Undiscovered Opportunities: Arts in the Healing Environment

Undiscovered Opportunities: Arts in the Healing Environment

By Dr Anna Petterson BA MA PhD, Manager, Research & Education SolarisCare Foundation


Arts in the Healing Environment was the subject of discussion at the recent conference held by St John of God Health Care and the Chamber of Arts and Culture, Western Australia. The event was designed to explore how we can better integrate the arts into the delivery of health services in West Australian hospitals.  Approximately eighty participants including myself attended the event, which was held in Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research at QEII Medical Centre, Nedlands.

During the conference we heard about the work of current art and health collaborations such as, Flinders Medical Centre and their Arts in Health Program and the Hush Music Foundation, including the play Hear Me by Alan Hopgood. Hear Me uses the unique capacity of live performance to influence and potentially transform healthcare through provoking audiences to think, reflect on current practice and to consider how to do things better. Some of you may remember Alan’s play, Four Funerals in One Day, was featured at the SolarisCare Foundations Tenth Anniversary celebrations.

Speakers were from both an artistic and health background including Warwick Hemsley Chairman, and Henry Boston Executive Director from the Chamber of Arts and Culture Western Australia and Dr Michael Stanford, Group Chief Executive Officer, St John of God Health Care. SolarisCare Founder and Medical Director, Dr David Joske moderated the session Creating the Environment which examined the following topics:

  • Social Interaction
  • Connecting to Nature
  • Safety
  • Connectivity
  • Collaboration
  • Discovery
  • Comfort
  • Meaning
  • Play
  • Exercise
  • Legibility
  • Aesthetic
  • Gathering
  • Relaxation
  • Vibrancy
  • Sense of Place


The study, Effects of Visual and Performing Arts in Health Care by Rosalia Lelchuk Staricoff, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London UK 1999-2003 provided a framework for the conference. Findings from this study included:

  • Induces significant differences in clinical outcomes.
  • Reduces amount of drug consumption.
  • Shortens length of stay in hospital.
  • Improves patient management.
  • Contributes towards increased job satisfaction.
  • Enhances the quality of service.


Sally Francis spoke on The Irresistible Proposition of Arts and Health: Profiling the development of Arts in Health at the Flinders Medical Centre, highlights from her discussion comprised of the following topics;

  • Exploratory – introducing arts as health promotion strategy.
  • Consolidation – professional practice model, establishing galleries, partnerships.
  • Expansion and diversification – multiple art form projects, regular performance and exhibition, residencies.
  • Sustainability – ongoing program for patients, visitors and staff.
  • Dealing with – scepticism, acceptance, embracing, embedding.


In 2013, Australia’s Health Ministers and Cultural Ministers committed to improving the health and wellbeing of all Australians and recognised  the role of the arts in contributing to this. In WA new buildings on the QEII site have creatively addressed streetscapes, food outlets, courtyards, and human spaces that are sociable, accessible, and safe, with connecting links and that above all, provide comfort. Older areas of the hospital (SCGH) will gradually  be renovated to meet the above standards.

The four SolarisCare Centres are mindful of creating a healing environment for patients and their carers and including various forms of art such as paintings and music to assist within each centres to create a relaxed, peaceful and inviting atmosphere. The SolarisCare Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital (SCGH) and Great Southern Albany Centres are located off their respective hospital’s internal Art Galleries. These exhibitions from the hospital’s collection create a unique environment for patients and their carers entering our Centres.

With thanks to funds raised in the 2013 Dry July Campaign, the SolarisCare SCGH, South West and Great Southern centres have enhanced their physical environment, which includes a large aquarium, artwork, more comfortable chairs, lounges and cushions to provide support as well as indoor plants.

If you would like to know more information about the arts in healthcare, or are an artist who would like to offer your skills as a volunteer please contact Dr Anna Petterson:
P:  08 6383 3481