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New Program Uses Creativity to Overcome Cancer

Family Matters - Fall 2010


During the summer of 2009, several patients from
MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital brought their artistic and writing skills together for a special project called Collidescapes. Their three-month long project required lots of paper, lots of glitter and glue and big imaginations, but in the end, they created a new city built on cultures from around the world.

From that initial collaboration, Ian Cion with Martha Askins, Ph.D., from the Children’s Cancer Hospital, were able to get grant funding for two years to begin the Arts in Medicine Program at the hospital.

Cion is the program’s leader and artist in residence at MD Anderson. Through the Arts in Medicine Program, his goal is to help make art a meaningful part of the lives of MD Anderson’s young patients.

“When I meet with patients, I try to find out their interests, so I can integrate art with their other passions,” says Cion. “We’ve made spaceships on paper, painted a floral masterpiece on a patient’s horse, and our next patient project involves a live elephant."

Cion says that one of the objectives of the program is to implement art projects that are grand in scale so that he can help expand the patients’ understanding of what is possible for them to accomplish, both as artists and as individuals.

“I have shown other patients photos and video footage of the horse we painted,” Cion says. “When they see the scope of that project, it opens up the possibilities for what we can create in collaboration going forward.”

Aside from fostering creativity, Cion uses his art sessions with patients to distract them from their time in the hospital, to set goals that parallel their treatment plans and also to encourage collaboration between patients on larger projects.

Cion is working with patients and their families using a broad range of traditional and digital media in the creation of large-scale, collaborative public works, including a15-foot tall structure called the Tree of Life. The tree will take a year to build according to Cion, and will "bloom" at MD Anderson this spring. In the meantime, he also is working with patients to design pajamas that can be customized and ordered for in-hospital stays.

Most days consist of Cion collaborating with patients in their rooms while they are in treatment , or in a range of "art studios" that he has established in various locations around MD Anderson, including the Robin Bush Clinic, The Park and at Kim's Place.

“It’s really great when you hear from patients who wants to come to the hospital because they associate it with getting to draw and work on their art projects, not just as a place for treatment,” Cion says. “That’s when I know they are starting to identify themselves more as artists instead of cancer patients. It’s an amazing transformation when that happens.”


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center