Creative Minds in Healthcare at the City Club

On Friday, May 30th, we attended a luncheon and panel discussion at the City Club of Greater Cleveland titled “Creative Minds in Healthcare”. The background for this program can best be explained by these words which appeared in the written program:
“The relationship between the arts and healthcare is a growing topic of exploration among advocates of both fields. The Community Partnership for Arts and Culture recently released a report entitled “Creative Minds in Medicine: A Cleveland Creative Intersection, which detailed Cuyahoga County’s experience with this emerging intersection. The report detailed the four main ways in which arts and culture intersect with healthcare, including the design of medical and healthcare facilities, therapy and arts and culture activities, serving as a rallying point for communities to discuss public health and social equity issues, and enriching medical training programs. According to CPAC’s President and CEO, Tom Schorgl, these collaborations ‘are improving health and wellness outcomes for the broader community, as well as serving individual needs'”

And so, on this day, Mr. Schorgl moderated a panel discussion featuring Joe Cimperman, Cleveland City Councilman, Ward 3; State Representative Nickie J. Antonio, Ohio House of Representatives, District 13; and Dave Greenspan, Cuyahoga District 1. What was most memorable about this discussion was when the panelist talked about their own personal experiences and observations regarding the relationship between the arts and healthcare.

For example, State Rep. Antonio’s daughter is an artist, musician and massage therapist who used her artistic skills to create a structure, partially from discarded glass bottles, known as “The Healing Place” where people go and meditate and thus heal themselves. State Rep. Antonio said that the ambiance of this structure is perfect for this and was proud of her daughter’s accomplishment because it provided assistance to people in need. State Rep. Antonio was involved in a Women’s Center years ago during the HIV/AIDS crisis where she studied ways to effectively get messages about prevention out to people and learned that other countries made use of performers to get the word out and believes that we explore ways to do more along these lines. She recalled attending a performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical play “Carousel” after which there was a provocative discussion about spousal abuse that was depicted in the play.

City Councilman Cimperman recalled hanging out at the community center in St. Clair and learning how to lip synch, which was a form of therapy for him, and it was quite an accomplishment to be able to lip synch to beep-bop. He revealed that his mother suffered from a bipolar disorder but she was helped by occupational therapy so the house was full of art objects that his mother had created. He poignantly recalled that once when his mother was in the hospital over Christmas he went to see her and discovered that she had filled three chalkboards with the lyrics of “Silent Night” in Slovenian and was teaching people how to sing it; it turned out to be one of the best Christmas memories that he ever had. On still another occasion he acted in a production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” staged inside of the Metro Health Psych Ward and said he will never forget how the patients became so involved in it that they interacted with the performers.

County Councilman Greenspan said that he was aware of the great work that the Beck Center in Lakewood does in terms of art and music therapy. From his own observations, he believes that art can help people acquire the discipline that they need to make it through tough times. He gave another example of this when he talked about how the outreach programs, which include art and music, can help the young people in the juvenile justice center by giving them “a new feeling of self-worth” that they had not had before.

In full accord, Councilman Cimperman noted that the Cleveland Public Theatre has a terrific youth program and young people come from all over to participate. He also mentioned the fine things that the Y-Haven program does for people.

Both City Councilman Cimperman and State Rep. Antonio discussed the recent success of Station Hope which we attended and loved. City Councilman Cimperman said that 150 actors brought together several thousand people and that he had never observed “such an integration of people” before and State Rep. Antonio said that it was an exercise full of “energy, positive action, and diversity” and it shows how the vital the arts are to the community.

County Councilman Greenspan said that the statistics are there that prove that a community can help itself economically by investing in the arts.

No doubt about it, today’s discussion will stimulate a lot of thinking about the arts and healthcare and a lot of suggestions will be made about how to move forward, so Tom Schorgl asked the panelists about how people should approach their legislators/public officials with these suggestions and all three of the panelists agreed that those making the suggestions should think them through, do their homework, and present them with as much detail as possible. It is a real non-starter when people approach them with a half-baked plan that they, themselves, are expected to put together themselves in a very short amount of time.

Of course, as we always do, we met some fine people who know Margaret W. Wong and had some good memories to share. Mr. John Murphy met Ms. Wong when he was doing some consulting for the Cleveland Roundtable around 1989 and affectionately recalled that, unlike the Margaret W. Wong Immigration Center of today, she had only a “small, cramped office” back then.

Lisa Gallagher, Music Therapy Program Manager of the Cleveland Clinic, recalled that her husband Ed Gallagher bartended at the Pearl of the Orient for 16 years. It was sort of an extra job for him which he left 13 years ago. He is now the Director of Education for the Beck Center.

Nicholas Mathew, Research Fellow with the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, praised Ms. Wong for her support of the arts.

Most interesting to us was Raymond Bobgan of the Cleveland Public Theatre who told us that 5 or 6 years ago Ms. Wong sponsored a play by Gao Xingjen that was too controversial for Chinese audiences and too avant garde to find much financial success in the U.S. With the help of people like Ms. Wong, though, at least it was put on and aficionados were given the opportunity to see it.

We always like going to the City Club but today we left with a particularly good feeling of fulfillment and a sense of optimism about what we had seen and heard during this forum as well as before and after it.