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Posts Tagged ‘healing’

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Photo: Judith Jockel/laif/Redux
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma is a musician who knows the power of music to be a force for good. Concerned about our fractured society, he asked himself, “What can I do?”

Recently, my husband and I watched the lovely documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — about children’s television visionary Fred Rogers.

Mister Rogers had a gift for speaking directly to the individual child through a mass medium, unlikely as that sounds, looking into the child’s eyes and letting the child know that she was seen.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who ultimately became a friend of Mister Rogers, is seen in the documentary making his first appearance on the show. He tells the documentarian, who happens to be his son Nicholas, that he was scared to death when Mister Rogers put his face very close and looked into his eyes, until he realized that’s what children do.

It made me a bit sad and more conscious of the lack of eye contact today’s children get as we imagine we’re interacting if we talk to them while looking at our phones. No wonder they get stressed. Generally speaking, it’s through the eyes that children learn they are really seen. Mister Rogers understood their needs. He was a great healer.

Yo-Yo Ma is also a healer, but although he has appeared often on television like Mister Rogers, it is music that is his medium. Rebecca Milzof reports at Billboard about Ma’s current project to use his musical gift to help heal the fractured world.

“On Sept. 2, cellist Yo-Yo Ma played all six of Bach’s cello suites at the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig, Germany. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for the world’s most famous classical musician, who was playing at the church where the composer premiered many of his works. But the setting had a deeper meaning: In 1989, it’s where peaceful rebellions against communist rule — which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall — began.

“ ‘This is the very [place] where these [political] changes happen,’ says Ma, 62, over the phone from Leipzig. Today, he notes, Syrian refugees are coming to the city and facing demonstrations of a different sort — from right-wing nationalists. ‘It’s the right moment to explore the idea of home. What is home? It’s where you go to be sustained in difficult times. For me, Bach is home.’

“Over the next two years, Ma will visit 36 sites worldwide as part of his Bach Project, playing the cello suites in places like the Nikolaikirche — settings with sociopolitical meaning. It coincides with the recent release of his third and final recording of the suites, Six Evolutions.

“ ‘We live in more and more of a fractured society,’ the 18-time Grammy winner says. ‘As a cellist, I was thinking, “What can I do to help?” I’ve been toying with the idea of “citizen musicians” for a while.’ …

“So far, that has meant engaging with the Mexican-American community around Denver after playing Red Rocks in August and meeting community organizers spurring industrial revitalization outside Cleveland.

“ ‘One of the things culture does best is to make the “other” into “us,” ‘ he says. He’ll test that idea on six continents.” More at Billboard, here.

By the way, Nell Minnow has a really nice interview with the younger Ma about Won’t You Be My Neighbor? on Medium, here. He talks about performing with his dad as a child on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and he still sounds amazed that Fred Rogers could get him to do that.

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6Photo: Fondazione Manifesto
Poggioreale, Sicily, one of the towns destroyed by a 1968 earthquake. A public art project has helped to heal the region’s survivors, many of whom were still suffering from depression decades later.

I’ve blogged a lot about the healing power of various arts in various contexts, but I think this is the first post about what art can do for a traumatized region after a natural disaster. The story takes place in Sicily, where a 1968 earthquake flattened an already impoverished region.

Patricia Zohn writes at artnet news, “On a recent day this summer, I [descended] into the rural, arid Belice Valley. I was accompanied by Zeno Franchini of the Fondazione Manifesto, an advocacy group that leads tours of the region, which was devastated by the 1968 earthquake in Sicily. …

“More than the number of people who died (approximately 400), or the number rendered homeless (approximately 100,000), the earthquake exposed grave fissures in the socioeconomic and political fabric of one of Italy’s poorest regions — disparities that linger to this day.

“While thousands of earthquake victims lived outside Gibellina, an isolated agricultural community, in two shanty towns with barebones infrastructure, in 1970, the National Institute of Social Housing in Rome, determined, after numerous plans for reconstruction were abandoned, to build an entirely new city, a Gibellina ‘Nuova’ for the victims at a site 11 miles from the ruins. …

“By 1979, scant progress had been made due to government corruption, the Mafia influence, and red tape, and victims were still living in dire conditions. That’s when Gibellina’s flamboyant, powerful gay Mayor, Ludovico Corrao, invited a number of leading Italian and German artists and architects to participate in a rescue mission. …

“Though there was no budget for art or culture, Corrao had already begged and borrowed to found the Orestiadi performance festival, just outside the ruins of Gibellina, with the help of performers like John Cage and Philip Glass. Emilio Isgrò, an artist and dramatist, described a wind-chilled night of 1983

‘where artisans, sheep farmers, housewives, anti-Mafia judges and theater directors and personalities from all over Europe sat together to watch’ his performance in the festival. …

“The concrete Utopian city of Gibellina Nuova [became] an open-air laboratory for assessing the healing capabilities of public art. Today, 50 years since the earthquake struck, many look back on Corrao’s radical experiment in civic engagement, rehabilitation, and unification as a cautionary tale. But new efforts are now underway to realize a more pragmatic version of [his] utopian dream.

“ ‘The city needs to really become an Art Town,’ says Alessandro La Grassa, president of the Center for Social and Economic Research of Southern Italy, the organizational heir to the early activist efforts. He envisions it as a place ‘where artists live or stay and where empty buildings and spaces start to find a new function.’ …

“Today the region is a symbol of hope. A newly revitalized combination of social activists, municipal agencies, educational institutions, and private support is finally bringing the unique art interventions of more than five decades in the Belice Valley — and especially the city of Gibellina — to the attention of a wider public. …

“Tours of Poggioreale, Burri’s Cretto, and Gibellina Nuova are available until November 14 through fondazionemanifesto.org.” More here.

I wonder how public art might by employed to rebuild after a hurricane like Michael. Something for art leaders in Florida to think about.

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Photo: Hartford Courant
Former US Marine Roman Baca
develops ballets that help veterans heal and help audiences gain empathy. For his Fulbright Fellowship, he’s creating a new version of Igor Stravinsky’s
Rite of Spring tied to WW I.

Not long ago, Suzanne’s friend Liz found a piece of antique weaponry and asked instagram friends how it might be used in an art project or something else positive.

I said to “beat it into plowshares.”

In their own way of beating weapons into plowshares, war veterans may continue to serve the country after their time in the military. They may run for Congress like Seth Moulton of Massachusetts or establish a nonprofit like Soldier On, which treats veterans suffering from addictions.

And then there’s the Marine who became a choreographer to tell stories that enlighten and heal.

Candice Thompson writes at Dance Magazine, “When Roman Baca returned home from active duty in Iraq in 2007, he found himself having a tough time transitioning to civilian life.

” ‘I remember a couple of instances where I was mean and angry and depressed,’ says Baca. [His wife] suggested Baca return to his roots in dance. ‘She asked me, “If you could do anything in the world, what would you do?” ‘…

“Baca had to broker his transition back into dance. Earlier, he had trained at The Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory in Connecticut and spent a few years as a freelance dancer before feeling compelled, like his grandfather had, to serve his country. ‘I walked into the recruiter’s office and said, “I want to help people who can’t help themselves.” ‘ Baca reveled in the rigor of the Marine Corps, which seemed like a perfect analog to classical ballet. …

“Baca served as a machine gunner and fire team leader [in Fallujah]. And while his job was one of looking for insurgents and intelligence, Baca also ended up doing humanitarian work, bringing water and school supplies to those in need. The transition from violence to aid helped him meet his original desire to defend the vulnerable.

“In 2008 … he reached out to his mentor Sharon Dante from The Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory. He had dabbled in choreography before joining the Marines and had begun to write while overseas. Dante suggested [that he] focus his writing and choreography on his experiences in Iraq. The exploration led Baca to form Exit12 Dance Company, a small troupe with a goal of inspiring conversations about the lasting effects of violence and conflict. …

“When a theater in the UK reached out to him in 2016 about creating a new Rite of Spring — one that would explore the connections between the creation of this famous ballet and the outbreak of World War I, in commemoration of the war’s centennial, as well as touch on today’s veterans and current events — he knew immediately it was a project for [him].

” ‘One percent of our population serves in the military, and an even smaller number serves in war,’ explains Baca of one of the central questions motivating this new commission. ‘How do we take all of this remote and little understood experience and inspire the audience to positive action?’ ”

More at Dance Magazine, here.

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Photo: National Institutes of Health via AP
Soprano Renee Fleming looks at a brain scan with NIH neuroscientist David Jangraw after singing in the MRI machine.

To help scientists understand how music helps patients heal, notable musicians like opera’s Renee Fleming are getting brain scans.

Lauran Neergaard writes at the Associated Press, “Music increasingly is becoming a part of patient care — although it’s still pretty unusual to see roving performers captivating entire wards, like at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital one fall morning.

“ ‘It takes them away for just a few minutes to some other place where they don’t have to think about what’s going on,’ said cellist Martha Vance after playing for a patient isolated to avoid spreading infection.

“The challenge: Harnessing music to do more than comfort the sick. Now, moving beyond programs like Georgetown’s, the National Institutes of Health is bringing together musicians, music therapists and neuroscientists to tap into the brain’s circuitry and figure out how.

“ ‘The brain is able to compensate for other deficits sometimes by using music to communicate,’ said NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, a geneticist who also plays a mean guitar.

“To turn that ability into a successful therapy, ‘it would be a really good thing to know which parts of the brain are still intact to be called into action. To know the circuits well enough to know the backup plan,’ Collins added. …

“ ‘The water is wide, I cannot cross over,’ well-known soprano Renee Fleming belted out, not from a concert stage but from inside an MRI machine at the NIH campus.

“The opera star — who partnered with Collins to start the Sound Health initiative — spent two hours in the scanner to help researchers tease out what brain activity is key for singing. How? First Fleming spoke the lyrics. Then she sang them. Finally, she imagined singing them.

“ ‘We’re trying to understand the brain not just so we can address mental disorders or diseases or injuries, but also so we can understand what happens when a brain’s working right and what happens when it’s performing at a really high level,’ said NIH researcher David Jangraw, who shared the MRI data with The Associated Press.

“To Jangraw’s surprise, several brain regions were more active when Fleming imagined singing than when she actually sang, including the brain’s emotion center and areas involved with motion and vision. One theory: it took more mental effort to keep track of where she was in the song, and to maintain its emotion, without auditory feedback.”

Read how the new insights are being used to study Alzzheimer’s patients and others here.

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Photo: Homeboy Industries
The Rev. Gregory J. Boyle, S.J., is the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world.

I recently heard Terry Gross interview this amazing priest, founder of the world’s largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program, on her radio show Fresh Air. This is a man who lives his religion, ministering to the outcasts of society.

“GROSS: My guest, Father Greg Boyle, has worked with former gang members in LA for over 30 years. He’s the founder of Homeboy Industries, which was created to help former gang members and people transitioning out of prison create stable lives and stay out of gangs. Instead of Father Greg trying to convince business owners to hire young people who are at risk, he created jobs for them through Homeboy Industries.

“Homeboy is a series of businesses including a restaurant, a bakery, cafe, farmers markets created with the purpose of hiring these young people so they can have on-the-job training. The employers come from rival gangs so they have to put aside their distrust and hatred of each other. Homeboy also provides other job training and social service programs. …

“Back in the ’80s and ’90s, Father Greg spent a lot of time on the streets. He’s witnessed shootings, he’s buried over 200 young people and he’s kept on with the work in spite of being diagnosed with a chronic form of leukemia about 15 years ago. He started working with gangs in 1986 when he became the pastor of the Dolores Mission Church in East LA, which was then the city’s poorest Catholic parish. He’s just written his second book, called, Barking To The Choir: The Power Of Radical Kinship.

“Father Greg Boyle … you say that employment isn’t necessarily going to totally change someone’s life. They might end up back in prison. But if somebody’s healed, that will change their life possibly forever. What’s the distinction you make between [the employment] opportunity that you’re giving them and healing?

“BOYLE: Thirty years ago when we started Homeboy Industries, you know, the motto was nothing stops a bullet like a job, and that was a response to gang members saying if only we had work. And that was essential, but then when we discovered that, you know, we would dispatch gang members to jobs. But the minute any kind of monkey wrench was tossed into the mix, they would unravel, you know, that there was no resilience.

“There was no healing. And they would go right back to gang life or go back to prison. So it was then that we kind of, probably 15 years ago, we said, you know, healing is probably more necessary along with the fact that people need to have a reason to get up in the morning and a place to go and a reason not to gang bang. …

“So we altered our [stance] from just finding a job for every gang member or employing them with us but also trying to have them come to terms with whatever suffering they’ve been through and trauma. …

“GROSS: You talk about people whose parent would put their head in the toilet and flush the toilet and nearly drown them. … So when people have been brought up like this, and they’re also poor and they have no real future prospects, how do you heal them? …

“BOYLE: Well, part of what we have at Homeboy is this irresistible culture of tenderness, you know, where people kind of hold each other. …

“We don’t get tripped up so much by behavior. Even gang violence itself is a language. … What language is it speaking? You know, it’s not about the flying of bullets. It’s about a lethal absence of hope. So let’s address the despair. And the same thing is with behavior.

“I mean, we bring it up, and at some point we say, we think you’re telling us that you’re not ready to be here. We love you. We think you’re great. Come back when you’re ready. So that’s the thing we do often enough. And we drug test because we don’t want anyone to numb their pain as they do the work. …

“They’re not going to be able to transform their pain if they’re inebriated or if they’re constantly smoking marijuana. … They’re used to self-medicating. They’re used to escape. They want to find that place where they can’t see their pain from. And the antidote, really, is to hold them in a place where they feel cherished, and that’s really compelling.”

There’s so much food for thought in this long interview. Read it at NPR, here.

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Art: Rene Meshake
Ojibwe artist Rene Meshake was part of a group of indigenous storytellers from Canada who attended the Untold Stories conference in Ireland in May.

As many people know, there was a dark period in US history when authorities thought is would be a good idea for indigenous children to be separated from their language, families, and culture. The same thing happened in Canada. Today, those children and their children are reclaiming their voices and telling their own stories.

Here is Catherine Conroy at the Irish Times: “On a Friday morning in a house in Dublin, I sit down to speak with three indigenous storytellers from Canada. They are here for a conference called The Untold Stories of the Past 150 Years/Canada 150 at [University College Dublin]. …

“Maria Campbell, Rene Meshake, and Sylvia Maracle, from Canada’s ‘Indian Country,’ accompanied by indigenous historian Kim Anderson, tell me a story of pain, resilience and the rebuilding of a shattered community through stories.

“Sylvia Maracle is an activist and storyteller from the Tyendinaga Mohawks. She believes their stories will resonate with Irish people, ‘with colonisers having come and disrupted what was probably the natural order.’ …

“She tells me of a conversation she had with an Irish taxi driver when she arrived. ‘He asked, “Are people recovering their memories?” I said, “They were always there, we just didn’t have the conversation.” He said, “That’s what happened here.” ‘ …

“Maracle believes in the power of storytelling as a force for rebuilding their communities. She feels privileged to have been ‘old woman raised’ by her traditional grandmother. …

“Maracle tells me that people now visit Maria Campbell ‘because they want this good medicine, this traditional stuff.’

“Campbell agrees that storytelling is medicine. ‘I grew up with a great grandmother and she never spoke English, she was a total “savage” according to the priest because she never converted.’

“But while Campbell grew up with stories, she always felt split between her traditional home life and her life outside. It was only after she stopped using drugs and attended her first ceremony in her late 20s that she realised the healing power of the stories, which came from ‘the old ladies, always women laughing.’ It was a revelation to realise ‘that you’d got this medicine, everything you need to help put yourself back together.’

“Campbell tells a story about the effects of colonisation that she learned from her teacher, the Old Man. …

“He had been trying to explain to her the effect of colonisation on their community’s wahkotowin, which in English means kinship, ‘but if you look at the word bundle, it’s all of our laws, it’s the way that we talk to each other, the way that we laugh.’

“He threw [a] jigsaw in the air. ‘He said, ‘”That’s what happened to us, everything was shattered and wahkotowin flew. Maybe you have three pieces, maybe she’s got half of one, if we come back together and we start to rebuild that, you bring your three pieces, you bring yours, and soon we’ll make the picture.” ‘…

“She recalls one story she wanted from her father that he would not give. ‘Then he got diagnosed with a terminal illness and I had to do the translating for him [in hospital]. I kind of went to pieces when we were driving home. He pulled to the side of the road, rolled me a cigarette, and he said, “That story you want, I’ll give it to you now.” He retold it and she understood now that it was a story about death, not the funny story she’d always thought it was.

“She translated and published the story. ‘In my family’s way, they were telling me that they trusted that I would treat it with integrity.’ ”

More at the Irish Times, here.

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Tim Jonze wrote a funny story at the Guardian about hiring a therapeutic opera singer to deal with his anxiety about becoming a father.

“The soprano reaches a dramatic climax, demonstrating impressive lung power as she sustains the dizzying peak note, before bringing Quando me’n’ vo’ to its close. It is a powerful, emotionally draining performance, and one that seems to resonate around the room for some time after she has finished. Which is why I get up off the sofa and ask her if she would like a cup of tea.

“This, as you might have guessed, is not your typical night at the opera – and not only because it’s only just gone 11 am. It is called Opera Helps, and is a project dreamed up by the artist Joshua Sofaer. The gist is this: contact the Opera Helps phoneline with a personal problem, and they will endeavour to send a singer to your house. Said singer will briefly discuss the issue with you, select a suitable aria that addresses it, then perform it for you while you relax in familiar surroundings: on a comfortable chair, for instance, or even in bed.

“It’s not therapy as such – in fact, they are very keen to stress that their singers are not trained therapists – but the project does aim to help you look at your problem from a new perspective and, hopefully, experience the healing power of music.

“ ‘It’s about giving someone the space for reflection, the same way having a chat with a friend might give you fortitude to carry on,’ says Sofaer, who found success running the project in Sweden before bringing it to the UK. …

“ ‘In my experience, you either respond to the music or you don’t – I don’t think it is based on your musical education or what class you’re from or how much money you’ve got, which is the common perception. The idea that opera needs an expert audience is a complete misnomer.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

Photo: David Bebber for the Guardian  
Opera singer Caroline Kennedy sings to Tim Jonze to relieve his stress.

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The blogger at A Musical Life on Planet Earth — who has been healing from an injury suffered when he nearly tripped on an eager toddler in a music class — doesn’t need to be told that music is healing.

But for the rest of us, a new study from Greece on music and heart health might be enlightening. Tom Jacobs writes at Pacific Standard, “There are many ways of reducing your risk of a heart attack. A healthy diet. Regular exercise. And don’t forget your daily dose of Dylan or Debussy.

“A newly published, small-scale study from Greece finds listening to either classical or rock music positively impacts two important predictors of cardiovascular risk. The effects are particularly pronounced for classical music fans, who, in the study, had a more robust physiological response to music of either genre.

“ ‘These findings may have important implications, extending the spectrum of lifestyle modifications that can ameliorate arterial function,’ a research team led by cardiologist Charalambos Vlachopoulos of Athens Medical School writes in the journal Atherosclerosis. ‘Listening to music should be encouraged in everyday activities.’

“The pulse waves of one’s circulatory system and the rigidity of one’s arteries are related but independent predictors of morbidity and mortality. Essentially, the stiffer one’s blood vessel walls become, the greater the pulse pressure, and the harder the heart has to work to pump blood into the arteries. This can lead to higher blood pressure and an increased strain on the heart. …

“The participants, described as ’20 healthy individuals,’ visited the lab three times. On each occasion, baseline measurements of aortic stiffness and pulse wave reflections were taken following a half-hour rest period.

“They then either listened to a half-hour of classical music (primarily excerpts from J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suites); a half-hour of rock (including tracks by Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Green Day); or a similar period of silence. …

“The key result: both indicators were lower after participants listened to either genre of music. … More at Pacific Standard here.

And you can listen to to Will McMillan’s healing singing at A Musical Life on Planet Earth, here.

Will McMillan

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Longtime concert pianist Byron Janis recently wrote an essay for the Wall Street Journal about programs using music to help veterans with PTSD and other traumas to heal.

“Can music heal?” he asks. “There’s been a great deal of study by neuroscientists on the different ways music acts upon the brain, affecting our behavior, memory and the like. …

“I recently witnessed the healing effects of music first hand. As part of their ‘National Initiative for Arts and Health in the Military,’ I was invited by Americans for the Arts to visit the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and participate in ‘Stages of Healing.’ This program, created by Dr. Micah Sickel, helps patients learn how to play a musical instrument and facilitates live performances whose aim, according to the hospital, is to ‘enhance the healing process’ …

I knew what I wanted to play for them—two Chopin waltzes and ‘A Hero’s Passing By’ … I then played two songs from a musical I had written about the Hunchback of Notre Dame. One was a love song and the other is titled ‘Like Any Man,’ which I felt very much suited the occasion. The Hunchback sings that although he is so disabled, he is just like any man.” Read more.

Photo of Byron Janis in 1962: Wikimedia Commons

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I’ve blogged before about programs that use theater for healing purposes and programs that use the arts specifically to help veterans.

Now Dana Ferguson writes at The Los Angeles Times about Shakespeare getting into the act and easing vets into the job world.

“Fifteen years ago former Pfc. and military police officer Jerry Whiteside had two masks tattooed on his left bicep, one smiling, one frowning. …

“Little did he know that more than a decade later, he would be symbolically reunited with the images imprinted on his skin.

“His journey began at the end of a 30-year struggle with drugs and alcohol, he said. Whiteside, a Chicago native turned Angeleno who had served in the Marine Corps from 1972 to ’76, sought help from the Veterans Administration in Los Angeles. He completed a detoxification program in 2011 and for this summer was referred to the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles to do various jobs on the set of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“Whiteside, 61, and some 30 other veterans of the Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam and the Gulf wars assisted in building the set and working odd jobs with the production, which continues through July 28.

“Shakespeare Center artistic director Ben Donenberg said employing veterans stemmed from another of the company’s outreach programs, Will Power to Youth, which hires young Angelenos to study and perform Shakespeare plays. After seeing alumni of the program serving in the armed services and later seeking jobs at home, Donenberg said, the company decided to extend its employment program opportunity to veterans, starting last year. …

“One of the things we want to do as a company is to ease the transition to civilian life, and part of that is on the civilians; there’s only so much the veterans can do,” [Chris Anthony, associate artistic director at the Shakespeare Center] said. “The rest of us have to see them in a different light. It’s something we need to work on as civilians.” More.

Photo: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times
Military veteran Jerry Whiteside passes out programs before each Shakespeare Center performance.

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No one needs to be told that art is healing. I find it can cheer me up when I’m just having a bad day. I even tell coworkers who are stressed out, “Go over to Fort Point and look at some art.”

But for those who care more about data than folk wisdom, there is research.

Genevra Pittman writes at Pacific Standard, “Music, art, and dance therapy may relieve anxiety and similar symptoms among people with cancer, according to a new analysis of past studies.

“Researchers who analyzed results from trials conducted between 1989 and 2011 said the benefits tied to creative arts therapies were small, but similar to those of other complementary techniques such as yoga and acupuncture. …

“The analysis included 27 studies of close to 1,600 people who were randomly assigned to receive some form of creative arts therapy or not, during or after cancer treatment. Patients with breast cancer or blood cancers—such as leukemia and lymphoma—made up the majority of study participants. Music, art, and dance therapy programs varied in how often sessions were conducted and over what time span. …

“On the whole, people with cancer who were assigned to creative arts treatments reported less depression, anxiety, and pain and a better quality of life during the programs than those who were put on a wait list or continued receiving usual care.” More.

I didn’t get into art therapy when I had cancer, but I’m sure I would have liked it. I did have a booklet created by past patients that contained daily readings, and more often than not the choices hit the spot. The patients named the booklet “No Other Way but Through.”

Photo: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
Art therapy program

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I have blogged before on the use of the arts to help veterans readjust to civilian life. Today I’d like to highlight an initiative started by veteran Drew Cameron and Drew Matott. It focuses on the art that interests them most — papermaking — and is their way of giving back and moving on.

“The Combat Paper Project utilizes art making workshops to assist veterans in reconciling and sharing their personal experiences as well as broadening the traditional narrative surrounding service and the military culture.

“Through papermaking workshops, veterans use their uniforms worn in combat to create cathartic works of art. The uniforms are cut up, beaten into a pulp and formed into sheets of paper. Veterans use the transformative process of papermaking to reclaim their uniform as art and begin to embrace their experiences in the military.

“The Combat Paper Project is based out of art studios throughout the United States and has traveled to Canada and the United Kingdom, providing veterans workshops, exhibitions, performances and artists’ talks.” More here.

Photograph: Combat Paper

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Of course, it wasn’t really called Cancer Dance Class. It was called “I Hope You’ll Dance,” and any woman who had ever had cancer was welcome to come to Emerson Hospital and join in. It wasn’t really dance either. I would call it dancelike movement to recordings. With props. Teacher Susan Osofsky-Ross was a cancer survivor herself and had a great collection of music from her many years in the dance world. Some pieces, like “You Raise Me Up,” had a spiritual vibe.  But in the same session we were just as likely to perform numbers like “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” (with feather boas) or “Everything Old Is New Again” (with bowler hats). There was a lot of chat and laughter even though not all of us were in remission.

One of the women brought her mother in a wheelchair. The mother had a heart condition. She danced with her arms and often cracked us up with her quiet humor. One day we came to class and learned that she had had an attack and was now upstairs in the hospital. She was in a coma. Her daughter had been with her all night and decided to join us for class while her brother kept the vigil. At the end of the class, we asked the daughter whether she thought it would be a good idea if we took the boom box up to her mother’s room and did one of the dances for her. Bonny said, “Yes. Let’s try it.”

So up we traipsed, through the hospital corridors to the sick room, and quietly sang and “danced” one of our more uplifting numbers around the bed in the cramped room.

We still like to think Bonny’s mother heard us and was pleased.

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We watched a couple unusual documentaries last night and last weekend. Often by the time films are available on Netflix, all I remember about the review is that someone highly recommended them. I know only that we will get a big surprise.

“Marwencol” and “Waste Land” were amazing surprises. They turned out to have something in common, too — the idea that art can lift people from despair, help them see things in a way that opens up their world. What was different between the movies was that for the troubled guy who created art in “Marwencol,” showing his work in a NYC gallery is quite beside the point of his healing process and probably the last thing he needs.

The movie is beautifully executed, but one has the sense that the young filmmakers who think the protagonist will benefit from the big-time art world don’t understand psychology very well.

The protagonist of “Waste Land,” successful Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, although equally idealistic, understands his subjects better, having experienced a life similar to theirs in his impoverished childhood. He decides to combine an art project with helping “garbage pickers” in the world’s biggest landfill, in Rio. Getting to know a few of the workers really well, he develops tremendous admiration for them and their deep dignity. He pays a few to work with him on giant portraits on themselves, portraits that play on the themes of some famous paintings. They use recyclables to complete the images, which are then photographed and shown in galleries and at auction. The proceeds come back to the people and help them both individually and collectively.

But the biggest transformation is not monetary but rather what Vik anticipated based on his own life experience — that by seeing things in a new way, they would get new ideas about themselves and their possibilities.

 

 

 

 

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