The Healing and Transformative Power of the Creative Arts

I was delighted to be asked to write a blog post for Kids & Art. At the San Mateo County Arts Commission, we believe strongly that the arts can play a powerful role in improving outcomes for physical, mental and community health. Kids & Art’s unique programs that serve children with cancer, along with siblings and care circle, in the hospital and in the community, and use the creative arts to empower, encourage and create memorable experiences for children and their families have been lauded by grant reviewers and Commissioners alike.

The Arts Commission supports the diversity of the County’s arts and cultural activities to increase public awareness of the value of the arts in everyday life and to ensure the arts are valued for their contributions to the County’s quality of life. We do this through a formal grant-making program to support arts educators and arts organizations, capacity building and networking for local arts providers and artists, and revolving 2-D and 3-D exhibits in the County Center galleries.

This year the Arts Commission has awarded $86,500 in grants to 18 arts organizations, including Kids & Art, to make diverse cultural arts programs broadly accessible to residents of San Mateo County.

Personally, I have witnessed the transformative and healing aspects of engagement with the creative arts in my work with artists of all disciplines working in a variety of institutions: a Taiko master teaching drumming to deaf children in a state mental hospital; a fiber artist going to the homes of the frail homebound elderly and helping them design hanging cloth banners; a musician playing guitar and singing to a man in a coma (who surprisingly hummed along with the chorus).

Beyond our anecdotal knowledge, diverse studies have demonstrated the links between engagement in the arts and improved health outcomes. As Americans for the Arts, a national arts advocacy organization, shares on their Arts and Healing webpage:

Research demonstrates that creative arts in healthcare interventions can contribute to the following positive outcomes when services are integrated into medical treatment and community prevention and wellness programs:

  • Reduced lengths of hospital stays
  • Decreased need for multiple medical visits
  • Reduced reports of pain and anxiety related to illness and invasive treatment
  • Increased self-esteem and reductions in stress
  • Reduced healthcare-related infection rates
  • Decreased need for use of sedatives during medical procedures
  • Reduced levels of depression and improvements in quality of life
  • Decreased use of medical interventions covered by Medicare among the aging

[Taken from the 2013 Legislative Issue Brief: Arts in Health—Strengthening our Nation’s Health through the Arts]”

Two informative publications, also from Americans for the Arts, are:

Monograph: Cultures of Care: A Study of Arts Programs in U.S. Hospitals A strategic plan for advancing cultural programming in health care across the United States

Monograph: The Arts in Times of Trauma This essay suggests a healing and strengthening role for the arts in this altered world.

Americans for the Arts annual national convention this year will be June 16-18, 2017 in San Francisco. For more information and to register click here.

The San Mateo County Arts Commission is pleased to be able to support the work of Kids & Art and other organizations in the county that understand the healing properties of the creative arts, whether they work with the physically ill, incarcerated youth, or military veterans.

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