Dragons are protectors, the young patient believed. So she envisioned herself standing next to a dragon in a giant digitally printed mural.
Another patient loved to paint pictures of elephants and decided he wanted to paint colorful designs on a real one.
Yet another wanted to gather all her artwork and publish it in book format.
Our Arts in Medicine Program gave all three young people the guidance and tools they needed to fulfill these artistic visions.
Since the program launched in 2010, it’s had one main goal.
“We want to help our patients feel better mentally, physically and spiritually as they go through treatment,” says Ian Cion, program director and artist-in-residence.
Giving patients creative license
Both inpatient and outpatient pediatric patients and their families are invited to take part in the program while they’re here for treatment.
Cion’s a familiar sight as he wheels a handmade mobile digital art cart that he describes as “a pair of giant iPads” around MD Anderson and into pediatric patients’ rooms.
He offers lots of artistic options. Patients can craft their own works of art, take part in ongoing art groups or contribute to gigantic murals and other institution-wide creative projects. Or they can select any combination of these activities. And they can go as modern or as “old school” as they wish.
“Technology is wonderful. But there’s nothing better than a box of watercolor paints,” Cion says with a smile.
Turning tears into laughter
Out and about Cion inevitably sees direct benefits from his work, no matter which project a patient chooses.
“I’ll walk into patients’ rooms, and even if they’re crying, in a short time, they’ll be laughing and engaged,” he says. “It’s really rewarding.”
Large-scale collaborative creations come to life
The Arts in Medicine Program’s large-scale works truly are collaborative efforts. Since Cion came here to start the program, he’s focused on developing projects that bring together our young adult and pediatric patients and their families. Cion believes in getting patients out of their rooms, if possible, and into lively areas like The Park and the Main Building’s observation deck.
“Our patients often are far from their homes, families, friends and schools,” he says. “I’ve found there’s a real thirst for community here.”
A variety of colorful, imaginative works have resulted from these collective efforts. More than 75 pediatric patients and their siblings designed a large digitally printed mural of 25 running horses called Light, Hope, Wonder that merged traditional artwork with digital art. More than 100 patients contributed to another mural, Voyage, that featured artistically created boats representing both the courage of patients and families and the resiliency of the creative spirit during times of crisis. And more than 300 pediatric patients created the Tree of Life, a nearly 8-foot tall sculpture composed of items including multicolored beads, bark made from hand-colored paper and leaves cut from decorated material. All three projects were included in the program’s 2013 show at The Health Museum in Houston.
Cion hopes there will be more large-scale, collaborative works to come. The program primarily is supported by grants, and as funding permits, he’d like to not only get more patients involved in these artistic projects, but also enlist the skills of other professional artists.
“Projects like these allow artists to do something that really matters and see the direct impact of their work. People connect when they’re here, and what they produce is celebratory,” he says. “I want to continue to grow and sustain this program and create even more of these opportunities.”
This article originally appeared in Messenger, MD Anderson’s bimonthly employee magazine.