Healing Ceilings: Using Art to Help Cancer Patients

Phyllis Johnson Health Guide
  • Years ago I had a doctor who had a mobile of birds over her examining table.  Another doctor taped a poster to the ceiling.  I loved having something to look at while I lay flat on my back.  Later when I was undergoing chemo, the lab where I had my blood drawn had a calendar with pictures of seasonal nature scenery.  It probably was just there to help with scheduling, but I used it as a focal point to help me relax while I was being jabbed.  I could mentally put myself into that open field under the blue sky and forget for a moment what was happening to me.


    I was delighted to read recently that a foundation is working to help patients using art.  The website at Healing Ceilings describes its mission this way:  “Battling cancer requires strength, positive focus, and the loving support of others in the present, every day, every treatment, every exam.  Healing Ceilings seeks to transform the supportive environment of health care settings and the physical perception of adult cancer patients through the experience of original, appropriate, evidence-based visual art in the ceilings of health care facilities. Cancer warriors undergoing exams and treatments spend a large amount of time Looking UP! Up at the cold, blank, white ceiling.  Healing Ceilings is changing that experience every day! One visual vacation at a time.”

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    The foundation connects artists and health care centers to make ceiling tiles.  I was surprised to learn that there are studies about what type of art works best.  According to research by Roger Ulrich, adult patients respond best to “open, calm nature scenes.”  Looking at scenes of water and trees can actually reduce blood pressure and decrease the amount of pain medication a patient needs.  Abstract art or paintings of dark forests can increase anxiety in patients.  Children and adults have different preferences in art that soothes them.


    Amy Jo Edwards realized the need for ceiling art when her husband Bill was going through chemotherapy.  Chemo patients spend hours reclined in a chair while receiving their infusions with nothing interesting at which to gaze.  Using the research about what helps adult patients, she began matching artists with medical centers in the Raleigh, NC area.  Within a year, she had helped install more than 300 ceiling tiles.  Artists receive the ceiling tiles and a list of requirements for how to paint them.  Then the foundation finds the best place for each picture.


    Most of my doctors don’t have anything interesting to look at in their offices.  Sometimes they have charts of body parts to educate patients, but those are certainly not calming.  I regularly suggest adding pictures to the walls at the lab where I have my blood drawn, but to date no one has done anything about it.


    Now there is a foundation where I can donate money for a box of ceiling tiles.  Artists can donate their time and talent to turn the tiles into beautiful scenes.  Then the next person undergoing chemo or a painful procedure will have a focal point to calm and distract her.


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    Healing Ceilings.  2013.  Accessed March 30, 2014 http://www.healingceilings.com.

Published On: March 30, 2014