Carilion Clinic believes that providing the highest quality of patient care means more than treating their physical symptoms. The Dr. Robert L.A. Keeley Healing Arts Program launched in 2011 based on this notion and is designed to support the whole human experience of patients, caregivers, visitors, and staff by integrating the literary, visual, and performing arts within the healing process. 

Research shows that healing arts programs can impact patients and families in a variety of ways including shortened post-operative recovery, raised pain thresholds, increased morale, lower blood pressure and heart rate, lower levels of stress and anxiety, and more.

“Professional artists in the community offer bed side art experiences for patients, family members, and caregivers,” says Katie Snead Biddle, Healing Arts Program Consultant. “It really encourages them to heal beyond the physical body.”

Katie served on the advisory board since the program started and became the official consultant in 2018. She pulls from her background as an expressive arts therapist and strives to provide evidence based programming.

“There is such a huge need for the arts right now,” says Biddle. “Arts has always been a part of healing, since ancient times.”

The program leverages artists-in-residence to build a community connection to the arts and culture leaders in the area. The current artists in residence include:

  • Lawrence Reid Bechtel, sculptor, author, and storyteller
  • Kirsti Kaldro, music educator and harp therapist
  • Sandee McGlaun, creative writer and memoirist, Associate Professor of English and Director of the Writing Center at Roanoke College
  • John Pence, musician, producer, and songwriter
  • Pedro Szalay, dancer, choreographer, and educator, Director of SWVA Ballet

Arts from Afar

As the world continues to feel the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, the healing arts program is more important than ever. While it’s unsafe to provide the same bed side programming they typically offered, Biddle is proud of how agile they’ve been to create a whole new kind of experience for patients.

“We have completely transformed the way we provide arts experiences for patients and employees,” says Biddle. “In partnership with our artists-in-residence, we’ve created new virtual arts experiences to support the healing process.”

New art kits, including modeling clay, watercolor, and collage kits are being distributed to inpatient hospital unites and to some hospice patients and families. Demonstrations on how to use the kits are available on their YouTube Channel or via the GetWellNetwork – the inpatient television network at Roanoke Memorial. Since the beginning of the crisis, they have distributed 250 kits and will expand distribution in the coming weeks.

“While nothing can replace an in-person visit with an artist, the custom content from our artists provides an aspect of social community connection that still promotes healing,” she adds. “The kits are designed to promote physiologic and emotion regulation, and a sense of agency and expression – factors that are also known to improve physical health.”

The artists-in-residence have provided custom programming each week to be shared on the YouTube channel. One of the most recent examples is Pedro Szalay from Southwest Virginia Ballet collaborating with musician John Pence.

“I have been heartened by the local arts community’s response to this situation and the truly collaborative and innovative spirit of our community partners,” says Biddle.

The Importance of Arts & Culture in Our Community

Biddle and the dedicated advisory board of the Healing Arts Program believe engaging in creative activities is truly one of the best ways to cope with uncertainty. Through the data they have collected from the program over the last two years, the benefits of artistic endeavors in healthcare settings are clear.

“We are glad to be able to draw on the healing power of the arts during a time when creativity is increasingly important,” says Biddle.

The Healing Arts Program at Carilion is just one of the many examples of arts and culture organizations working together to strengthen Roanoke in this time of crisis.

“The work that Shaleen [Powell] and the Roanoke Cultural Endowment are doing is truly supportive of the arts and culture organizations in this community,” she adds. “The fact that the endowment will support operational funding is huge, because most of the grants we apply for must go directly into programming. They can help fill that gap for operational costs.”

The Roanoke Cultural Endowment is thankful for leaders like Katie Snead Biddle and the dedicated artists-in-residence for stepping up to provide healing interactive arts experiences from afar. Check out the Keeley Healing Arts Program YouTube Channel to participate in some safe arts and culture experiences!

©2024 Roanoke Cultural Endowment. All rights reserved.