Book Book

The Arts in Healthcare: Learning from Experience

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 18 March 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:810
  1. Joan Beadle, senior lecturer
  1. Department of Fine Arts, Manchester Metropolitan University

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    Eds Duncan Haldane, Susan Loppert

    King's Fund Publishing, £14.99, pp 164

    ISBN 1 85717 246 9

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    Siting the arts in the public domain is often a contested practice. The specific and particular demands of the healthcare environment make this no exception. This publication of presentations delivered to the conference “Arts in Healthcare,” held at the Roehampton Institute in September 1997, follows other attempts to collate and validate the expansive and constantly diverging practices that occur under the generic term “arts in health care.” As Duncan Haldane acknowledges in his introduction, one of the recurring issues in any debate on the arts in health care is that of how such projects might be evaluated and expenditure on them justified.

    This book documents projects in Britain, Australia, and the United States. It covers many aspects of arts interventions, including those where the boundaries become blurred, involving the usually discreet areas of architecture and interior design. Some chapters contrast the benefits where the arts are involved in an integrated fashion at the developmental stages of a new building against others where they are used to enhance an already established setting. The book presents informed original research from 14 contributors, each of whom clearly advocates the application of the arts to the healthcare environment. Despite the strengths of these endorsements and the status of those providing them, this evidence in measured terms is usually classified as anecdotal and not afforded much scientific credibility. It is a pertinent debate, but one where we may have to look at the appropriateness of the measuring stick. The benefits of arts in health care may only be made truly tangible in analysis by taking a qualitative approach. The many interpretations of its value may be beyond the scope of quantitative methods.

    In her chapter “Painting Versus Vending Machines,” which describes her current research into the practical issues surrounding the location and survival of artwork in hospitals, Linda Moss recognises the difficulties of evaluation and stresses the need for the application of critical analysis as the debate surrounding the arts in healthcare matures.

    After more than 25 years of distinctive practice, there is a need to move the debate forward, to consolidate the whole gamut of arts practice within this context, and to provide identities and clarification to the many different genres and the roles they fulfil, as promoted by the 12 point plan endorsed by the Nuffield Trust conference of 1998, which recommended the creation of a taxonomy of the field. This book outlines descriptions of a cross section of individual projects, the range and variety of these providing a rich resource for any potential archiving and classification of the subject.

    Michaela Crimmins' chapter describes some new initiatives exploring the relationship between artist and healthcare environment in which artists were involved in producing a response to a particular hospital environment. Some of the outcomes from these sensory audits provide insight into how the environment is viewed, enabling those institutions involved to decipher the hospital environment visually, raising awareness of people's perception of its atmosphere and purpose.

    This chronicling of the emergent possibilities of the arts in health care is a particular achievement of this book. Its concluding afterword presents an optimistic vision of future developments. “Learning from experience” may mean learning to recognise the sustainable position the arts have achieved in the healthcare environment. A claim that this publication adds credence to.

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