaningful distraction, spark a thoughtful conversation, or ease tension, I can think of no better purpose.”

Simon said that the curated walls add to the overall feeling of care at the medical center. “The art contributes to the sense that St. John’s is paying attention to all of the things that impact a patient when they come here,” Simon said. PJH

The reception for the St. John’s Medical Center Art and Healing program is 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 19 in the interior courtyard of the St. John’s Professional Office Building. Use Entrance E. For info: 739-7517.

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About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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