What is Arts in Health?

By Alie B. Gorrie


Maybe you have had a friend or family member in the hospital or in a treatment setting who discussed programs like art therapy, music therapy, or even dance/movement therapy…but have you ever heard of arts in health?  Arts in health is a growing field in the United States that focuses on enhancing the healthcare experience through the arts.  


Practitioners of arts in health, often called artists in residence, are focused on facilitating creative experiences for patients.  As an arts in health practitioner myself, my job is NOT to serve as a therapist or process complex trauma with the individuals I serve.  I seek to use the arts to remind individuals who they are as whole people.  


Often, when an individual is admitted into the hospital or into a treatment center, they are given a hospital bracelet, their belongings are put in a plastic bag, and they are talked about as a diagnosis or condition rather than being talked to as a complex, feeling, creative human being. 


An artist in residence can stop by a hospital room and provide some art supplies, maybe an instrument, maybe a pen and paper…and these tools can remind a person who they are outside of the hospital.  Or perhaps you’ll find an artist in residence playing her violin in the hospital atrium, providing respite and comfort to hospital staff, caregivers, and patients taking their daily hospital lap.  Or an artist in residence can transform a wing of the hospital into an art exhibit…bringing joy, color, and brightness to an often intimidating and sterile place.  You may find an artist in residence teaching a mixed-ability dance class, or facilitating a theatre workshop for individuals with autism.  


Arts in health is different from the creative arts therapies, yet I believe it is just as important of a field.  These two fields can often work together, but it is important to understand their distinctions.  Birmingham is extremely lucky to have the UAB Institute for Arts in Medicine, a branch of UAB that utilizes both artists in residence and creative arts therapists to enhance the healthcare experience.  If you ever find yourself in the hospital, know that arts in health services are available for you.  There is so much power in putting the pen to paper or the brush to canvas when health circumstances feel out of your control.  Know that there are always possibilities for you to keep creating, even in the most challenging of times.