What is Arts in Health?

As a graduate student studying Arts in Health, explaining my field of study was an ongoing process. People automatically wanted to equate it to a field they know and recognize, such as Art Therapy. However, Arts in Health is an arts-based field and discipline that is actually separate from the Creative Arts Therapies and Expressive Arts Therapy, even though it may also take place in a healthcare setting and often involves collaboration with these professionals.

The challenge of explaining Arts in Health has not gotten much easier, now that I have graduated. Much of this seems to stem from the lack of consistent terminology within the field, as noted by the University of Florida (UF) Center for Arts in Medicine (2017). This blog is an attempt to explain what distinguishes the field of Arts in Health.

What is Arts in Health?

When I refer to the term Arts in Health, I am using it as an umbrella term that encompasses two related, yet distinct, domains: Arts in Healthcare and Arts in Community Health. Both of these fields have gone by various names. Arts in Healthcare has also been referred to as Arts in Medicine or Healing Arts. Arts in Community Health has also been called Arts in Public Health.

I use the terms Arts in Health, Arts in Healthcare, and Arts in Community Health because these were recommended to be used for educational purposes by a UF Center for Arts in Medicine white paper (Sonke et al, 2017). The terms will be used in my writing as an effort to streamline and progress the field by utilizing a common language. Below are definitions recognized by the National Organization for Arts in Health (NOAH), which is the current professional organization for these fields in the United States.

Arts in Health: “A broad and growing academic discipline and field of practice dedicated to using the power of the arts to enhance human health and well-being in diverse institutional and community contexts.” (National Organization for Arts in Health, 2017, p. 9)

Arts in Community Health: “The domain of Arts in Health that refers to using the arts within community health or public health settings.” (National Organization for Arts in Health, 2017, p. 9)

Arts in Healthcare: “The domain of Arts in Health that pertains to using the arts within clinical settings. Frequently used synonymously with the term Arts in Medicine.” (National Organization for Arts in Health, 2017, p. 9)

NOAH has established both a Code of Ethics for Arts in Health Professionals and Standards of Practice for Arts in Health Professionals. These guidelines are intended for anyone practicing in the domains of Arts in Healthcare or Arts in Community Health. If you would like to learn more about Arts in Health, its distinction from the Creative Arts Therapies and Expressive Arts Therapy, and the impact it can have, I recommend NOAH’s 2017 publication: Arts, Health, and Well-being in America. I will also describe them, briefly, below.

Arts in Healthcare

Arts in Healthcare utilizes the arts to help improve overall health and well-being of patients, visitors, and staff in a healthcare context (National Organization for Arts in Health, 2017; Sonke et al., 2017). Examples of this include: professional artists leading participatory art sessions with patients or caregivers, carefully curated performances in clinical settings, integrating art and design into the built environment of care, and integrating the arts into health sciences education (National Organization for Arts in Health, 2017). Please make note of the term professional artist, as this does not imply a Creative Arts Therapist nor a credentialed art teacher.

A range of universities around the country offer educational training in this discipline. UF Center for Arts in Medicine includes a variety of programs, from earning a master’s degree in Arts in Medicine to participation in a week-long training intensive. Please note that courses and programs may appear as subsets of related fields at some universities, such as arts administration, medical humanities, health sciences education, or a various other disciplines. For example, the University of Oregon has a course on Arts in Healthcare as part of their Arts and Administration program (University of Oregon, n.d.).

Arts in Community Health

Arts in Community Health utilizes the arts to help improve the health of the community, collaborating with a variety of professionals to help work towards public health goals. This may include professionals leading participatory arts programs with members of the community, communicating health messaging through the arts, and/or addressing the health needs of a particular population (National Organization for Arts in Health, 2017). Examples of Arts in Community Health may be seen in one’s neighborhood, independent living facilities, community centers, or a wide range of other locations. It might be a free concert in the park, a mural on a building, a series of arts classes, a television show that conveys important health messaging, or a variety of other mediums. UF is currently teaming up with ArtPlace America on an initiative to advance and develop this field.

What Arts in Health Is NOT

Contrary to common instinct, Arts in Healthcare is not the same as the Creative Arts Therapies nor Expressive Arts Therapy. When I use the terms Arts in Health, Arts in Community Health, or Arts in Healthcare, I am not referencing the Creative Arts Therapies nor Expressive Arts Therapy. Although the work in Arts in Health may overlap in some aspects, the goals, processes, and professional training vary between these disciplines. Below is an excerpt from the UF Center for Arts in Medicine (2017) that describes the difference:

The focus of arts in health is on participation and facilitation of the arts and creative experiences. The arts provide a means of distraction and enjoyment, a sense of meaningful connection with others, and a way for participants to share who they are as a whole person rather than one who is defined by diagnosis, age, or disability. This is distinct from the work of therapists who establish and work toward specific clinical and therapeutic goals. Although artists may be called upon to work with a clinical provider, they do not themselves set or work toward treatment goals. While acknowledging the many connections, collaborations and alignments of these disciplines, it is recognized that differentiating clinical and non-clinical disciplines within education is critical to ethical practice and patient safety.

For your reference, I have also included definitions of these in my Glossary blog post. If you would like to learn more about the Creative Arts Therapies or Expressive Arts Therapy, I suggested visiting the website of their national organizations, National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations, Inc. and International Expressive Arts Therapy Association.

Additional Considerations

Future Terminology

This field is ever evolving, so it is important to note that terminology in the future may vary and change. The terminology I use here is what is currently being used in the realm of education. As Sonke et al. (2017) points out, a cohesive terminology utilized within the professional field, itself, must still be established and decided upon by its professional association. The National Organization for Arts in Health is the current national organization that represents the professional field of Arts in Health within the United States, but there are also many Creative and Expressive Arts Therapists who are members of that organization. In addition to the national context, there is also an international context to consider. Terms for this field vary across the world, even amongst English-speaking countries.

Resources & Relevant Organizations

If you are currently involved with this field or interested in learning more, I recommend you consider joining the National Organization for Arts in Health. If you are also interested in getting more involved with research or evaluation in this field, I also highly recommend joining the Arts Health Early Career Research Network (Arts Health ECRN). The Arts Health ECRN is a network of early career professionals (from a variety of disciplines) who are engaged in research at the intersection of the arts, health, and humanities. It is free to join, and they have a variety of events and opportunities geared toward connecting and leading early career researchers in this area. I am currently the representative for the California branch of this network, so please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you are interested in getting more involved in research in this field: artshealthecrn.california@gmail.com. Below are some resources that I have found particularly helpful throughout my journey in this field so far.

National Organization for Arts in Health (NOAH)

University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine

Arts Health Early Career Research Network (Arts Health ECRN)

Research & Evaluation Resources

Local Organizations

There are many arts in health organizations that currently exist and may be in your area. I recommend doing some searches online to find organizations that might be near you, if you are interested in getting more involved. Two organizations that I have been actively involved with in the Los Angeles area are Art of Elysium and EngAGE, Inc. I am currently working on comprising a list of existing Arts in Health organizations throughout California and would like to post it in a blog in the future. If you are aware of an organization that is involved with Arts in Healthcare or Arts in Community Health that would be interested in being listed in this future blog post, please consider sending me an email (artshealthecrn.california@gmail.com) with the following information:

  • Location of the organization
  • Brief summary of the work done by the organization

I look forward to hearing more about the advancement of this field and hope you have enjoyed learning about it. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me on my website if you would like to connect, learn more, or have any questions!

References

Arts Health Early Career Research Network. (2017). Arts Health Early Career Research Network [Website]. Retrieved from https://www.artshealthecrn.com/

National Organization for Arts in Health. (2017). Arts, health, and well-being in America. San Diego, CA: Author.

Sonke, J., Lee, J., Rollins, J., Carytsas, F., Imus, S., Lambert, P….Spooner, H. (2017). Talking about Arts in Health: A white paper addressing the language used to describe the discipline from a higher education perspective. Retrieved from https://arts.ufl.edu/academics/center-for-arts-in-medicine/resources/talking-about-arts-in-health/executive-summary/

UF Center for Arts in Medicine. (2019). Programs & Degrees [Web page]. Retrieved from https://arts.ufl.edu/academics/center-for-arts-in-medicine/programs/

University of Oregon. (n.d.). Scholar’s Bank: AAD 410/510: Arts in Healthcare Management [Web page]. Retrieved from https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/handle/1794/23691