For more than a decade, the Gifts of Art Program has helped fulfill the needs of University hospital patients when modern medicine could not, and has been complementing patient treatment with the positive energy that the arts can provide, the program’s supporters say.

Mira Levitan
Visitors to the A. Alfred Taubman Health Care Center yesterday enjoy the pictures and sculptures in a Gifts of Art display. (JOEL FRIEDMAN/Daily)

The Gifts of Art, which started in 1987, consists of art exhibits, weekly and special concerts, bedside musicians and carts filled with posters. The program features nine art exhibits that are changed every two months. Exhibits include original cartoons, paintings, dolls, sculptures and photographs. They are exhibited throughout the University of Michigan Health System and are popular among patients, program director Elaine Sims said. Many patients request their nurses to take them to view these exhibits, she added.

Gifts of Art hosts concerts every Thursday in the main lobby of the University Hospital and from time to time undertakes special programs. This year, Gifts of Art will host more than 50 shows, including drama performances and dance shows.

Another favorite feature among patients is the art cart – a cart filled with framed posters that is taken to each room so the patient can choose which poster they would like to hang on their room wall.

This option helps patients feel like they’re participating in something and feel more empowered, rather than constantly being told what to do, Sims said.

“This makes the patients very happy,” she said.

Another popular undertaking by the Gifts of Art is the bedside musicians program. Harpist Julie Hussar, one of the musicians who provides music for patients, said patients become very content when they hear music and feel more relaxed.

Recalling a time when she played in the neonatal unit, Hussar noticed that when she played music, “the babies feel relaxed and (doctors) saw decreases in heart rate and increases in oxygenation.”

Soothing music generally helps all patients feel relaxed and nurses feel more at ease when caring for patients.

“Everybody just loves it,” said Brenda Hershberger, a nurse in the neonatal unit. “We’re very fortunate to have Julie, and it makes a difference in our life.”

Cyril Engmann, a physician in the neonatal unit, regards the music as “wonderful healing therapy” for newborns and other patients. “Music makes me calm and my rounds enjoyable and pleasant,” he said.

The Gifts of Art has made another lasting contribution to the hospital. The program coordinators helped build the Friends Meditation Garden in the courtyard near the University Hospital, complete with benches, flowers and fountains.

Sims said the garden is popular among patients, and many of them ask that they be taken there so that they can relax under the sun.

The Gifts of Art hosts most summer programs in the garden to offer people a chance to enjoy nature as well as soothing music, Sims said.

The Gifts of Art receives its funding from operating gift shops and collects a modest commission when something is sold from their exhibits, Sims said. The program plans to add a mural to the hospital’s main lobby and sculptures and marble fountains wherever the ambiance can be improved.

Due to the hospital’s privacy concerns, patients could not be reached for comment.

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