The Hippo


Apr 26, 2019








Active Ingredients Dance Troupe member Kaitlin Rooney with Lauren Maynard, a graduate (2014) of the New England College theater program. Courtesy photo.

Healing arts
Programs illustrate that art contributes to wellness

By Kelly Sennott

Surgery will never be enjoyable. Neither will chemo. Being deaf, blind, physically or mentally handicapped is challenging as well.

But many studies and local residents can attest to the fact that there are means of escape, self-expression and empowerment during such difficult times. The New Hampshire State Council on the Arts had one in mind when it awarded six Arts in Health Care grants to New Hampshire nonprofit organizations and programs last August.
In the eight years the grants have existed, people who benefit from these programs have been able to experience the difference a little art can make in the quality of one’s life.
“Many studies have shown arts can have a positive effect on the body and on healing,” said Alice Kinsler, therapeutic arts and activities services manager at Concord Hospital.
The effect music can have on a cancer patient, in particular, is remarkable, Kinsler said. Concord Hospital staff have seen it first-hand with its program “Infuse it with Music,” and a portion of the hospital’s grant will go toward gathering music practitioners to play alongside patients during infusions, one of the primary ways chemotherapy is administered. 
“Most people come in and don’t look forward to it [chemotherapy],” Kinsler said. “It’s one place where people are particularly apprehensive and anxious. One of the things we wanted to do … is improve the experience by providing live, therapeutic music right next to the chair.”
The music itself can have a calming effect on the body, but having a live musician is different from playing an iPod. The music practitioner is trained through a two-year certification to intuitively respond to the needs of the patient. If someone’s feeling anxious, he’ll play differently than if someone had a sleepless night and needs to doze off. As such, the hospital has utilized the technique in other ways as well.
“There are very interesting theories about how music and the strings and the vibrations of the music can literally change the fluids in our bodies, and help us relax. Maybe instead of a powerful sleeping pill, you could help someone let down that relaxation response and go to sleep,” said Catherine O’Brian, Arts Education & Arts in Health Care coordinator at the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. 
The Concord Hospital grant will also go toward a spring educational program about the benefits of arts in health care, and to Art With Heart, an expressive arts group offered monthly through the hospital for children ages 6 to 12 who have a family member with cancer. It includes  things like drawing, painting, sculpture and mosaic work. 
“Lots of kids going through this don’t get a lot of support,” O’Brian said. “Instead of keeping it quiet inside, they’re working it out with clay in a comfortable atmosphere with other children.”
Pinkerton Academy received a slice of the grant for its visiting dance company’s production at the Stockbridge Theatre, The Light in the Dark, about the life of Helen Keller and her relationship with Anne Sullivan.
This will be the most accessible theatrical performance at Stockbridge ever. Before the performance, blind audience members will be allowed to touch the props and talk to actors, and during, they’ll have access to audio equipment that describes the performance. The program handouts will come in braille, and at the front of the stage, a sign language interpreter will translate.
 “What I think is great about this project is that it spurs conversation in the community,” said Matt Cahoon, arts facility director at Pinkerton Academy. “We’re having conversations about access in a very different way than we normally would. … One thing we discovered while researching this project is that New England isn’t necessarily the best place in the world to live if you’re a person with disabilities. … But people with disabilities have as much of a right to see a piece of entertainment as any of us.”
Crotched Mountain’s money will go toward the continuing expansion and development of its adaptive dance program. The funds go to the two recitals and weekly lessons held each year, which involve not only the Active Ingredients dance troupe, made up of performers with various disabilities, but also dancers from other nearby companies.
“It encourages individual self expression,” said Deb DeCicco, coordinator of the healing arts program Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center. “And I think it makes people re-evaluate the definition of dancing, the definition of beauty and the definition of accomplishment.”
Grants also went to the Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire for its Seeding Arts Programs in North Country hospitals, a pilot program that will provide arts in health care professional development with staff, artist in residency days and workshops; to the League of N.H. Craftsmen’s Hanover Branch, which works to bring customized, experiential workshops and demonstrations in clay, metals and mixed media to health facilities in the Upper Valley; and to Genesis Behavioral Health, for its program “Transformations: Painted Furniture and Personal Growth for Youth.”
“We give out these grants because we feel they support healing and wellness,” O’Brian said in a phone interview. “There’s more and more research showing being engaged in art can really be a diversion from the pain. … It gives you a voice, and it gives you some choices. When you’re painting or singing or making a little book or sitting with a musician, feeling the vibration of the music, it can take your mind off significant anxieties. It can take you to a different place.” 
As seen in the November 6, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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