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The Art of Healing

• A hospital-based bereavement photographer from Chicago explained how his portraits of parents holding their stillborn babies help grieving families cope with their loss.

• A facilities director described transforming the Yale Medical Group's quarters in New Haven, Conn., from standard office space into a place of "art and healing."

From left, patients Andree Polley, 27, and Denise Simms, 30, do beadwork with artist Deoborah Gudelsky at Georgetown University Hospital's Lomardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. (Andrea Bruce Woodall - The Washington Post)

• Fabric artists from North Carolina gave a hands-on workshop and exhibited tapestries made by survivors of sexual abuse.

Hanna said she has been surprised that institutions in the Washington area are so open to such programs. Supporting the conference by hosting events or leading sessions were the National Institute on Aging, Washington National Cathedral, the U.S. Botanic Garden, the Canadian Embassy, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington, Children's National Medical Center and Lombardi, among others. The Congressional Arts Caucus, a bipartisan group that seeks to increase funding for the NEA, invited the group to make a presentation, Hanna said.

The Art of Caring

Incorporating the arts into health care settings has real benefits, advocates of such programs say. As health care grows more technical and sophisticated, patients' anxiety and loss of control often rise. Hospital staff, meanwhile, often work under harried, difficult conditions. In this environment, the arts can reduce stress and allow healing to flourish.

"It's the kind of thing you wouldn't think about, but once you get used to the idea, it's great for staff and patients," said Robert Warren, a Lombardi oncologist and professor of medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine. The arts, he said, are "comforting, and soothing. There's nothing more wonderful than walking out of a very difficult morning and to have somebody playing the piano, or a flautist or a harpist. It's healing to me, and it makes me feel better about what I do."

Through the arts, patients "get reminded, for a brief moment, that you're more than your illness," said Linda Belans, director of Duke University Medical Center's Health Arts Network.

Patricia Taylor-Irvin of the District said the idea of engaging in artistic expression while battling cancer at Lombardi seemed ludicrous at first. But at the invitation of Nancy Morgan, director of the arts program, Taylor-Irvin began writing in a journal, and soon she wanted to try other forms of art.

"As wonderful as my doctor is and the nursing staff, it was Nancy's program that brought me back to who I am," she said. "It amazes me that it's not everywhere -- you can't just be about blood and catheters and [cell] counts."

The string of beads Taylor-Irvin made at Lombardi, with the help of artist Deborah Gudelsky, has become her talisman. "Too many nights at 3 in the morning, you're in pure terror -- and you have your beads," she said. "It brings me peace and refocuses me."

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