Empowering Health, Creatively

Medicine is said to be an art. But can art be medicine, a health intervention? The short answer is, "Absolutely.”

So said the announcement for an extraordinary panel discussion I recently joined in the Creative Medicine Lecture Series at Brown University’s Cogut Center. And the proof of that statement? It’s in a body of medical literature that really does demonstrate the impact of the arts on individuals and communities.

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Back in 2016, Rhode Island did something unique, convening a statewide Arts and Health Advisory Group to make evidence-based policy recommendations. Two of the instigators were on hand for the Cogut Center panel—Sherilyn Brown of the Rhode Island Council on the Arts (RISCA) and Steven Boudreau of Rhode Island’s Department of Health—and they described how they connected on the topic and ultimately brought together more than two dozen researchers, physicians, policy experts and artists for the project.

As Sherilyn put it, the key recruit to the cause was the other member of the evening’s panel—Stacey Springs, a research expert with the Brown University School of Public Health whose participation was made possible by a grant from the Rhode Island Foundation. Together, we reviewed the challenges and discoveries that our eclectic group made, including how artists learned some basic research methods and, in turn, researchers began looking at their work differently. The essence of our work was to review existing research under Stacey’s tutelage, evaluating more than a thousand published studies.

The exciting thing about the convening of this group is that it represents an innovative approach to understanding and improving the health of our communities in Rhode Island, with artists as essential members of the healthcare team. Our next step is to make our work accessible through the creation of a website.

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For me, being part of a panel at the Cogut Institute was also a celebration of the 5th anniversary of ASaP. In November 2012, we gave our first talk at the Cogut Institute and made our case for the work of artists and scientists as partners. I’d like to thank Dr. Jay Baruch, our cheerleader from the beginning and again the moderator of the evening’s discussion this fall. His support has been consistent and invaluable.