A New Kind of Therapy for Patients and Loved Ones

The Artist-in-Residence Program, part of the Arts in Healthcare Initiative of the University at Buffalo’s Center for the Arts, has been playing a strong supporting role in patient care at Roswell Park.

Painting a picture. Telling a story. Playing a musical instrument. Self-expression helps us feel more alive, spontaneous and in control. It’s no wonder, then, that creative outlets can be therapeutic for people battling cancer. In fact, studies have shown that patients who engage in artistic activities in a hospital environment tend to feel less bored, sad and anxious. The Artist-in-Residence Program, part of the Arts in Healthcare Initiative of the University at Buffalo’s Center for the Arts, has been playing a strong supporting role inpatient care at Roswell Park. Begun in September 2008, it is funded entirely by everyday donations made to Roswell Park.

The program has brought musicians, storytellers, sculptors, painters and other artists to work with children and adults as they undergo medical treatment. Over the summer, Artist-in-Residence Barbara Murak, a visual artist, decided to set up a long table just outside the chemotherapy wing on the first floor. She set out some white silk scarves and  water-based paints designed especially for use on silk. As outpatients headed to the waiting room, she invited them to take five minutes and decorate a scarf.

By the time their chemotherapy was complete, the scarf they’d painted hours earlier was ready to be picked up. Murak’s activity was an immediate hit—before long, nurses were asking her to visit their patients on other floors.

Artist-in-Residence Stuart Fuchs connects with patients in a different way, with the help of instruments like the ukulele and didgeridoo. Fuchs, a musician, explains that an artistic activity gives folks “control over their immediate environment, even if just for awhile.”