UH Hosting Innovations in Arts and Health Event

International Conference a Response to Mental Health Crisis Amplified by COVID-19 Pandemic

healing arts event
University of Houston to welcome global experts at the "Innovation in Arts and Health" conference

In a city that is a global center for innovative approaches to the arts, health care and medical education, the Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts and the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine at the University of Houston are continuing their partnership with the World Health Organization and the London-based non-profit CULTURUNNERS on their multi-year, international initiative entitled “The Future is Unwritten: Healing Arts.” 

UH will host a three-day conference from Sept. 29 through Oct. 1 titled “Innovations in Arts and Health: Collaborating for Medical Humanities, Professional Development, and Community Health.” The conference will feature research presentations, workshops, demonstrations, policy discussions, performances and art exhibitions.

Topics to be examined include music therapy, creative writing, dance, drama, the visual arts in clinical and community settings, and the importance of self-care for caregivers during the pandemic. 

Featured speakers will include Christopher Bailey, arts and health lead for the World Health Organization; Todd Frazier, director of the Center for Performing Arts Medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital; Houston-based artist, Macarthur Fellow, and University of Houston Professor of Art Rick Lowe; interdisciplinary artist Lisa Harris; Kirsten Ostherr, Gladys Louise Fox, Professor of English and director of the Medical Humanities program at Rice University; Aisha Siddiqui, founder of Culture of Health – Advancing Together (CHAT), a non-profit that fosters the health and wellbeing of immigrant and refugee communities through education, arts, advocacy and access to care; and Marcellina Melvin, deputy director of the Hackett Center for Mental Health at the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute.

The Houston conference is another in a series of local “activation” events organized for “The Future is Unwritten: Healing Arts series.” The University of Houston hosted a half-day launch event in January that featured local and international experts on the arts and health care.

The series was designed as part of the global response to the mental health crisis that has been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, with additional events occurring in London, Paris, Venice, New York, Palm Beach and Jaipur between November 2020 and October 2022.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-pandemic mental health issues and added to them significantly, creating an urgent need for attention and intervention. If left unaddressed, we are in danger of perpetuating the cycle that will lead to further health disparities,” said Dr. Stephen Spann, founding dean of the Fertitta Family College of Medicine. “We need to use all tools and resources available to us – from health sciences to the arts and everything in between – for collective healing.”

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) believes the arts and humanities play a unique and vital role in equipping physicians for 21st-century challenges. By integrating arts and humanities throughout medical education, the AAMC says physicians can learn to be better observers and interpreters, and build empathy, communication and teamwork skills.

“We know from the evidence that the arts complete the health care equation,” said Andrew Davis, dean of the McGovern College of the Arts. “Not only can the arts help to create critically thinking, sensitive physicians and patient-centered health care environments, but we know that the arts contribute to real, documented and verified health care outcomes as well. This conference is another facet of our work in arts and health in the McGovern College, and we are thrilled to be partnering on this endeavor with the Fertitta Family College of Medicine as well as with our national and international partners, including the World Health Organization.”

The conference is open to the public as well as members of academic, institutional and medical education communities and to the expansive network of professional and community-based artists and arts organizations across Houston. Continuing medical education credit will be available for physicians.

“Houston is a dynamic hub of creative work where health meets the arts,” said Conference Chair Woods Nash, assistant professor of behavioral and social sciences at the Fertitta Family College of Medicine. “This conference is a priceless chance for health care professionals, artists, and the general public to gain a deeper appreciation for how the arts and health spheres interact and make each other better.”

For registration and for more information, including a complete conference schedule, registration and pricing, visit the “Innovation in Arts and Health” website