Art program aims to ‘ease heart and soul’ of those with cancer
A pilot program in the Midwest allows individuals who are undergoing chemotherapy infusions to take their minds off their treatment by viewing artwork housed at a local museum.
The 2-hour, once-weekly program — offered to patients receiving chemotherapy at Genesis Cancer Center in Iowa — is a collaboration between Figge Art Museum, Genesis Health System and Living Proof Exhibit, a nonprofit organization that offers art therapy sessions and exhibits to celebrate the creative spirit of individuals affected by cancer.
As patients undergo infusions, they use a computer to control a BeamPro robot inside the art museum to get closer looks at specific works.
A docent at the museum is available to chat with the patient via the live video feed to provide information about the artwork and answer questions.
“Art is healing,” Pamela Crouch, executive director of Living Proof Exhibit, told HemOnc Today. “This program gives hope, and we want to do anything we can to ease the heart and soul of these patients going through treatment.”
HemOnc Today spoke with Crouch about the program, the benefits it offers patients, and the factors institutions should consider if they want to adopt a similar program.
Question: How did this program come about?
Answer: Figge Art Museum’s mission is to connect people to the arts. Our mission at Living Proof Exhibit is to provide the therapeutic benefits of the arts to people affected by cancer. This proved to be a perfect partnership. In 2014, we had an exhibition at Figge Art Museum that showed works created by cancer survivors. Our program grew and we began hosting a rotating exhibition at UnityPoint Health-Trinity Cancer Center that featured art created by cancer survivors. As we were doing this, Genesis Health System and Figge Art Museum connected. Genesis provided the art museum with a robot, known as Genie, with the idea of bringing the museum to those who cannot physically get there. Figge Art Museum had been working with the robot and trying different health-related ways to use it but did not come up with a standardized program until we connected with them.
Q: How does the program works?
A: A volunteer goes to the cancer center and asks patients if they are interested in participating in the art program. Because we get new patients all of the time, we provide a brief explanation of the program. A computer at the cancer center allows us to connect with the docent at the art museum in a manner much like Skype. There is a robot at the museum, and the patient can use the computer to move the robot forward and backward. The docent asks patients what type of art they are interested in, and they can take each patient through various galleries while explaining the art. We do this on Mondays when the museum is closed to the public. This protects patients’ privacy, and it is easier to maneuver the robot around an empty museum. A graduate student from Western Illinois University’s museum studies program typically is present at Genesis Cancer Center, so there is a multilayered conversation going on. I have seen patients light up and become so engaged that everything else disappears except for what they are seeing on the screen.
Q: How many patients have participated so far?
A: We average about four patients per week, but we are adapting and assessing times that seem to work best. We will continue to work with the cancer center and art museum to ensure that we find the right combination to be able to serve patients better.
Q: What benefits do members of the care team see for patients?
A: Patients have told us they look forward to coming to the cancer center on Mondays because they know they get to escape to Figge Art Museum. A lot of these patients are long term — they are at the cancer center for several treatments — but for a brief moment every Monday, they are not simply stuck in a hospital room. They are able to engage in art and talk about something other than cancer while they are receiving their treatment.
Q: What are the costs involved?
A: The overall cost of the program is $22,000. This includes an annual robot lease, wireless access, Figge Art Museum staff, a graduate assistant, program administration and marketing. The funding comes from several different areas. Living Proof Exhibit received a grant from Iowa Arts Council for this program. Figge Art Museum supports general program costs out of its operational budget. Docents and others volunteer their time. Genesis funds the robot and wireless access and allows Figge Art Museum to oversee their use, thereby demonstrating its commitment to the program. It really is the perfect collaboration.
Q: Would you recommend other institutions establish a similar program for their patients?
A: It is not easy, but it is so worth it. I am a cancer survivor and, after a while, my brain was so tired from all of my treatments wearing me down. If I had the opportunity to escape and had something visual in front of me, it would have been something to look forward to. Instead of having to go to the cancer center for treatment only, a patient gets to talk with the docents and volunteers about art, or they can simply look and listen if they do not feel like talking.
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
A: We are thrilled to be involved in this program. The hope is that, once we complete our pilot program with Genesis Health Care, we can work with other oncology groups and reach more people undergoing treatment. We additionally have our biennial art exhibition at Figge Art Museum, where we have about 50 pieces of artwork created by cancer survivors. Our ultimate hope is that, by 2020, we can offer the exhibition to people who cannot physically come to the art exhibit. – by Jennifer Southall
For more information:
Pamela Crouch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclosure: Crouch reports no relevant financial disclosures.