Showcasing Intersection of Arts and Medicine

The brightest, most creative minds at the forefront of arts and health integration in the Greater Houston area are converging at the University of Houston for a global conference showcasing how their collaborative work is improving health outcomes for patients and communities.

“Innovations in Arts and Health: Collaborating for Medical Humanities, Professional Development and Community Health” runs Thursday, January 20 through Saturday, January 22 at Student Center South on the UH campus.  Organized by the UH Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts and the UH College of Medicine, the event is the Houston installment in a year-long global series of symposia, fundraisers and arts-based health and wellness initiatives known as “The Future is Unwritten: Healing Arts.”

The “Healing Arts” series is organized worldwide by CULTURUNNERS, a London-based producer of cultural exchange and diplomacy projects, in partnership with the Arts and Health program of the World Health Organization and the WHO Foundation. Designed as a global response to a mental-health crisis that has been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, the initiative includes site-specific activation events during 2021 and 2022 in London, Venice, Paris, New York, New Delhi and Aspen, in addition to the “Innovations in Arts and Health” conference in Houston.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-pandemic mental health issues and added to them significantly, creating an urgent need for attention and intervention. If left unaddressed, we are in danger of perpetuating the cycle that will lead to further health disparities,” said Dr. Stephen Spann, founding dean of the UH College of Medicine. “We need to use all tools and resources available to us – from health sciences to the arts and everything in between – for collective healing.”

The three-day conference in Houston will feature research presentations, workshops, demonstrations, policy discussions, performances and art exhibitions. Some of the presentations and workshops include the combining of visual art and music therapy, use of the visual arts in clinical and community settings and the importance of self-care for caregivers during the pandemic.

“Houston is a dynamic hub of creative work where health meets the arts,” said Conference Chair Woods Nash, assistant professor of behavioral and social sciences, UH College of Medicine. “This conference is a priceless chance for health care professionals and artists to gain a deeper appreciation for how their spheres interact and make each other better.”

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) believes the arts and humanities play a unique and vital role in equipping physicians for 21st-century challenges. By integrating arts and humanities throughout medical education, AAMC says physicians can learn to be better observers and interpreters, and build empathy, communication and teamwork skills.

“We know from the evidence that the arts complete the health care equation,” said Andrew Davis, dean, McGovern College of the Arts. “Not only can the arts help to create critically thinking, sensitive physicians and patient-centered health care environments, but we know that the arts contribute to real, documented and verified health care outcomes as well.”

The University of Houston’s “Innovations in Arts and Health” conference is open to the public as well as members of academic, institutional and medical education communities and to the expansive network of professional and community-based artists and arts organizations across Houston. Continuing medical education credit will be available for physicians.

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