Magic and Healing

Although we were originally hired as storytellers at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, we found that sometimes a magic trick might be just what is needed in the hospital setting. James began performing magic as a child and Patti also has a few tricks up her sleeve. The surgery waiting room is sometimes not the place for a long drawn-out story. So we might produce a magic trick that is really a disguised story about a kid breaking a window, or a boy who might have been given the job of collecting eggs, or a story about the girl who has to color all the pictures in a coloring book before she can go home from the hospital. Stories costumed as magic tricks can sometimes be just what the doctor ordered.

There was a teenager who was disgusted at the fact that he had to be in a children’s hospital. He had scoffed at most of the entertainment options offered to him, and when we came to his room and asked, “Would you like to hear a story? We know some good ones teens like,” he just rolled his eyes. But, when we followed up with, “Or, would you like to see a magic trick?” he said, “I guess that doesn’t sound too lame.” We proceeded to do our best magic tricks. And finally, at the end of 45 minutes as we were leaving, he smiled and asked, “Will you be back tomorrow?” The staff stopped us to remark, “This is the first time he has smiled since getting to the hospital several days ago. That was great!”

We saw a young cancer patient getting her final chemo treatment in the outpatient Hematology-Oncology Clinic. We had told her stories and done magic tricks for the past 18 months as she endured a very difficult treatment regimen. When she saw us, she asked, “Do you have any new magic tricks that I haven’t seen?” We did, and showed her one that caused her to laugh and laugh. She said, “This was the best day ever.” Her mom shook our hands, and then gave us hugs saying, “You don’t know what a difference it made that she could count on you being here on days she had her treatments. I never had to fight with her about going to the hospital. She just said, ‘I am going to see my friends the storytellers and the musicians.’ What a blessing!” We replied, “We hope that we run into you guys at the library or the beach!” It is bittersweet to see these kids over and over for a long time. But we are always thrilled when they are released from hospital care because they are healthy.

There are also kids who come to the hospital ready for magic.

Child Life staff asked us to stop and see a boy to show him some magic. As it turns out, he brought his own duffel bag of magic tricks to the hospital. He met us in one of the family waiting rooms so that we could take turns sharing magic tricks. He took a couple breaks to talk to doctors or get some medication, but made sure we would be waiting once he returned. He said, “Magic is my life. I knew I couldn’t make it through being in the hospital without bringing my tricks along. But I never, ever thought I would meet up with real magicians here. This was the coolest thing ever!” His parents smiled and said, “You made his week.”

(Note, patient information has been changed to protect their privacy and identity)

Patti Christensen and James Nelson-Lucas are part of The Healing Arts Program at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego. This program consists of eight professional artists who are on staff and bring the arts to children. Patti and James have been performing together for 18 years as The Patchwork Players Story Theatre. They have brought stories to life for audiences of all ages, performing at schools, hospitals, libraries, senior centers, family literacy programs and museums throughout Southern California. They use improvisation and audience participation, costumes and props to create engaging experiences. In their work at Rady Children’s Hospital, they also use and teach magic tricks to delight children and help them heal. Patti is a clinical social worker and therapist, and James is an organizer of the Vista Viking Festival.

Anyone Can Dance: Elders teach the audience about gumption and joy

I received an Arts and Change Grant in 2015 from Philadelphia’s Leeway Foundation, to do a collaborative project between my elder dancers (average age 83) and the Philadelphia Dance Academy (average age, 14). Our final project was a performance piece within the Dance Academy’s spring concert, but the point of our year together was for  people of different generations to become a team. After we listened to music and worked on choreography together, and planned the costumes, the group sat in a circle and talked about their lives, their experiences, their frustrations, and their thoughts and fears about performance.
My choreography (to The Marvelettes, “Please, Mr. Postman’) started with the women seated in chairs and the kids dancing around them. But halfway through, they switched places, and the women stood and moved together. Although they all used canes or walkers offstage, they performed without them.
During rehearsals, the women in my group could not sit on the floor and change their shoes, and I was pleased to see the generous help the kids gave them, leaving the performance chairs in place for their older colleagues and getting them water. The elders didn’t hassle the kids with demands about their homework, their grades and what they wanted to be when they grew up.
After the performance, we got a standing ovation and cheers, and I realized that the limited movement I had designed–keeping things as simple as possible–allowed the audience (mostly parents and friends in young middle age)  to imagine what their capacity might be at 80 or 85 on a stage, under the lights, getting wild applause.
Last week, 3 of my dancers (average age now 86) and I (71) performed for Leeway’s 25th anniversary cabaret. This time the dancers stayed seated throughout the piece. They were fabulous. And, they got paid for the first time in their dance careers! Although none of them cared about this, it meant a great deal to me to be able to honor these women and show the value society places on their art.
Submitted by: Judith Sachs
Organization: Anyone Can Dance

Arts For Life brings creative joy to pediatric patients in North Carolina

Arts For Life puts creativity, discovery, and joy into the hands and hearts of children who need it the very most.

Every day across North Carolina, the Arts For Life teams of staff members, volunteers, interns, and teaching fellows brighten the lives and healthcare experiences

of children and families facing serious illnesses and disabilities. By bringing visual art, music, and creative writing programs into hospitals and clinics, they help children and teens remember that they’re not just patients: they’re artists, musicians, and poets, with a world of possibility at their fingertips.

Arts For Life is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to providing arts in health programs to transform healthcare experiences for pediatric patients and their families. Arts For Life currently serves four communities in North Carolina, including Duke Children’s Hospital in Durham, Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem, Mission Children’s Hospital in Asheville, and Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte.


Submitted By: Sarah Ness
Organization: Arts For Life

Storytellers to the Rescue

As storytellers at Rady Children’s Hospital- San Diego, we might be called in when a child is having a difficult time getting an IV inserted, having a dressing changed, or dealing with something that is upsetting. There are times we are told that the patient could use the opportunity to take a story break.

One afternoon, as we entered the outpatient clinic where children were receiving chemotherapy, we heard a young girl crying, “No, it hurts!” A nurse slipped out of the treatment area to alert us that this girl needed to have a procedure done on an embedded port in her chest. There was a problem that meant she could not get her essential medication, but because the girl was so upset and so tense, they couldn’t do it. We tried a couple of magic tricks, which she liked, but it was still too much. Her mom finally suggested they take a break and let the girl run around outside. She asked if we could come along. We all went out to one of the Healing Gardens right outside the clinic. There, for the next 20 minutes, we created a rousing story which included running back and forth between a rowboat sculpture, and a giant bird sculpture. Two other boys who were waiting joined in and the story unfolded. By the time we brought it to a satisfying conclusion, everyone was laughing and wiggling around. The whole energy had changed. The grateful mother took her daughter by the hand and said, “Just what we needed. We can go back in ready to get this done. I really appreciate your being here for my daughter today.” And when we checked back later, all was well. These are times we refer to as “Storytellers to the Rescue.”

Another girl in her hospital room was in excruciating abdominal pain, waiting for her pain medication to take effect. Her nurse, after trying everything she could think of, asked, “Would you like to hear a story while you wait? I just saw the storytellers down the hall.” When the girl agreed, the nurse found us and quickly explained the situation. After introducing us, you could almost see the nurse crossing her fingers that this would help. The teen asked, “Do you know any pirate stories? I love pirates!” Did we ever! Over the next 25 minutes, we spun tales of pirates on the high seas, and she laughed and gasped, and finally clapped her hands when the brave woman pirate saved the day. As we were leaving she said, “I don’t know how I would have made it through that time, but I got to ‘take a break from it all,’ almost like a mini-vacation. I feel a lot better now and think I am ready to take a nap.” The grateful nurse gave us a ‘thumbs up’ as we walked away to our next patient.


(Note, patient information has been changed to protect their privacy and identity)

Patti Christensen and James Nelson-Lucas are part of The Healing Arts Program at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego. This program consists of eight professional artists who are on staff and bring the arts to children. Patti and James have been performing together for 18 years as The Patchwork Players Story Theatre. They have brought stories to life for audiences of all ages, performing at schools, hospitals, libraries, senior centers, family literacy programs and museums throughout Southern California. They use improvisation and audience participation, costumes and props to create engaging experiences. In their work at Rady Children’s Hospital, they also use and teach magic tricks to delight children and help them heal. Patti is a clinical social worker and therapist, and James is an organizer of the Vista Viking Festival.

Arts for Healing Connects Grieving Families and the Hospital Community

Each year, the Evening of Remembrance event at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital in New Haven, CT creates a nurturing space for families grieving the loss of their child. Families come together to share memories and reconnect with caregivers through a variety of expressive art activities. Participants at the Heartstrings Chorus table were co-creating a song with music therapists, Shannon Kiley and Judy Engel, from the Arts for Healing Program. The song was to be played during the service, just before the infants and children who had passed away in the last year were to be honored by the reading of their names.

Shannon had been collecting the voices and heartbeats of staff members for weeks, creating the foundations of the Heartstrings Chorus recording. From the start of the event families approached the table in a nearly steady stream.

Often through tears, family members took turns sitting in the “recording booth” at the table and speaking into the microphone. Their voices layered one on top of the other in a chorus of loving sentiment. “Love will always connect us.” “El amor siempre nos conectará.” “L’amour nous connectera toujours.” “We love you!”

Simultaneously, Judy assisted other family members to record their heartbeats through a stethoscope. Each heartbeat, stacking one after the other in the computer, creating a dynamic breathing rhythm. The gentle sounds of the piano connected the heartbeats and voices into a cohesive musical piece. Many families had a poignant connection to heartbeat recordings, as they had previously received a legacy recording of their child’s heartbeat during their last days in the hospital.

Later, as we sat in the service and listened to the result of this community soundscape of voices and heartbeats from staff and families, a palpable bond emerged from the grief that had brought us all together that night. “Love will always connect us.”

Visceral: transforming trauma & rebuilding lives though theatre

Visceral is a documentary film about three people who are living with the impact of post-traumatic stress.

They perform musical theatre, dramatic plays and Shakespeare to help transform their mental and physical health. Scheduled for release in 2019, Visceral features the healing work of organizations like the Feast of Crispian and First Aid Arts as well as interviews with experts in neuroscience and trauma-informed expressive arts.

Find out more here!

View the film’s trailer!

Follow Visceral on Facebook

Submitted By:
Amy Erickson
Director: Visceral, transforming trauma & rebuilding lives through theatre

Storytelling for Health 2 International Conference

Storytelling for Health 2 ─ Patient Stories
An International Conference
June 27-29th 2019

The conference will have two halves:
• On Friday 28th and Saturday 29th June at the Waterfront Museum in Swansea we will host the main conference.
• On Thursday 27th June at the Atrium in Cardiff we will be hosting a student conference. This is aimed at both under-graduate and post-graduate students.

Call for Contributions

We are currently seeking proposals for papers, presentations, performances and posters. Our aims are to acknowledge and celebrate the importance and growth of storytelling for health and to understand and promote good practice in line with the theme of this year’s conference – the patient’s story. We are particularly keen to hear about projects which privilege the patient’s story as told by the patients themselves, which support patients to articulate their own story or others to learn from listening more carefully to the stories of patients in any and all areas of health.

More Information, submission forms and booking details at

Submission forms need to be sent to: by 23.59 GMT on Sunday 18th November 2018

The 1st Storytelling for Health Conference in Swansea, Wales, UK last year
We had so much amazing feedback – you can read some of it here:
82% of delegates said they were making major changes to their practice as a result of the conference….

Journeys with 1000 Heroes, Arts in Health Pioneer Publishes Memoir

Submitted by John Graham-Pole:

I’m an emeritus professor of pediatric oncology and palliative care from University of Florida (UF). I co-founded Shands Arts in Medicine with Mary Rockwood Lane in 1991, and UF’s Center for Arts Medicine with Jill Sonke and Rusti Brandman in 1995. I’m the author of “Illness and the Art of Creative Self-Expression” (New Harbinger Publ., Oakland, CA, 2000) and editor of “On Wings of Spirit” (Enhancement Books, Bloomingdale, IL, 2001), an anthology of poems by physicians.

My memoir, “Journeys with 1000 Heroes: A Child Oncologist’s Journey” has just been published by Wising up Press (

“John is a pioneer of pediatric compassionate care, and has always been a master of narrative medicine. In this memoir, he puts the latter set of skills on display, as he illuminates the journey that made the former possible. I would highly recommend this book to any caregiver.” And one from a former patient that strikes a different tone: “Finger-paints, Mr. Potato Head, play-doctor kits, mural-covered ceilings, a red clown nose, and mismatched socks…these memories flood back from my being treated for leukemia as an 18-month-old at Shands hospital in the mid-80’s. Despite my dire diagnosis, by God’s grace I remember only my whimsical friend who also happened to be my doctor. I owe him my health 31 years later. His story will inspire countless others in treating the whole patient with art and humor. It should be read by all, because it is one of a life well lived.”

– University of Florida (UF) emeritus Chairman of Pediatrics, Terry Flotte (now Dean of University of Massachusetts School of Medicine)

I Knew Him a Little, I Knew Him a Lot

“Art has power that flows beyond mere understanding.  It nourishes and sustains…indeed, some call it ‘food for the soul.’”

At For Love & Art’s genesis, I penned these words seemingly out of nowhere.  I speak it to people and gauge their reactions.  There’s an ancient and profound recognition here.  People are inspired and intuitively concur.

I am a hospice volunteer and practitioner of therapeutic art.

One of my hospice patients, “Sammy,” died last night.  I knew him a little, but I knew him a lot.  On our first meeting (for me, often awkward—so many small-talk visits before a rich relationship arises, from which intimate conversations spring), Sammy was bedridden for two weeks and clutched his bedcovers up around his chin. He seemed so very weak, distant, and frail…I thought he might pass at any moment.

I happened to have a Virtual Museum ArtBook with me and I asked him if he liked art.  He said, “sure.”  We went to The Met, digitally.

One after another, beautiful images from among the greatest artists in the world emerged: the majestic Matterhorn at dawn; a lush, green meadow graced by budding dogwoods at dusk; a young couple stealing a kiss in a rose garden, and so on.

It was the seventh or eighth image – a rustic painting of a snow-covered red cabin in the woods – during which the magic happened (image below).

Sammy exclaimed, “This reminds me of when I was a little boy and my parents let me visit my grandmother for a couple of weeks every winter in Western Pennsylvania. Boy, the snow was so high, it was taller than the top of my head!”

Sammy went on and on about these trips to Grandma’s house, how much fun he had in this winter wonderland, how scrumptiously she cooked and how very much he loved her.  Clearly, this woman was the great love of his life. He shared about her and their relationship so very wholly and generously, almost as if she were standing right beside him.

It was easy for me to listen to him without bias or interruption.  What an honor to witness someone profusely sharing such joy!  Sammy was in the presence of how very much his Grandmother had loved him, and how very much he loved her.  Herein lies the sweetness of life.

Before either of us knew it, two hours flew by, and then Sammy announced, “Mark, I have to go to the bathroom.”

I said, “Okay, Sammy, let me help you up.”  And he said, “No bother…”

…and he flung off the bedsheets, hopped out of bed (imagine my surprise), pranced to the bathroom to do his business, pranced back and bounced right back into bed – like he was a kid again.  I reckon he was…

I’ve been with Sammy for about 6 hours total…not a very long relationship, one would think.  And yet, he was a very dear friend, and his passing so saddens me.  You see, I knew him a little, yet I knew him a lot.  I’ve been here before – I’m a hospice volunteer, after all – once grief has come and gone, a sense of honor and respect and gratitude settles in:  Wasn’t I lucky to have known this great man, even if just for a little while?

Okay, a couple of things here:

1.  That conversation about the love of Sammy’s life wasn’t going to happen so quickly without the ‘cabin in the woods’ painting.  One’s experience while viewing artwork triggers very important conversations for people, and sharing these elevates the quality of life psychosocially, cognitively, spiritually, and physically for all participants.

2.  I walked out of that room in love with that man and he was in love with me.   I triumphed as a volunteer. Listening to that conversation without bias bonded us deeply, emotionally, in an instant.  One might say we were co-joined spiritually; not as “Mark” and “Sammy” but as Love and Gratitude, expressed.

3. That single conversation altered the context of Sammy’s last days. No longer was he worried about dying, having done life right, existential angst or fear of what’s to come. No, he was basking in the glow of a life well lived. He loved so many great people and they loved him. “Thank you, God, for this great ride!”

“Art has power that flows beyond mere understanding.  It nourishes and sustains…indeed, some call it food for the soul”…starting with our own.

For Love & Art is a nonprofit enterprise that partners with fine museums around the world to bring the Art Experience to people with limited mobility. We stimulate art appreciation while empowering caregivers to love people in creative and transformative ways.

View more here


Submitted by:
Mark Blair W. Lombard
For Love & Art

#ArtsinHealth #ArtsinHealthMonth #InternationalArtsinHealthMonth

We Are Not Done Yet, Veterans Find their Voice through Writing and Theatre

Directed by Sareen Hairabedian and produced by Jeffrey Wright (Emmy® winner for HBO’s Angels in America,” two-time Emmy® nominee for HBO’s “Westworld”) and David Holbrooke (HBO’s “The Diplomat”), We Are Not Done Yet profiles a group of veterans and active-duty service members as they come together to combat past and current traumas through the written word, sharing their experiences in a United Service Organizations (USO) writing workshop.

The participants, who come from varied backgrounds and branches of the military, including the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy, share their fears, vulnerabilities and victories via poetry. In workshop sessions and rehearsals, men and women confront the best and the worst of their lives in the military, opening up about ongoing struggles with PTSD and the challenges of readjusting to civilian life. Each veteran and active-duty service member brings unique experiences and hardships to the stage, but they find common understanding and hope through the difficult work of addressing their pasts.

The project evolved from writing workshops led by poet Seema Reza, chair of Community Building Art Works, a charitable organization that develops arts programs for veterans and their communities.

Please click through the link above to watch the trailer and learn more!