Art, Illness, and Resilience: Making pediatric patients, and the community, whole again – mind, body, and spirit

Untitled

Artwork created by a patient.

As a way to celebrate its 10th year, the Arts
for Healing program at Yale New Haven
Children’s Hospital (YNHCH) is presenting
an arts and healing festival. The Arts for
Healing Festival: An Exploration of Art, Illness
and Resilience will include theatrical and
musical performances, panel discussions,
workshops, and an exhibition of powerful
artwork made by patients who have participated
in the program during their hospital
stays.

Janice Baker, the coordinator of the Arts
for Healing program, which is part of the
hospital’s Child Life department, spoke recently
with The Arts Paper about the Arts
for Healing program and the festival, which
will take place Oct. 2-6 and is being presented
by Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital
and Collective Consciousness Theatre.

“We wanted to showcase the program,”
Baker said. “We need to get the word out
that we’re here. This is also a chance to
shine a light on arts and health.

Untitled

A performance of How to Break.
Image courtesy of Arts for Healing.

“This is an important landmark for us
because it’s our 10th anniversary of the
Arts for Healing program, which is funded
through philanthropy,” Baker explained.
“Sustaining the program is challenging, the
health-care market is changing. A program
like ours is seen by some as peripheral, but
for us working in the field, we see how important
it is for patients and their emotional
health and healing.”

Through the festival, event-goers will
learn about the benefits of arts in the medical
setting in a broad sense, and, specifically,
about all of the important work being
done through the Arts for Healing program
at YNHCH, which includes a staff of both
art and music therapists and professional
artists, something that makes it unique.
These artists in residence include
poet/playwright/lyricist Aaron Jafferis and
videographer/educator Evangelos “Laki”
Vazakas.

Poet Ekiwah Alder-Belendez. Image courtesy of Blue Flower Arts

Poet Ekiwah Alder-Belendez.
Image courtesy of Blue Flower Arts

Untitled

Artwork created by a patient.
Image courtesy of Arts for Healing.

“Our main goal is to engage kids in self expression,”
Baker said of the program.
“Through that, they have more control over
themselves and their environment, which
helps them to cope while in the hospital.”
Examples of artwork made as part of
the program will be highlighted in the Arts
for Healing Gallery, which will be open during
the duration of the festival. The exhibition
will include photo collages, poetry, and
videos, all made in single sessions at the
hospital by patients ranging in age from 1 to
21 with medical issues as different as
trauma caused by car accidents and cancer.

According to Baker, the program will be
showcasing these personal patient expressions
through the festival as a way to “really
get a look at what it’s like being in the hospital, through words and images.”

On the opening night the festival, Wednesday, Oct. 2, poet Ekiwah Adler-Beléndez explored the connection between art and resilience with a keynote presentation on the Yale Medical School campus about how his art has helped him transform and transcend life in a wheelchair. Born with cerebral palsy, Adler-Beléndez gives talks, readings, and workshops about disability, poetry, and life throughout the United States and Mexico.

“He is inspirational,” Baker said of the young poet. “He uses poetry to do whatever he wants in the world; poetry allows
him freedom, although he is restricted physically. It will be a powerful night. I look forward to it.”

Work by artist-in-residence Jafferis will be highlighted throughout the festival, with several performances of How to Break, a
hip-hop-infused play that tells the story of two young break dancers and their experiences with chronic illness, health-care, and youth mortality. The play is being presented at ACES Educational Center for the Arts by Collective Consciousness Theater, in collaboration with the Hip-Hop Theater Festival in New York City.

According to materials supplied by Baker, the play pulls from Jafferis’ experiences at the hospital and presents an opportunity for the community to engage in a broader discussion about the impact arts
can have on health and resilience. Panel discussions will take place after each performance
of How to Break.

The Riverview Opera Project, based in Middletown, Conn., is also getting involved in the festival. Individuals from that organization, along with Arts for Healing program staff, have been working with sickle-cell patients since June to create Bridging the Gap, a collection of musical-theater vignettes that will be performed at ACES ECA on Audubon Street in New Haven.

“With this festival we’re trying to bring together the medical community with the arts community,” Baker said.

One way she and her colleagues are attempting to do that is by highlighting existing connections established through the Yale Program for Humanities in Medicine like Yale Music in Medicine and the Yale Humanities in Medicine Student Writers Group.

“Yale is well known for its Humanities in Medicine program, which helps physicians to use their powers of observation through the arts to extract and understand the patients’ story, as well as deal with the stress of medical school, and then being a physician,” Baker said.

There will be a presentation by the writer’s group on Oct. 2, and a performance by the Music in Medicine group on Oct. 6.

Workshops will also play a role in the festival, offering attendees the opportunity to make art, a step meant to include self expression as part of the first-person experience so attendees can gain perspective on what patients are offered and join the conversation about art-making in the medical setting. The workshops will be free, but registration is encouraged. Overall, the festival aims to “empower our young people to educate others about living with illness and showcases the arts as an essential component of compassionate health-care,” according to materials supplied by Baker.

For information about Arts for Healing Festival: An Exploration of Art, Illness and Resilience events call 203-688-9532 or send an e-mail to ArtsforHealing@ynhh.org. A complete schedule of events is available at www.ynhh.org/events

Article by Amanda May

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