Art as medicine

Artist Caty Carlin is developing an Arts in Medicine program in the area. Photo courtesy of Bob Cotton

Artist Caty Carlin believes that “textile-making is a direct connection to healing,” adding, “Cloth was the medium through which I found sacredness.” And while textiles are Carlin’s preferred mode of expression, she maintains that the therapeutic process is in the creation of all art, regardless of the medium. She hopes to harness this healing power by organizing an Arts in Medicine (AIM) initiative in Asheville, which would bring visual, performance and literary art into hospitals for therapeutic purposes.

Carlin attended an Arts in Medicine intensive at Shands Hospital at the University of Florida in 2008 and was recently accepted into the university’s master’s program in the field. The foremost leader in Arts in Medicine, Shands Hospital began its program 23 years ago with volunteers in the pediatric ward. Now, the Arts in Medicine program employs numerous visual, literary and performing artists in hospitals and medical communities across the country.

Since completing her training, Carlin has worked in numerous hospitals within AIM programs. She is now teaming up with Connie Schrader, an instructor from UNC Asheville’s health and wellness program, to create a foundation for an AIM program in the area. Schrader will teach a class at UNCA titled “Arts in Healing and Medicine” for the first time during the spring 2014 semester.

The purpose of Arts in Medicine is to encourage and support creative expression in patients and to incorporate creativity into mainstream medicine by working with physicians, nurses, social workers and hospitals, Carlin explains. A session might involve the patient and therapist writing poetry, engaging in movement together or making a sculpture. It can occur one-on-one with the therapist at the patient’s bedside or in another hospital space. It might involve a group session with other patients who have similar conditions, family members or other clinicians from the treatment team.

“Being in the hospital is a lonely experience,” says Carlin, adding that art therapy enables patients to express, process and cope with their conditions.

Shands Hospital’s mission is to create collaboration among hospitals and community arts organizations around the world. Carlin hopes to carry on that mission in hospitals and organizations within Western North Carolina.

“It’s a challenging path. We’re still operating in the institutionalized paradigm,” says Carlin. “How will it morph into an integrated experience for culture and medicine? I don’t know. For Asheville to not have this program is disappointing at best. It needs to happen here.”

The Arts in Medicine summit will take place at UNCA March 6 and 7, featuring representatives from Shands Hospital. To learn more, visit, or contact Carlin directly at 828.974.2841 or


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About Ann Marie Molnar
I am a freelance writer living in Asheville NC.

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