Art Inspires in Clinical Settings

Curator Personalis

While young cancer patients at Tracy’s Kids take part in interactive, tactile art therapy, the soothing chords from Karen Ashbrook’s hammered dulcimer can be heard footsteps away in the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center waiting area, creating a calming space for adult patients and caretakers. Ashbrook, a certified music practitioner through the Music for Healing and Transitions Program, is one of more than 15 specialized artists-inresidence in Georgetown Lombardi’s Arts & Humanities Program.

Seeking to foster a holistic and restorative healthcare environment for patients, staff, and visitors, the program facilitates therapy through music, dance, yoga, writing, and visual arts performed by professional artists. Founded in 1998 and funded by Georgetown University Medical Center and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, the arts program bridges two institutions that many patients never realize are separate—the university and the hospital—in the common pursuit of care.

“Our artists bring energy and hope, and they’re some of the greatest empaths,” says Faculty Director Julia Langley. Recently appointed to the School of Medicine faculty, Langley is a cancer survivor and art historian, and brings a unique combination of skills to the program’s 20-year work.

The Arts & Humanities Program brings art to the medical setting, and now also helps put medicine in the art setting. The program recently launched a new partnership with the National Gallery of Art, bringing medical students to the museum to develop visual literacy, communication, and empathy through art study and contemplation.

“Music and the arts have traditionally been a part of healthcare,” Langley notes. “Different cultures have their standards for healing—from shaman to Navajo healers. In western culture after the Enlightenment, there was a separation. But Georgetown’s foundation as a faith-based hospital allows us to consider what care for the whole person really looks like.”