The Art Is What Heals!

Posted by Ms. Joyce M. Bonomini, Mar 07, 2018

Ms. Joyce M. Bonomini

I am so honored to share as guest blogger about the Cincinnati Arts Association (CAA) Arts in Healing Initiative (AIH). Now in the middle of its fourth year, AIH is integrating performing and visual arts in medical and non-traditional settings. Its mission is to promote community wellness and encourage our community to explore the arts as an active part of healing and ongoing wellness.

However, I will admit that when invited to write, I questioned if I could give justice to the stories of these artists, and the administrators, medical partners, and participants of the Initiative. Then I remembered the lesson I’ve learned: even the developer of such a program should see herself as a primary participant, too. I’ve had to ask and answer every question, face every barrier, plan and discover the founding perspective: who will the program, and the art, impact? This present journey of mine has been trumped by the lenses of a medical team, a patient at the end of life, a veteran suffering from PTSD, a foster child feeling isolated from society, and an artist who, after uncanny engagements with their instruments and patients, shared with their friend about the day. First and foremost, this journey requires a belief that art changes lives.

When interviewing for my current position at CAA in 2014, the Development Director explained that they sought funding to develop an “arts in medicine” program. Inspired by an impactful visit to The Kentucky Center for the Arts, CAA pursued and received funding from TriHealth and ArtsWave. I was hired as the Director of Education and Community Relations in June 2014, and development of AIH began in August 2014 when CAA committed to a three-year minimum program pilot. I couldn’t have been more thrilled and determined for the work ahead. The first nine months was spent on partnership capacity building and developing programmatic mission, goals, strategies, assessment plans, and on-going training.

By February 2015, we had shaken hands with our medical partners: Veterans Medical Center-Treatment and Recovery Center (VA TRAC), UC Health and Hamilton County Child and Family Services (Foster Branch). We launched a twenty-week pilot schedule between April and August 2015, including two environmental play musicians and one instructional visual artist. By September 2015, nine more artists joined the team for more environmental play and instruction utilizing music, writing, movement, and visual arts. In January 2016, we launched Social Engagements and Interaction sessions to provide art as interventions to isolation for fosters, veterans, and caregivers. By Fall 2016, the pilot expanded to Good Samaritan Hospital’s Day Treatment Center and Hospice of Cincinnati (funded by Patricia Kisker Foundation). Our special projects include holiday parties, group sessions, performances, presentations and community dialogues. AIH started another journey working with two elementary schools with poverty and trauma populations in Spring 2017. Then in August, the program was awarded the Broadway League of America 2017/18 National Education and Engagement Grant to utilize the musical Waitress, about domestic violence, as the foundation for a women’s dance and writing residency. The 14-week residency facilitates the participants’ cultivation of inner creativity, feeding their ability to flourish beyond abuse.

Today through 13 contracted artists and one part-time staff coordinator, AIH provides about 100 contact hours per month, primarily in instruction and environmental play. Last year the program served 10,959 persons through 386 events at 31 locations. But the true impact is best told through the voices of the participants and artists.

None of this is possible without a dedicated team of gifted artists willing to explore their art beyond traditional scopes. These artists eagerly explore their creativity for the sake of nurturing those in pain, encouraging patient recovery, or assisting others in their moment of “goodbye.” The surprises they experience for the sake of their art and themselves, though, couldn’t be better told than through these selected shares:

“As I was playing in the Hospice common area last Sunday, a young woman invited me to come play for her Mom. Her sister-in-law was waiting in the room with four beautiful children ages 3, 5, 5, and 11. I asked the children if they would like to sing for their Grandma. ‘Yes!’ So we all sang. Grandma sang with her little grandson cuddled beside her in bed. I played several of her favorite tunes then each child played [my] harp for her. Grandma still cuddling her grandson said, ‘This is the happiest day of my life.’ I left holding her words and family in my heart. Such a gift. Imagine and Joy in the center of it all. This was another unexpected gift for me.” —Pam Jurgens, harpist, Midnight Rose Trio; Arts in Healing Initiative Therapeutic Team

“In these damaged times, this work feels world-healing. We have learned how to connect with a deeper part of ourselves.”—Pam Temple & Spencer Funk, members of Americana music group Wild Carrot; Arts in Healing Initiative Therapeutic Team

“Performing for CAA’s Arts in Healing Initiative has allowed me to find my purpose through the gift of music.”—Lauren Schloemer, fiddler/vocalist, Hickory Robot, LLC; Arts in Healing Initiative Therapeutic Team

After almost four years of trials, observations, surveys, triumphs, professional development, and a very timely reminder from the inspiring Jill Sonke, our greatest lesson learned is: “Focus on the ART!”

After all, the art is what heals.