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University of Iowa News Release


March 7, 2008

UI Arts Share program wins funding for Patient Voice Project

The University of Iowa Arts Share program's Patient Voice Project is one of eight initiatives in the United States and Canada to receive a 2008 grant from the Johnson & Johnson/Society for the Arts in Healthcare partnership.

The grants, totaling $172,840, are designed to bridge the gap between illness and health and promote the use of the arts to enhance the healthcare experience for patients, their families and caregivers. The funds support new and innovative projects that will use art to advance healing and preventative health. Chosen from more than 130 proposals, the awards support programs in art, drama, film, music and writing therapies.

The Patient Voice project offers creative writing as a therapeutic option for patients at Iowa hospitals. Graduate-student mentors from the UI Writers' Workshop meet for six sessions with chronically ill patients individually and with support groups.

Writing exercises are illness-specific personal narratives or otherwise, depending on the interests of the patients. They emphasize the personal, explore areas of the patient's experience, and are tailored to the individual patient.

The Patient Voice addresses the needs of patients, their families and healthcare practitioners with three anticipated outcomes: to stimulate health and wellbeing benefits for the participants, to improve patient-doctor-family-patient communication, and to better inform health care practitioners about the human experience of chronic illness.

Arts Share Director Leslie Finer said, "I am thrilled to receive funding from J&J/SAH because I feel the Patient Voice Project is poised for expansion, and this grant will allow us to implement the project in other communities over the next three years."

The project was the brainchild of writer Austin Bunn when he was a graduate student in the UI Writers' Workshop, and it was launched by the UI Arts Share program in collaboration with the UI Hospitals and Clinics, through support from the office of the Provost.

Bunn recruited other Writers' Workshop students, who teach free individual and group classes with a variety of patient populations, including people with cancer, mental illness, digestive diseases, AIDS and Huntington's Disease.

"Often, the chronically ill are the bearers of a 'broken story,' one that has a clear beginning followed by an ocean of middle with little sense of closure or personal choice," Bunn explained. "The premise of this project is to bring our training at the Writers' Workshop to bear on the challenge of studying and repairing this broken story.

"I know about the 'broken story' from personal experience. As a kid, I was a patient at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and after two surgeries there I hungered to make sense of the experience. But no one I knew, from my parents to friends, was able to listen to a story that I was, in truth, incapable of telling. Now, I feel like the 'Patient Voice' is a great way to see how writing can actually help people.

"This is not distraction therapy," he stresses. "Actually, it's the opposite. It brings intense focus on their experience with illness, and their experience as patients."

"Access to the arts uplifts the quality of the healthcare experience," said Anita Boles, executive director, Society for the Arts in Healthcare. "The Johnson & Johnson/Society for the Arts in Healthcare grants provide an important opportunity for replication of existing model programs that are advancing the arts in healing. These programs will continue to raise awareness of the potential of the arts to transform the healthcare experience."

The Society for the Arts in Healthcare is a nonprofit 501c3 international organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1991, it is dedicated to promoting the incorporation of the arts as an integral component of healthcare.

Funded in part by the National Endowment of the Arts and Johnson & Johnson, the Society for the Arts in Healthcare provides program development support through grants, consultant services and the convening of conferences and symposia to a wide range of arts and healthcare institutions.

"As the arts are increasingly integrated into health contexts, we are privileged to support eight promising programs that will provide further evidence of the vital connection between creativity and healing. As a health care company, we applaud these eight organizations for their work in bringing the arts to new populations," said Michael Bzdak, director, Corporate Contributions, Johnson & Johnson.

More than 1,700 Society for the Arts in Healthcare members, including artists and healthcare professionals, serve patients and their families in the U.S. and abroad. For more information, visit or call 202-299-9770.

Arts Share is a unit of the UI Division of Performing Arts in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the Writers' Workshop is a graduate program in the college.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to, click the link "Join or leave the list (or change settings)" and follow the instructions.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACTS: Leslie Finer, Arts Share,; Winston Barclay, Arts Center Relations, 319-384-0073 (office), 319-430-1013 (cell),