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Hamline News

Arts in Health Class Leads into Internships


A new class in Hamline’s College of Liberal Arts merged what could be thought of as vastly different disciplines, art and public health. The Arts in Health class, offered for the first time during January term of 2014, allowed students to explore real-world applications of art in the health field and the relationship of creativity to health. The class also served as a prerequisite for a valuable professional opportunity, an art therapy internship at Shriners Children’s Hospital.

“This course and internship experience are truly at the heart of the kind of interdisciplinary and high-impact learning opportunities that Hamline prides itself on,” Professor Sharon Preves, former co-director of Hamline’s public health sciences major and chair of the Department of Sociology, said.

The Art in Health class was taught by Nicola Demonte, an expert in art therapy, and involved hands-on activities that aimed to create a connection between personal health and the process of making art. Exploring the intersection of art and neuroscience, activities ranged from group painting, exploring the relationship between images in a collage using techniques from the Bauhaus, approaches in neuropsychology and neurophysiology, to challenges such a drawing an object without looking at the paper, or replying to questions by drawing instead of using words. The class also explored art education programs in healthcare settings, the history of anatomy and art, developmental stages in children's drawings, and the role of aesthetics and creativity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies.

“Public health is a rapidly growing field, and is projected to continue to grow over the coming decades as we deal with the high prevalence of chronic diseases, modifiable health behaviors such as inactivity and dietary choices, and our aging population,” Lisa Stegall, chair of the public health sciences major, said. “A course and internship like this give students a unique niche that can prepare them to bring interesting skills to the career table. I also think that this is an example of liberal arts at its best.”

Students developed their observational and analytical skills by writing about images from various collections that include: Getty's Open Content project collection, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Museum of Modern Art, New York University School of Medicine, the British Library, The Center for the History of Medicine at Harvard University, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Professor Demonte's collection of art from his art therapy sessions. In the course of his practice, Demonte has focused on drawing and painting techniques, developed individual and group art therapy programs, and is creating interventions to address the complex nature of autism, anorexia, depression, neurological disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and traumatic brain injury. He has worked extensively in the context of public health, exhibition, trauma, medical humanities, mindfulness, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

“The artistic process and the systematic observation of paintings are important in building observational abilities for diagnosis, clinical observation, and the recognition of data and patterns. Medical schools are integrating the arts into their curriculum, and hospitals are experiencing a reduction in costs associated to increased arts programming” Demonte said.

With a strong understanding of how creative processes benefit patients, students who successfully completed the Arts in Health class were eligible to apply for the Arts in Health Internship at Children's Hospital and Shriners Hospitals for Children during spring semester. The hospital specializes in treating children with orthopedic conditions, spinal cord injury, cleft lip and palate, and specialized plastic surgery needs. Not only does the internship allow public health sciences majors to gain valuable experience working with a range of patients, but studio arts and art history majors who choose to participate in the course and internships could gain first-hand experience with practical applications of creativity in the healthcare setting.

“For our art and art history students who come with more course work in these areas, it’s a very interesting way for them to see how their knowledge and experience can play out in the healthcare setting,” Professor Aida Audeh, chair of the Department of Studio Arts and Art History, said.

The public health sciences major, by design, is an interdisciplinary program. In the major, students can specialize or take classes in different fields, such as biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, or the arts, allowing for unique perspectives on health. That broad background allows students to pursue a career in a variety of fields such as health promotion programs, health care education, epidemiology, wellness, or even occupational therapy. Many go on to work in health departments, medical organizations, and non-profit organizations that are focused on community health.

“I definitely think the class changed my professional path. Before I didn't think about incorporating art into my career. I would definitely recommend this course to someone who wants to work with kids or in the public health field,” Kate Monson, a junior majoring in public health sciences and an intern at Shriners Hospital, said.

With the success of the class and the unique relationship with Shriners Children’s Hospital, the Arts in Health class and internship experiences will be offered again through the Department of Studio Arts and Art History in the summer term of 2014.