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The Arts in Health: Artists on the Wards at University of Alberta Hospitals

April 27, 200727 April 2007

Arts and Health

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This report, based on a presentation by Susan Pointe, art advisor for the Friends of University Hospitals, summarizes the arts program at University of Alberta Hospitals (Edmonton). Through the artists-on-the-wards program, artists help adult acute-care patients and their caregivers talk about and create art, including music, visual arts, crafts and writing. The program employs five local professional artists on a part-time basis. These artists train and supervise 30 volunteer artists. The presentation notes that “art at the bedside” has helped bring a sense of calm, peace, joy and humour to settings that can be boring, lonely, anxiety-ridden and painful. Feedback from both the medical staff and patients has been very positive.

In addition to the artists-on-the-wards program, the McMullen Art Gallery helps foster awareness of the arts throughout the hospital. The Friends of University Hospitals are now embarking “on programming arts-based workshops for nursing and medical staff” in order to “share the pleasure, wonder and transcendental quality of writing and art-making with medical and nursing staff”.

The presentation highlights how “organizational support for arts in healthcare is growing”. In 2005, the first-ever Canadian Forum on the Arts and Healthcare was convened (see the Arts Research Monitor, vol. 4, no. 9 for more information). In the same year, Edmonton hosted the International Society for the Arts in Healthcare Conference. A key American-based organization is the Society for the Arts in Healthcare (, a group that promotes the incorporation of the arts in healthcare. The Society’s website contains reports, a 48-page bibliography and a toolbox of arts in healthcare resources.

The presentation notes that a 2003 survey of American hospitals by the National Endowment for the Arts found that:

  • 73% of responding hospitals display artwork;
  • 55% have arts activities geared to staff;
  • 48% present performances in public spaces; and
  • 36% have bedside art activities.

A free Canadian newsletter on the connection between the arts, health, training and education is available at The December 2006 newsletter can be accessed at

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