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news News Thursday, May 17, 2018 Thursday, May 17, 2018 2:13 PM - Thursday, May 17, 2018 2:13 PM

Art programs give voice, bring smiles

Creative projects facilitate healing and leave lasting impression

Art programs give voice, bring smiles

Renowned Spanish artist Pablo Picasso was said to have remarked that “art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” While the rejuvenative aspects of art have been well explored over centuries of artistic expression, Picasso’s rumination speaks to the longstanding role of art as a therapeutic device, a mechanism through which one can cope, release, speak and heal.

At Shriners Hospitals for Children — Shreveport, the ability to express oneself through art has long been an integral part of the patient experience. Whether taking part in a craft activity, engaging in developmental play, participating in a planned art project, or simply passing the time, artistic opportunities represent an ever-present and vital element of the healing process.

“Creative outlets such as art projects are practically a daily aspect of patient lives at our hospital,” said Tommie Hazen, child life coordinator at the Shreveport Shriners Hospital. “In addition to the developmental and distraction elements of art projects at our facility, such projects provide the ability for kids to speak for themselves, and offer a return to normalcy that plays a legitimate role in facilitating the healing process and allows our kids to thrive.”

In an effort to provide patients with the developmental and therapeutic benefits inherent in artistic endeavors, the Shreveport Shriners Hospital offers a variety of dedicated creative programs. Whether originating internally or provided by an outside entity, each program encourages its own form of creative expression, challenging patients while instilling confidence and bringing smiles.

A Work of HeART

Olivia Cuthbert has been a student of art dating back to her days in elementary school. Her passion for art was one she shared with young family friend Katie, who she studied with in the same Ruston, Louisiana, area studio. When Katie tragically passed following a long battle with brain cancer, Olivia set out to honor her memory by helping share their mutual love for art with others. In 2017, the high school junior founded "A Work of HeART", a nonprofit art program dedicated to introducing art to children during hospitalization.

“Katie and I both shared the same love for art – in particular, acrylics – which is why I chose art as the basis for my program,” Olivia said. “I just felt like I wanted to give back to my community and to kids who go through difficult hospital stays, and have issues similar to what Katie went through.”

Describing her program as one that creates a fun and relaxed atmosphere where children with medical issues requiring hospitalization can express themselves through art, Olivia travels the region helping introduce painting to kids in health care facilities. Over the course of multiple visits to the Shreveport Shriners Hospital, Olivia has led patients in a variety of projects, introducing art concepts and helping kids discover the joys of painting.

“These projects allow kids to focus on making their masterpiece and express how they are feeling,” Olivia said. “And that’s really what this is all about: for kids to express themselves…to just kind of get into it and have fun.”

Gallery program educates and inspires

For years, Shreveport art teacher Emily Berg has helped impart to her students the value of art in providing a restorative and/or rewarding experience for both the heart and mind. As an art instructor at Fairfield Elementary Magnet, Berg promotes creativity while encouraging kids to draw inspiration from both other artists and their own lives and experiences. As a volunteer at the Shreveport Shriners Hospital, she expands on those concepts to provide a therapeutic outlet for patients.

“Art can be especially healing to children because it allows for creative expression of ideas and feelings that may be difficult for children to verbalize,” she said. “Children facing obstacles in their lives may benefit from the opportunity to makes choices in creating art, such as selecting colors for a painting or finding inspiration for a drawing from a happy memory.”

Over the course of several planned sessions, Berg introduced patients to basic concepts in watercolor and acrylic painting as part of a patient canvas project that is currently on display throughout the hospital’s inpatient unit. As the program expands and more patient art becomes visible to patients, families, and staff, Berg anticipates the emergence of yet another key element of artistic expression: the ability to not only seek healing, a voice or an inspiration, but also to impart those benefits to others who may share similar experiences.

“Part of what makes the gallery project so rewarding is that not only do the patient artists feel a sense of accomplishment and pride, but their art will be displayed for the future patients of the hospital to enjoy,” she said. “My hope is that by seeing the art and knowing that others have been in their situation and found ways to cope and express themselves, will be both comforting and inspiring.”

Shriners Hospitals for Children — Shreveport art therapy