In the budget-lean recession years, hospital art programs, like arts initiatives everywhere, have faced increasing pressure to prove a practical, measurable value. While many general public art programs focus on concepts like cultural capital, hospitals’ unique healing mission has led in a different direction: the same double-blind experimentation used to evaluate healing therapies from drugs to exercise. Below are some recent findings:

  • In 2011, researcher Upali Nanda and her team hung different types of artworks on the walls of the patient lounge in a psychiatric facility, a place where the patients spent most of their time. Nurses tracked how much and how often the patients needed medication to control aggressive behaviors. The researchers found that patients needed significantly fewer doses of medication when realistic nature artworks were hung on the lounge walls. The psychiatric facility estimated it might enjoy a $27,000 per year cost savings on medication.
  • In 2009 and 2010, Nanda and her team hung “restorative” nature artworks on the walls of an emergency room waiting area. The researchers found that when the art was present, people in the waiting area made fewer query calls to the front desk. This research was published by the Center for Health Design.
  • In 2004, researcher Rosalia Staricoff showed images of visual art on a screen to women giving birth in an English hospital. She found that the women who viewed the art images delivered their babies 2.1 hours faster on average than a control group at the same hospital who did not see the images. This research was published by Arts Council England.
  • In a 1993 study, researcher Roger S. Ulrich and his team found that postoperative heart patients in Sweden switched to moderate pain medications faster when they were exposed to nature images. Patients who were not exposed to the nature images stayed on heavy narcotic pain medications longer. The paper was presented at the 33rd meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research in Germany.
  • In a 1990 unpublished study, University of California at Davis psychology professor Richard Coss showed nature images to extremely stressed presurgical patients. The patients viewed “non-arousing nature images” as well as “arousing and aesthetically pleasing nature images.” Coss reported that when the patients viewed the “non-arousing nature images,” they had systolic blood pressure levels 10 to 15 points lower than when they viewed the arousing and pleasing nature images.


Art and Healing Organizations

Around the world, organizations that bridge arts and health care are working on a variety of fronts, namely on art therapy and putting fine art in hospitals. These two organizations address art in the public realm:

The Global Alliance for Arts & Health (

Dedicated to advancing art as integral to health care, the former Society for the Arts in Healthcare holds an annual international conference. The 2013 conference focused on healing communities through the arts.

Art and Healing Network (

An online resource for anyone interested in the healing potential of art, the Art and Healing Network is seeking nominations for artists age 18 to 35 who are change makers in using art to heal. Nominations for this international award are needed by September 15, 2013.


For more information on art in hospitals, see Alyssa Ford’s Healing Artsalso in Issue 48.