Art Heals Gallery installed at Roswell Park

Art Heals Gallery

Gallery will play a significant role in study exploring whether viewing artwork helps cancer patients heal

Does looking at works of art help cancer patients heal?

Answering that question put Khurshid A. Guru, MD, on a journey that resulted in the installation of an art gallery at Roswell Park and publication of the findings of a groundbreaking clinical trial on art and healing.

As the Director of Robotic Surgery and Chair of the Department of Urology at Roswell Park, Dr. Guru is someone known to make connections among seemingly far-flung topics. He saw the potent connection between the brain and the eyes through his work in robotic surgery, and wondered if what his patients look at affects how well they heal.

The question transformed Dr. Guru into a driving force behind the installation of the Art Heals Gallery at Roswell Park to serve as an in-house laboratory for a clinical trial he designed. He reached out to staff members of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery to partner with him on the innovative study, which he believes is the first of its kind.

He says the study focused on the scientific effects of viewing art, exploring whether exposure to a dedicated art gallery has any effect on the recovery of patients undergoing major oncologic procedures.

“Sometimes sickness can play life’s roll of film on a fast track. Looking at art, in my opinion, brings that feeling to a halt and helps each frame come alive,” he says.

Patients monitored pain, anxiety levels before and after viewing artworks

Art Heals Gallery
Artist: Dennis Bertram, Title: Valley

Guru and his team from Roswell Park’s Applied Technology Laboratory for Advanced Surgery (ATLAS) program launched the trial in March 2018, having enrolled 80 patients hospitalized for two days or more following surgery.

The team randomly assigned the patients to one of two groups — those that visited the art gallery for 15 minutes a day and those that didn’t. The participants completed questionnaires, reporting their levels of pain and anxiety, and their satisfaction with the care they received. Dr. Guru’s team then compared the groups’ answers.

The findings, published Dec. 29, 2020, in the peer-reviewed journal Annals of Surgery, confirmed what Dr. Guru suspected all along: Dedicated exposure to art was associated with improving the patients’ hope and mental well-being, and decreasing their anxiety.

Donations to Roswell Park through the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation enabled the study, and funded a portion of the art gallery.

Research included art museum staff members

Art Heals Gallery
Artist: Robert Lyall Flock, Title: Port Dalhousie Garden 1

Dr. Guru, the senior/corresponding author of the study paper, and several Roswell Park colleagues, including Zaeem Lone, Research Project Coordinator for the ATLAS Lab, worked on the paper with two staff members from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery: Joe Lin-Hill, Deputy Director, and Russell Davidson, then the Innovation Lab and Special Projects Manager for the museum.

“It was a great honor to work on this groundbreaking collaboration that – for the first time – sought to scientifically measure the physiological effects of exposure to works of art in the therapeutic environment,” said Lin-Hill. “Never before has such a rigorous scientific study demonstrated the wonderful benefits that works of art do in fact provide. The Albright-Knox is very pleased to be on the cutting edge of this fascinating field through its partnership with Roswell.”

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Art Heals Gallery grand re-opening planned

Roswell Park plans to hold a grand re-opening of the expanded permanent art gallery in the future. The gallery, located on the first floor of the hospital, will provide a quiet, calming space where visitors, patients and their families may view a variety of art works.

The published article “Art Heals: Randomized Controlled Study Investigating the Effect of a Dedicated In-House Art Gallery on the Recovery of Patients Following Major Oncologic Surgery,” is available here.