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The healing power of arts and health

Lynne Seear, Manager of the Arts Program at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital talks about the healing value of arts in health environments

In May 2011 I was invited to curate an art collection for Queensland’s new paediatric hospital, due to open in November 2014. I knew about the intention to incorporate artwork into the design of the hospital, because several of my colleagues were involved in advisory roles as part of the early planning. However accepting this position was not straightforward for me. Professionally, I was naturally tempted by the chance to work on a significant project with an established budget. Personally, the decision was more constrained.

Exactly 10 years earlier, on a morning in May 2001, I had walked out of the Royal Children’s Hospital at Herston, leaving behind my little boy, who had passed away the night before. I was determined that I would never set foot in that place again. I could not even drive by. Now I knew that in order to do justice to the job I had been offered, I would need to confront those memories, to walk the halls of the hospital, to smell the clinical smells, and to bring the weight of those experiences into my professional life.

I understand deeply what it feels like when your world suddenly contracts down to the couple of square metres around a hospital bed, how devastating it is, how in those circumstances the outside world  seems so far away, not just on the other side of a window or door, but on a totally different planet.

Photo of main reception with art work

In the end it was not a difficult choice. I have always believed in the positive impact of art and culture on psychosocial well-being, and the evidence supporting the provision of Arts in Health programs is persuasive. After decades of evaluation, a large body of research clearly demonstrates that the incorporation of art works and cultural programs within healthcare settings enhances the healing environment – favourably impacting length of stays, reliance on analgesia, wound healing and, importantly, staff and patient satisfaction. In other words it is not just about making people feel better about where they are, it is about helping them get better quicker. Increasingly Arts in Health is a field which receives support from both sides of politics and from every tier of government. In Australia this culminated in the 2014 release of a joint framework for arts and health sponsored by state and federal ministers.

At the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital we now have a collection of over five hundred contemporary artworks, many of them by artists who live and work in Queensland.  This collection will continue to grow. We have a community choir, jointly funded by two of our cultural partners, the Queensland Conservatorium and QPAC. We have annual artist-in-residence programs, early childhood music lessons, fascinating objects on loan from the Queensland Museum, workshops, activities and performances from strings to jazz to dance.  We have worked with the Out of the Box Festival and the Children’s Art Centre at QAGOMA to make sure our patients can participate in their programs. The hospital is a vibrant, creative, collaborative community, full of things to look at and listen to. I have rarely had to worry about the responses of our young patients to any of the artwork we display or the programs we run. Contemporary culture is their habitat. They have not learned how to be cynical; they bring curiosity, joyfulness, humour, open minds and full hearts to all the experiences they are offered.

Art and culture cannot make diseases or injuries go away. Art does not cure anything. However there is plenty of evidence that it can help mend.

Children and young people in hospital deserve the best of everything,  and to feel that life is full of possibilities. Arts in Health programs offer them opportunities to meet artists, to see culture in action, to learn new skills and to be exposed to interesting ideas.


Lynne SeearLynne Seear is a senior curator, writer and arts manager with almost 30 years experience in the visual arts, including 16 years at the Queensland Art Gallery in management roles involving collection development, exhibition planning, publishing and policy development and implementation. From 2000 to 2010 she was the Queensland Art Gallery’s Deputy Director, Curatorial and Collection Development. In this position she oversaw the curatorial programs and projects that were crucial to the establishment of the Gallery of Modern Art, in particular the growth and display of the Gallery’s extensive contemporary collections. During this period she was a member of the senior executive team which planned the Gallery’s major exhibitions including many large-scale international shows, including the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (2002, 2006 and 2009), Andy Warhol and Picasso and his collections. Lynne was also deeply involved in the development of the Children’s Art Centre and she helped lead the curatorial teams that created a series of groundbreaking contemporary exhibitions for children, attracting new family-based audiences to the state institution. Lynne has extensive experience in writing and publishing and has contributed to and edited several major books and exhibition catalogues. For the past five years she has been developing a multifaceted Arts Program and Collection for inclusion within the new Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital and she has a specialist research interest in the importance of arts and culture within healthcare settings.



Image on AQ Blog main page and Banner image: Early Childhood Music Co-ordinator (Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University) Kath Lloyd with children from her weekly class at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital Junior School.