Cynthia Perlis, Co-leader,
Founder and Director
UCSF Art for Recovery program
Cynthia Perlis has been the director of UCSF’s Art for Recovery program since its inception in 1988. After retiring in January 2020, Cynthia was asked to return to the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center six months later to write a book on artwork by cancer patients as well as oversee other special projects. As Director of Art for Recovery’s award-winning program, she has created and facilitated numerous art and healing programs including: the Breast Cancer Quilts Project; the Firefly Project; UCSF’s Employee Well-Being Project; the Healing Garden Music Series; the Open Art Studio at Mission Bay and Mount Zion; both writing and art workshops for the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit and Hematology/Oncology Department; and the Canvas Project at Precision Cancer Medicine Building.
Cynthia has also published, in collaboration with the UCSF Department of Medical Humanities, several books including: The Firefly Project: Conversations About What It Means To Be Alive; Bedside Manners: What To Say and What Not To Say When Someone is Ill; The Portable Artist Workbook; The Portable Artist Coloring Book; the Art for Recovery Book of Prompts; Prompts for Reflection; and The Postcard Quote Project. In the spring of 2018, the Patient as Teacher Anthology was published.
Cynthia is a painter, an illustrator and works in mixed media. Along with the Art for Recovery staff, she has painted eight murals throughout UCSF (six on the ceilings of the ultrasound suites) and worked with architects to create the Mount Zion Meditation Room. She is currently serving on the Mission Bay Core Committee for Arts and Interiors for the new cancer center, and the UCSF Patient Family Advisory Board as well as co-leading NOAH’s ARC, a national initiative to alleviate burnout and stress in clinicians through the expressive arts.
Cynthia’s background is in fine arts, psychology, and art history. She began her professional career doing research in 18th and 19thCentury American Painting and Sculpture for the National Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution.