Arts in Medicine at New York City Health + Hospitals

New York City Health + Hospitals is the largest public hospital system in the country, serving more than 1.1 million New Yorkers in more than 70 patient care locations across the city’s five boroughs.

In 2019, the Illumination Fund helped launch the system’s flagship Arts in Medicine program. As a result, New York City Health + Hospitals (H+H) has developed new arts initiatives benefitting staff and patients at hospitals, health centers and long-term care facilities. The grant also enabled H+H to expand existing arts programs to reach more facilities.

Beyond serving patients, the Arts in Medicine program provides arts programming for staff as a means to reduce stress, support emotional health, and help address “compassion fatigue,” often referred to as “physician burnout.”


In February 2019, the Illumination Fund made a three-year, $1.5 million grant via the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City to New York City Health + Hospitals to launch the public health system’s Arts in Medicine program.

Studies conducted in 2007 by Repar and Patton demonstrated that arts programs can lower rates of tension, anger, depression, and fatigue—symptoms of burnout and compassion fatigue. Arts in Medicine is about engaging patients, clinicians, caregivers, and staff in different types of healing connections. Visual arts, performing arts, theater, and literary arts help tap into imagination, creativity, and expression as part of improving health.

Physicians have reported a sense of renewed energy and focus as a direct result of engaging in the arts. Research on outcomes involving medical students who engaged in art observation training—reported on in the January 2018 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology—found that observational skills were improved significantly.

Although art observation programs have existed for medical students and physicians in training and often have taken place in museums, the new visual art observation program takes advantage of the health system’s extensive collection of more than 3,000 art works. The art collection began with commissioned pieces through the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s and grew to include some of America’s leading artists such as Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, and Keith Haring. The health system’s collection is the largest public art collection in New York City.

The Arts in Medicine program also fits with related programs at NYC Health + Hospitals designed to address compassion fatigue among staff. Helping Healers Heal is one such initiative. Launched by the public health system in April 2018, this peer-led employee wellness program offers emotional first aid to health care providers who are suffering from workplace stress or anxiety and may be at high risk of depression.

The Arts in Medicine program introduced new initiatives for staff:

  • Community Murals, collaborative projects of artists, staff, and community members to create stunning works of art inside and outside facilities;
  • HHArt of Medicine, an art-observation initiative that guides clinicians through intensive art viewing designed to enhance focus, improve communication, and encourage active listening, which in turn improves their ability to serve patients;
  • SoulCollage®, workshops that facilitate self-discovery through collage composition to help staff express and share their experiences and emotions.

Additionally, patient-oriented programs that have taken place in single hospitals have been expanded to other hospitals and clinics.

  • Music & Memory® engages patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia and cognitive loss by creating personalized playlists with familiar songs for enhanced memory retrieval and cognitive functioning, among a variety of other positive health effects.
  • The Lullaby Project partners pregnant women and new mothers with professional musicians to compose lullabies for their babies. The program reduces maternal anxiety and depression, aiding in child development and strengthening the bond between parent and child.
  • Visible Ink pairs experienced writing mentors with cancer patients to assist patients by expressing themselves in writing. Writing can help patients dealing with illness feel less isolated, invisible, and powerless. Visible Ink participants are invited to submit their written works for potential publication in and/or inclusion in an annual performance.
  • Live Concerts Throughout the years, NYC Health + Hospitals facilities have hosted concerts for patients, staff and community members. During the Covid crisis, concerts were live streamed with marquee musicians performing to benefit the hospital workers and patients.
  • Rotating Art Exhibits NYC Health + Hospitals facilities routinely host temporary art exhibits in their public spaces.
  • Audio Art Tours provide information about individual artworks and the history of the collections, accessible through user’s mobile phones.