Open Art Surgery


Hospitals have been major investors in public art for a long time but now evidence is emerging that art really does have a positive effect on patients and staff. The charities which sit alongside some of the NHS Trusts in London are  keen to highlight that they have been working on integrating the arts into the NHS for a long time. What is increasingly changing, though, is how seriously the health and emotional benefits of the arts are being taken by health professionals as much as patients.

With the Mid-Staffordshire Public Inquiry calling for improved support of compassionate caring, many healthcare professionals are starting to believe that the arts may have a more relevant role in medical staff training than previously thought.

Guys & St. Thomas’ Charity have invested more than half a million pounds in a three year collaboration with performance art company Clod Ensemble to create an arts-based training programme which launched in September. Nicola Crane, who is head of arts strategy at the charity, says the programme will look at improvisation, movement, space and touch, focussing on resilience and self-care, “because if you aren’t looking out for yourself, how can you look after anyone else.”

Last month, Imperial College Charity revealed that 69% of patients credited their art collection with making them feel more relaxed in the hospital, according to a study they commissioned. The same study found that 82% of staff felt the art made the hospital feel less clinical.  Lucy Zacaria, Arts Manager at Imperial College Healthcare Charity, says, “We are delighted that so many patients, visitors and staff are engaging with and crucially enjoying the benefits of the charity’s art collection. We work extremely closely with hospital staff when installing art to ensure it is appropriate for the main audience, so gaining a better understanding as to the positive impact it is having on all users at the Trust is very useful.”

Almost ten years ago psychologist Christine Korb, who was investigating the effect of music in dementia patients, found that not only did music increase positive behaviour in Alzheimer’s patients, there was a clear reduction in the stress levels of mental health providers. In her 2004 paper Arts in health: a review of the medical literature, Dr Rosalia Lelchuk Staricoff cites Korb’s findings and a further 399 studies which demonstrate the effects of the arts in healthcare. These studies are just a selection of the increasing need to empirically prove what these charities seem to have already known.

According to Nicola Crane, at Guys & St. Thomas’ Charity they take a strictly evidence-based approach. She says she sees herself as a broker using their £20 million annual resource to award grants and develop their own projects. Not wanting to take any risks, which the NHS cannot afford, each project is rigorously evaluated.

They recently piloted a four-week dance programme working with young people experiencing the early stages of psychosis. The project was borne out of one of the professors at the British Institute of Psychologists observations that they needed to find a way to make these young people “more present in their bodies.” The collaboration between the Trust, Dance United and the British Institute, looked at mental and physical health as one; it addressed issues of social isolation and self-esteem. Out of 19 attendees, 17 completed the dance course which was every day from 10am – 4pm for four weeks. There had, originally, been doubt surrounding the project because many of the young people were struggling with confidence issues so extreme that they couldn’t bear even leaving the house. Crane said early intervention teams were astonished that they managed to do that. The teams will now look at collating more evidence and work on recommendations for integrating their findings long-term.


Imperial College Healthcare Charity’s latest exhibition is a collection of photographs showing the interaction between medical staff and the military during the First World War. The images are on display at the Cambridge Wing of St Mary’s Hospital for six months and are open to members of the public. You can find out more about the charity’s art collection at

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