At HeartPress PR, our goal is to showcase and support non-profit organizations that contribute to the development and wellbeing of their communities. This week we spoke with Sarah Dobbs, the Founder, Executive and Artistic Director of ARTery Arts and Health Society, to hear how her Vancouver-based non-profit is making a difference.

Bringing arts activities directly to a patient’s bedside offers a positive distraction and reminds them of their lives beyond the walls of the hospital. 

ARTery facilitates arts programs in Vancouver and internationally that support the physical, mental and emotional health of people of all ages and abilities. By engaging hospital patients, staff, residents of long-term care and their families in creative arts programs, ARTery’s efforts empower individuals, encourage healing and build community.

We are excited to share ARTery with you!

What drove you to establish ARTery Arts and Health Society?

“I had been working in the field as a freelancer, working internationally, for 20 years. I was a curator of art galleries, and in that role, had brought the art collections into hospitals and engaged patients who were sick. I left Vancouver as nobody here was doing this work, and I had seen through my research, that there was a tribe of people involved in this field in the UK, US and Ireland. After returning to Vancouver, I recognized there was a gap in our health system and, while we offered therapies, there was little opportunity for patients to engage in activities that reminded them of themselves outside of their illness. I had success in running pilot projects but thought it was valuable to expand the knowledge base by training other artists into the field of arts and healthcare: how does an artist navigate the hospital, reassure clinicians, ensure that infections are not being passed along, while at the same time sharing their artistic processes, and enriching the lives of the patients who are seen as someone who is diseased?  I saw a need for programs that brought the arts – in many mediums – into hospitals and healthcare settings and that a Society, as a non-profit entity could leverage funding and sustainable support.”

ARTery programs introduce a variety of different artistic materials like paint, ink and pottery.

How big is the ARTery team?

“In Vancouver, at present, it is myself and two visual artists, whom I have trained to do this work. However I have a range of other artists: dancers, musicians, poets, who are all ready to go. In Toronto, I worked with a team of 12 artists, and we ran programs that involved dance, theatre, photography, painting, clay and more. I recruit and train artists as the need increases.”

Medical students getting in on the mosaic-making action. 

Why art-making, and what does art mean to you?

“Art-making provides an opportunity for creative expression, and connections with others through a shared experience, which leads to increased feelings of self-worth, well-being. Throughout my life, I have seen the value of the arts and how it can enhance life experiences. When I have worked in developing countries, or in situations where people are recovering from traumatic experiences, like civil war, defilement or a natural disaster, I have seen how participating in an art program can remind people of their own resilience. In the UK, art-making programs, called “social prescriptions” are being prescribed by doctors who see art’s value to the health of people who are isolated.”

Founder, Executive and Artistic Director of ARTery, Sarah Dobbs, working with a patient.

What has been the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced while leading the arts and health programs?

“Oh, there are so many times when I am rewarded. I think I have to give two moments. The first, was when a man who had kidney failure, started to see that his dialysis treatments were art classes: he was gaining skills and creating during his dialysis, and no longer saw this time as tedious, or a medical treatment. The other moment was when I was working with a group of women leading up to the general election in Kenya. There was tribal conflict and misunderstanding, and I was invited to work with women from 8 different tribes to engage them in an art-making project towards healing the community. We spent the day together sharing stories of loss, and creating an artwork that showed their vision of the community. Through the art-making process, and shared stories, they began to see their connections rather than their differences and began working together to promote peace throughout the Kibera slums. So the arts acted as a mediation tool toward cultural understanding, and allowed the women to see that, despite their tribal difference, they shared many experiences as women: By the way, as the day ended, one of the women said, “now let us dance!” and the group of us got up and began to dance and laugh. It was so moving.”

ARTery’s programs focus on enjoyment, being “in the moment”, increasing creativity and making social connections. 

 How can others contribute to ARTery’s programs?

“Sustainable funding is what limits the scope of how we can contribute to the well-being of our participants. We cannot compete for funds needed for medical equipment or beds, but what we bring is of great value to well-being and supports recovery. Our evaluations and research has illustrated the success of our programs, but they depend on funding, which can be erratic.”

If you are interested in learning more about ARTery Arts and Health Society, and want to contribute to their incredible programs, visit their website here.

Join ARTery Arts and Health Society on Sunday, May 27th as they raise funds for the financial independence of women with a pop-up shop of handmade home decor (see event poster below).

Want to support non-profits “doing good” in communities across British Columbia?

Contact the team at HeartPress PR at 250.216.5480 or community@heartpress.ca.