By Juliana Forero, Ph.D.
One of the first things I did when I became HCP’s Director of Education was to visit the PictureThis! program at Texas Children’s Hospital’s Cancer and Hematology Center. I met with Carol Herron, the Arts in Medicine Coordinator, who gave me a tour of the facilities and talked to me about the program’s impact. I was impressed by the power of healing that the arts had on those patients! In graduate school, I shared classes with students pursuing their doctoral degrees in art therapy, and was familiar with the theories and positive results of these types of programs, but it was something else to see the smiles on the actual participants. It was wonderful to see the patients, parents, sisters, brothers, nurses and volunteers all engaged in the activity we were leading.
For several months I worked directly with these patients, breaking language barriers with many of them. I remember one girl from Vietnam who travelled with her family to Houston for treatment. She added glitter, feathers, and shiny stars to a life-sized photo of her face. With her family we communicated in simple English, but very little was needed to understand her joy when she put on her mask—her laughter was all around.
As we began to expand the program, we realized the curriculum needed to be revised and we envisioned a team of teaching artists that could take PictureThis! to other healthcare facilities. Since 2011, this outreach program has silently snowballed into a strong and meaningful part of what we do at HCP. To test our pilot curriculum, we got approval from TCH Cancer Center in early 2012 to increase our visits from bi-monthly to weekly meetings, including one-on-one sessions in the in-patient area. We focused more on the quality of the programs offered, rather than on the quantity of patients served. The outcome was so successful that we currently alternate our weekly visits to the Cancer and Hematology Center’s outpatient area, the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, and in-patient rooms.
In March 2013, HCP hosted an exhibition of the work created by the children in the program. Some of the patients and their families attended the opening and were thrilled to see their work framed and displayed on the gallery walls. We were invited by Hellen Currier and Frida Wilson of TCH’s Renal Center to work with children receiving dialysis treatment. On these visits we bring ipads, cameras and portable printers and have managed engage with even the most indifferent teenagers.
And the program keeps expanding! HCP is proud to be a partner of the Global Alliance for the Arts & Healthcare Conference taking place in Houston, April 9–12, 2014. During this time, HCP will unveil a mobile outreach classroom! Outfitted with photographic equipment, computers, and printers, this repurposed ambulance will serve as a portable extension of Picture This!, allowing HCP to increase its commitment to creating meaningful photography experiences. This photo studio on wheels will be offered to visit clinics, hospitals, and other events and community centers throughout Houston.
If you would like to get involved or support this program, please contact me at Juliana@hcponline.org.