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Anna Bussing, who is pursuing a doctorate in audiology, starred in “Chicago” at the Hoogland Center for the Arts.
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Arts and health: There's definitely a connection
By Janet Seitz Carlson

Music adjusts your mood. A funny movie can make you laugh until you're euphoric. "Refrigerator art" brings smiles. Those are day-to-day, simple arts experiences. 

From literature to the visual and performing arts, the arts can be good medicine - providing comfort, elevating the spirit, affirming life and giving hope.

In many medical schools, students take arts and humanities courses and may experience visual art, music-making, movement or creative writing as therapies. 

Professor and department chair Ross Silverman explains that the Department of Medical Humanities at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine "has a long tradition of drawing upon creative writing, poetry and film in required curriculum on the physician-patient relationship as we help students to gain a greater understanding of health, health care and the human condition. During this clerkship, we use the arts as a means ... to help third-year medical students examine in greater depth the patient-illness experience and physician-patient communication among a number of themes."

The department and school seek out various arts-medicine interactions. In 2008, theater was used as a teaching tool and as a way to open a dialog with the community. The school collaborated with local group Over the Moon Productions' presentation of "Wit," a Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a cancer patient reassessing her life and work, that examines doctor-patient relationships.

At the end of each show, a physician moderator and the cast, which included an SIU medical student, discussed the performance with the audience. In one session, a man emotionally thanked the cast for the "gift of awareness" the performance brought to issues.

Anna Bussing, 25, who is in her fourth-year clinical at SIU and is pursuing a doctorate in audiology, is aware of the benefits of theatrical performance. The daughter of a pharmacist and a physician, Bussing starred as Roxie Hart in Hoogland Center for the Arts' recent production of "Chicago." She has performed in various roles at The Muni since 1995.

"I like doing theater," Bussing says. "It's a passion. I make many friends. It's volunteering for the community ... It's not just the performance. It's the whole creative process. Being involved in the arts is good for the overall spirit. Those involved in community arts are happy people. For people who attend shows, it brings them a healthier spirit, too. Being involved keeps my mind healthier and more positive."

New York City native and retired Springfield internal medicine physician and nephrologist Dick Bilinsky, 73, sang with New York's All-City Chorus in his youth. After arriving in Springfield in 1968, he found outlets for singing, playing guitar and more. Bilinsky and his wife, Bette, became avid art collectors "primarily because on a daily basis, seeing these items in our home adds immeasurably to our happiness."

Bilinsky ventured into sculpting 10 years ago, encouraged by the outcome of a catalog soapstone carving kit. He went on to create stone works and, more recently, cast bronze sculptures.

"I don't ever do a piece just to be doing a piece," Bilinsky says. "There has to be an emotional component, and the finished work has to resonate with my original feelings. It's not always a personal subject," he said, referring to pieces dedicated to Hurricane Katrina survivors and the Springfield Race Riot.

"My involvement in the arts, particularly sculpture, makes me feel alive, engaged and creative," says Bilinsky, a Prairie Art Alliance member. "As I get older, it's a wonderful antidote to counting candles on each birthday cake." For Bilinsky, the arts "enhance and enrich life's journey." 

Connie O'Sullivan, 60, found satisfaction as an area nurse but added enrichment to her life by learning to paint and work in pastel and becoming involved in area visual-arts organizations. "Art has the ability to stimulate our imagination and elevate the human spirit," she says. "It can promote serenity and encourage healing, which is why you often see beautiful works of art displayed in hospitals and doctors' offices. 

"I am able to lose myself in a painting while I experience the anticipation, build-up, creativity juices, delicate precision, care and attention to detail. Many of these same experiences I use on a day-to-day basis as I care for the well-being of a patient. Doing something you enjoy can only bring about positive emotions and the satisfaction of a job well done."


Story published Friday, November 5, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 6 )

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