How Integrating The Arts Into Hospitals Could Humanize Health Care

With thousands of artworks and hundreds of music performances, Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic is a hospital that feels more like a center of culture–and that’s good for patients and their visitors.

If you’ve been sick enough to require hospital admission, you’ll know how sterile hospitals can be. Sterile, in the sense of being germ-free. And sterile because hospitals are all about science and medicine. They’re places where the human factor can be left to one side as health practitioners focus on the hard facts.


More to the point, hospitals are also often shut away from the rest of society–on the edge of humanity, not at the center of it. Hospitals have been built “almost as asylums, where we just wanted to put sick people far away,” says Iva Fattorini, who advocates a more holistic approach to care-giving.

For the last six years, Fattorini’s Global Arts and Medicine Institute has been bringing music and artwork to the Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio. Now she wants more hospitals to invest in the arts, believing they can help the healing process and possibly even save money. “It’s about teamwork between artists, surgeons, architects, consultants, and investors together,” she says.

The Cleveland Clinic has collected more than 5,200 works of original art, plus 15,000 prints and posters, which line a total of 24 million square feet of wall space. It also mounts daily music performances–a recent week in July featured six. And, it organizes 400 hours per week of bedside music therapy and 200 hours of art therapy.

Research shows that such activities can shorten hospital stays, reduce the need for pain medication, improve patient experiences and raise employee satisfaction as well. For example, music therapy is often used to reintroduce speech to stroke victims, or to dull the effect of extreme pain (because of the way it’s wired, the brain has trouble sensing music and pain at the same time).

But Fattorini is almost as interested in the patients’ family and friends as she is in patients themselves. She says these people are often overlooked in hospitals, despite their proven role in making patients feel better or worse about their recovery. In number, there are two or three times as many family or friends as patients, and they often have very little to do, other than pace about and worry.

“The need to direct human emotions at a time of human uncertainty is very ubiquitous and people really appreciate it when it comes from the caregivers,” she says. And it’s particularly so for foreign language speakers, for whom English medical jargon is foreboding and confusing.


Fattorini has now formed Artocene, a social enterprise, to spread her ideas around the world. “The goal is to create a self-sustaining model that can implemented in other hospitals, not only in the United States, but around the world,” she says.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.