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Healing Arts Program

The Healing Power of Art

From music to magic, painting to prose, Rady Children’s Healing Arts Program brings joy in unexpected places

A drum circle pulses to the rhythmic heartbeats of happy children. Vibrant colors splash from paintbrushes held by tiny hands. Smiles illuminate from awestruck faces in a magician’s audience.

You might not imagine these scenes exist in a hospital environment. Yet, thanks to the Healing Arts Program at Rady Children’s, these are everyday experiences for young patients, their families and the staff who tend to them. Officially launched in 2006, the Healing Arts Program is an integral part of the Rady Children’s philosophy that caring for children goes far beyond medical excellence. The Hospital’s holistic approach also means caring for the whole child—mind, body and spirit—and the atmosphere surrounding that child is vitally important to this mission. That’s where the healing arts come into play.

Based on abundant (and growing) research that demonstrates the power of the arts in relieving stress and anxiety and promoting overall wellness, Rady Children’s Healing Arts Program is the culmination of longrunning volunteer programs that incorporated music, storytelling and art into the Hospital environment. Today, eight paid artists work to share their talents throughout the Hospital campus, from the Hematology-Oncology Unit and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Services to the Helen Bernardy Center for Medically Fragile Children—and many places in between.

“The Healing Arts Program includes the work of musicians, magicians, storytellers and artists,” explains Jenelle Nettles, the program’s coordinator and recreation therapist at the Bernardy Center. “They work all over the Hospital, and depending on what their art is, they work with kids one on one and in groups.”

“At the Bernardy Center, they work in groups,” she continues. “Karl Anthony, one of the musicians, performs concerts in our garden once a week. What I see is how our kids react to the artists. They’re smiling and engaged and enjoying the time with them. It really makes the difference for our families and our staff. When we’re having a rough day on the unit, the sounds of the harp or the steel drum change the feeling in the environment. The music is really life-giving.”

Anthony also conducts drum circles for CAPS patients who are facing mental or behavioral health challenges. Artist Yanina Cambareri de Etzel and harpist Carolyn Worster work one on one with patients who have chronic pain; musician Joe Smith plays harp or accordion to soothe anxious nerves in waiting rooms; artist Eduardo Parra creates paintings and murals with children; storytellers Patti Christensen and James Lucas use improv, audience participation, props, costumes and magic; storyteller Linda Whiteside shares folktales from Mexico and South America at Spanish-speaking patients’ bedsides. The artists roam the Hospital, finding out where they’re needed most; staff members also request visits when patients, families and even staff themselves need their spirits lifted.

For patients, the Healing Arts Program provides joy and a distraction from the situation at hand. For families, the artists provide a respite from their oftenchallenging task of cheering up their sick children. And for staff, they offer a morale boost during a hard workday. For everyone, they tap into the magical world of creativity to provide a momentary escape that’s much needed in a hospital environment.

“The artists are all so incredible,” says Susy Kaplan-Schick, the program’s manager. “They’re each very special individuals, and I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to know them and observe the magic they create within each of their artistic domains. Their impact is not only physical, it is also emotional. Just being in their presence creates a feeling of warmth, being nurtured, cared for and safe. Watching them with patients and hearing their stories touches my heart.”

“A HEMATOLOGY-ONCOLOGY PATIENT WITH RECURRING LEUKEMIA HAS BEEN VERY DEPRESSED AND NOT WANTING TO SEE ANYONE. HER FAMILY REQUESTED THAT I SEE HER EVERY WEEK, AS I’M THE ONLY PERSON OUTSIDE HER FAMILY THAT SHE LOOKS FORWARD TO SEEING.”

—Yanina Cambareri de Etzel, artist

“A FAMILY IN HEMATOLOGYONCOLOGY RESPONDED IN A HILARIOUS WAY THAT BROUGHT A HUGE SMILE TO MY FACE. THE PATIENT WAS VERY ANIMATED AND LOVED MUSIC, BUT IT WAS THE MOTHER’S RESPONSE THAT MADE ME LAUGH: AFTER MANY SONGS AND A FEW STORIES, SHE SAID TO ME, ‘AFTER A WHOLE YEAR OF COVID, IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE IT TOOK COMING TO A HOSPITAL TO BE ABLE TO HEAR LIVE MUSIC AGAIN.’”

—Karl Anthony, musician

“A PAIN PATIENT SAID THE ONLY THING THAT MAKES HER FORGET SHE’S IN THE HOSPITAL—AND THE ONLY THING THAT MAKES HER FEEL LIKE TIME IS PASSING QUICKLY—IS ART. SHE WAS SO PROUD OF HER PAINTING!”

—Yanina Cambareri de Etzel, artist

“THIS AFTERNOON AN EMPLOYEE THANKED ME FOR PLAYING MUSIC IN THE PRE-OPERATION WING. I ASKED HIM HOW LIVE MUSIC HELPS IN THE WORK ENVIRONMENT; HE SAID THAT AT FIRST IT RELAXES HIM, THEN HE’S ABLE TO REFOCUS ON THE WORK AT HAND. THIS IS THE FIRST TIME AN EMPLOYEE HAS SAID THAT.”

—Joe Smith, musician

“MY BIGGEST COMPLIMENT CAME FROM A 12-YEAR-OLD BOY WHO, AFTER GETTING VACCINATED, WALKED PAST ME AND SAID, ‘THANKS FOR BRINGING ME JOY.’ LIVE MUSIC HAD MADE HIS EXPERIENCE AT OUR HOSPITAL JOYFUL.”

—Joe Smith, musician

Published in Healthy Kids Magazine, Winter 2022