Arts and Healing

Evidence indicates that participation in or exposure to the arts reduces pain, improves quality of life, and helps caregivers too. HHC has a variety of programs to expand the use of the arts in healing.

Harlem Horizon Art Studio

The Harlem Horizon Art Studio at Harlem Hospital Center offers art therapy for pediatric inpatients who suffer trauma, as well as for outpatients and community members of all ages. For more than 20 years, the studio has encouraged participants to express themselves by making art. The studio does not offer formal art instruction; instead, participants are encouraged to draw and paint freely and develop their personal artistic styles.

In the Beginning by Abraham Daniel, painted at the Harlem Horizon Art Studio, Harlem Hospital Center.

No one embodies the significant impact of the Harlem Horizon Art Studio better than Abraham Daniel. When Daniel was just nine years old, he fell from a three-story scaffold. He broke his spine and slipped into a coma. He was comatose for 33 days and when he woke up, he was bound to a wheelchair. During his recovery, Daniel turned to art and became one of the first patients to use the art studio. One day, while struggling to reach the top of his canvas to finish a painting, Daniel challenged himself to get up from the wheelchair. With hard work and the combination of physical and art therapy, he traded the wheelchair for a cane. Today, Daniel is still a part of the art studio, working with other victims of trauma and continuing to paint.

The studio was established in 1989 as part of Harlem Hospital’s Injury Prevention Program. Today, the space accommodates 15-20 participants per session. Patients’ work is displayed in the hospital and has also been displayed at galleries throughout the northeastern part of the country.


Big Apple Circus, Flip Side of the Chart

In 1986, Michael Christensen, co-founder of the Big Apple Circus, created Clown Care to bring the joy and healing power of the classical circus to hospitalized children. Today, Clown Care’s “doctors of delight” visit the bedsides of hospitalized children in leading pediatric facilities nationwide, including hospitals in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Miami, New Haven, New York City, Providence, Seattle, and Washington DC.

Clown Care has been a part of HHC’s Harlem Hospital Center for more than 20 years.

Along the way, Christensen realized hospital staff wanted to learn the strategies used by hospital clowns to better communicate with patients, families, and other health professionals. Thus began Flip Side of the Chart (FSOTC).

FSOTC is an interactive workshop that helps healthcare professionals develop sensitive observational tools needed to nurture positive patient and colleague relationships, improve patient compliance, and increase their own ability to manage stress. While the jobs of performers and healthcare professionals are different, the communications skills to fulfill those jobs are very much the same.

Successful hospital clowns have the ability to rapidly read audiences and assess environments, respond to subtle physical and emotional cues, create genuine contact, and give patients, parents and staff the feeling that they are there specifically for them. In short, the key is to be what Christensen calls “totally present.” These skills translate directly to the medicine.

The Fund for HHC has secured funding for a limited FSOTC pilot at one HHC facility and plans to begin the program in late 2012/early 2013. The Fund is actively seeking support for expansion of the program so that it is available to staff across HHC.


Music and Memory

Music & Memory (M&M) is a non-profit organization under the direction of Dan Cohen that brings personalized, digitized music selections to patients or residents with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or other cognitive loss. M&M has already worked with many facilities around the country to help them establish the program.

As part of HHC's M&M pilot, The Fund for HHC is partnering with HHC facilities to run iPod donation drives.

By supplying patients with iPods filled with their favorite songs and/or familiar music, M&M demonstrates the powerful ability of music to engage, lift the affect, and support memory retrieval, even in severely debilitated Alzheimer’s patients. Patients who previously were remote, disengaged and completely unresponsive remarkably become animated, tap, sway and sing to favorite rhythms, can answer questions, and hold conversations.

A film about the program entitled “Alive Inside” by producer Michael Rossado-Bennett, documents the ability of this musical intervention to help animate, organize, and return a sense of dignity and identity to patients. This film was recently previewed for an audience of HHC leadership and senior clinicians, and led to a decision to create an HHC M&M pilot program.

HHC’s Sea View Hospital and Rehabilitation Center is a 304-bed long-term care facility on Staten Island with a dedicated 38-bed unit for the care and treatment of patients with advanced Alzheimer’s and related dementias. HHC will pilot the M&M program on this unit to test its usefulness as a clinical intervention. A successful pilot would support rapid expansion to additional units at Sea View and at other HHC facilities.

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