UH 'Artists and Their Regions' Course Taking Students into Methodist Hospital

Honors College students visit with Kevin Burns, executive vice president for finance at Methodist Hospital. (photo by Michiko McMahon)

Each spring, University of Houston Honors College students venture into new creative areas through the course “Artists and their Regions.” Previous jaunts have transported faculty and students to Flannery O’Connor’s hometown of Milledgeville, Ga.; Cleveland, Texas; the Texas Hill Country; and other areas of inspiration. During these journeys, faculty members lead weeklong retreats in which students explore new geographical and intellectual territories.

This year’s journey takes students to the world-renowned Methodist Hospital in the center of Houston’s Texas Medical Center. Students are observing medical practitioners, serve as volunteers and immerse themselves within the hospital. John Harvey, director of UH’s Center for Creative Work, is leading this year’s “Artists and their Regions” course. He said students not only will familiarize themselves with the facility’s medical operations, but they also will learn more about its Center for Performing Arts Medicine and the hospital’s performance space Crain Garden. Students also will visit performance spaces around Houston.

“There had been discussions about having a class focused on Methodist Hospital,” Harvey said. “When I visited the hospital, I immediately saw it as a performance space. In fact, some of its lounges and coffee rooms have signs that read ‘Remember, you’re back onstage’ as you leave. That intrigued me. Doctors do residencies. Artists do residencies.  The human body is a performance machine. It made sense to use the hospital as a ‘region’ for this course.”

In addition to frequent field trips to Methodist Hospital, this year’s Artists and Their Regions course has featured numerous guest speakers including Richard Fish, chairman for Methodist’s department of ophthalmology; J. Todd Frazier, director of the Center for Performing Arts Medicine; and O.H. “Bud” Frazier, chief of the Texas Heart Institute’s Center for Cardiac Support.

Students are reading and discussing texts including former UH professor Jan de Hartog’s “The Hospital,” Jacques Ranciere’s “The Politics of Aesthetics” and Michel Foucault’s “The Birth of the Clinic.” Over spring break, Harvey will host students at his home with food, discussions and screenings of Danish television series “The Kingdom” (a hospital drama with supernatural overtones).

Students will use the texts, lectures, tours and films as inspiration for creative projects they will develop and present by the end of the semester.

Junior Honors College student Michiko McMahon is no stranger to hospitals. Growing up with an ill mother, she spent many hours in medical facilities. These experiences inspired her to take the course. Although she became familiar with hospitals from a patient’s point of view, the course has opened her eyes to other aspects of these complex communities.

“Going behind the scenes and seeing things from a doctor’s perspective has been very enlightening,” she said. “I had a very negative view of hospitals based on my experiences as a relative of a patients. I want to contrast what I’ve learned this semester with my past experiences and use that for my creative project.”

This semester’s “Artists and Their Regions” course complements the Honors College’s Medicine and Society program, which promotes an interdisciplinary understanding of health and health care.

“This class allows students to form new ideas about medicine and hospitals,” Harvey said. “Students will look at hospitals in new ways. They also will look at medicine in new ways. Being there is an adventure, and we’re learning something new every day.”

The Honors College at UH is a hub of excellence that serves the needs of gifted undergraduates in more than 100 fields of study and reflects the rich diversity of the University of Houston in its courses, faculty and students. For more than 50 years, the Honors College has offered students the best of both worlds: the advantages of a small college together with the comprehensive resources and rich diversity of a large university. For more information about the Honors College, visit http://TheHonorsCollege.com