Musical medicine

Artists in Healthcare helps sick people in their time of need


Laughter? Nope, it’s music. 

Artists in Healthcare Manitoba aims to relieve some of the stress and anxiety that come with a lengthy hospital stay. Through music and art, Artists in Healthcare Manitoba provides support for those in need and their families.

Shirley Grierson, executive director of Artists in Healthcare, says mental wellbeing is a large part of physical healing.

“It’s becoming more mainstream now in that architects and designers are looking more at the physical environment, realizing that when people have windows and can see nature they’re more comfortable,” Grierson says. 

“There’s a piece of research from the ‘70s where two patients of the same size and gender both had an appendectomy. One of them had a window that looked out to something green and one of them had a window that looked out at a brick wall. The one that saw nature used less pain meds and left the hospital earlier.” 

She told him that I got her through her time in the hospital, that my music was something that really helped her get through that time.

Lois Gillespie, musician, Artists in Healthcare

Generally, an Artists in Healthcare musician will play in one of the hospital common areas where people can gather and listen, but occasionally they’re asked to come into a room and play something for someone specific. 

A nonprofit organization, Artists in Healthcare isn’t widely known outside of the hospital. Publicity is hard, notes Lois Gillespie, one of the program’s musicians. “We see them and then they leave - you don’t often get to see people again.” 

Grierson maintains that she wants “a general awareness of our organization and our values and we want to keep growing and expanding.” 

And so, Artists in Healthcare have compiled a CD featuring many of their talented musicians, including Gillespie, Vanessa Kuzina and Keith Price. For every CD sold, two will be given away to a patient.

Gillespie, a guitarist and songwriter, has been playing with Artists in Healthcare for approximately 11 years and says “it’s both challenging and awesome.” 

“I ran into a woman at the Folk Festival this year and she introduced her husband to me,” Gillespie says. “She told him that I got her through her time in the hospital, that my music was something that really helped her get through that time.”

Grierson recalls something a musician said to her earlier in the program after their first performance. 

“[She said] ‘Wow, I’ve never been listened to like I was by these people, in this environment today. And I’ve never been able to see how much of a difference music can make.’”

Published in Volume 68, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 20, 2013)

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