Montclair State Hosts Alliance for Arts & Health NJ's Second-annual Conference

All-day event, "Arts & Health: Connecting Across the Life Span," held June 14 on campus, attracts those in the arts-related and healthcare industries

The Alliance for Arts and Health NJ held its second annual conference, "Arts & Health: Connecting Across the Life Span," at Montclair State on June 14. Pictured, handmade paper made out of old combat fatigues by a veteran as part of Combat Paper NJ, a veteran-led program, shows how art is used to heal.

The Alliance for Arts & Health NJ (AAH NJ), an organization that seeks to connect arts-related professionals and those who provide health and wellness services, held its second-annual conference June 14 on the campus of Montclair State University. The event was co-sponsored by the Office of Education and Outreach (OECO) at the University's College of the Arts. Co-chairs of the conference were Marie Sparks, director of administration at the College of the Arts, and Ellen Williams, of Rutgers University.

This year's conference was titled "Arts & Health: Connecting Across the Life Span."

"The title was chosen to reflect the applicability of the Arts to health and wellness from birth through end stage/death," explained Karen D. Carbonello, co-chair of AAH NJ.

"The title [also] refers to the fact that the programs represented at the conference crossed all stages of life and health and dealt with issues fundamental to all ages, socioeconomic, and ethnic groups," added Brian F. Dallow, also a co-chair of AAH NJ. 

The all-day event featured two breakout sessions, each consisting of four presentations, including:

  • A screening of Ripple in the Water, a documentary shot on location in South Africa focusing on the work of  Kim Berman, an artist/activist who's mobilizing people to use paper and print making and embroidery to address HIV/AIDS, poverty alleviation and the empowerment of women and children (co-produced by Patricia Piroh, producer for the School of Communication and Media, and Eileen Foti, assistant professor in the Department of Art and Design)
  • Veterans and the Arts - using music and the ancient art of handmade paper making, from old combat fatigues, to help veterans heal from the physical, psychological and emotional effects of war and transition from military to civilian live
  • Arts and Health Partnerships: Models and Best Practices - two separate presentations - one on the use of live musical performances and music-therapy programs in a wide range of institutions such as children's hospitals, retirement facilities, juvenile-detention centers, nursing homes, medical centers and prisons, in helping the healing process; the other, on providing laughter and entertainment and healing programs using the visual arts, music, dance and theatre, media, culinary arts, and other creative opportunities to children facing disability, illness, poverty, neglect or abuse

Both Carbonello and Dallow concur as to the therapeutic effect of art on well being and health and have made their careers out of it. Carbonello is founder and president of Creative Heartwork, Inc., a 10-year-old non-profit service organization that uses the power of the arts and horticulture to heal those facing difficult challenges. Dallow and his wife founded Music for All Seasons, Inc., an organization created to bring the therapeutic power of live music to underserved audiences, in 1991.

"Regarding the role arts play in health, they play a critically important role in healing, maintaining physical emotional and psychological health and wellness," Carbonello said. "The arts have been touted as having an effect on lowering blood pressure,  hastening recovery from disease, injury  and trauma, reducing stress and anxiety, providing distraction for painful procedures, assisting in recovery of lost memories, and help caregivers to cope with the stress of helping others with their recovery.

"I [and my company] offer harp in the neonatal intensive care unit, bedside harp and creative and therapeutic arts to terminally ill children in hospice care. There are plenty of other examples but the idea is that the arts can be helpful to healing or improving our quality of life at any age," she said.

"In simple terms, the arts all change the physiological and chemical functioning of the body and assist in healing," Dallow added. "The impact they have in immediate healing, in long-term healing, in addressing psychoneurological issues, in changing the way medicine is practiced, in the influence on medical practice, aging, the architecture of hospitals and all public buildings, has been well documented and researched."

Dallow said the purpose of last week's conference was three-fold:

1) To offer a networking opportunity for those working in the field of arts and health
2) To provide, through the breakouts, some examples of best practices in the field and to offer growth and education opportunities for the attendees
3) To provide an awareness of the need for advocacy and education in the field

Carbonello said conference attendees expressed interest in how to start programs and get more involved, which she took as an indication that the field is still still new and ripe for expansion of programs and services.

"The timing is right," said Carbonello. "People see the value and want to implement or start up collaborations between arts agencies and hospitals, clinics, social service centers, behavioral health centers, institutions and the like. This shows more than growth in the acceptance of the role of the arts in health care, it demonstrates a recognition of the critical need for more programs to improve and maintain our health."

Dallow said Montclair State was a fitting location in which to hold the AAH NJ conference.

"Our relationship with Montclair State simply acknowledges the enormous commitment [it] has to the field, to its educational commitment in the area of arts and health and to its veteran-friendly programming," he said.