Making Art: Sustaining Patients Through Difficult Times

Anxiety and stress often accompany cancer treatment. Creating art in a workshop setting provides an important therapeutic experience as well as a venue in which patients can bond.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Art Therapy Program
Artist and volunteer teacher Mary Ellen McEvily teaches an Art Expressions watercolor class.

A cancer diagnosis often brings with it many emotions, including fear and uncertainty. Creating art can be a profound therapeutic experience — reducing stress, providing an outlet for self-expression, and offering a welcome distraction. Art Expressions, a series of workshops for outpatients, families, and caregivers, was developed and is co-directed by Jane Hedal-Siegel, Director of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Department of Volunteer Resources, and Eileen Gould, a cancer survivor and Memorial Sloan Kettering volunteer.

Launched in September 2011, Art Expressions currently offers workshops in watercolors, collage, and knitting in a large, airy lounge in the Rockefeller Outpatient Pavilion at 160 East 53rd Street. Each four-week workshop is taught by a volunteer artist and accommodates approximately 12 participants. All supplies are provided free of charge, made possible by a Patient Environment Program grant from The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

“Art Expressions has enabled us to provide a unique service to outpatients by tapping into the creative and artistic talents of our volunteers,” says Ms. Hedal-Siegel. “We’ve received overwhelmingly positive feedback from patient participants and staff. Our goal is to continue to foster the program’s growth in order to provide a special self-discovery experience through creative expression.”

In addition to the workshops, an “art cart,” staffed by volunteers, moves through the Rockefeller Outpatient Pavilion waiting rooms, offering patients and caregivers art projects they can do while they are waiting to see physicians or receive chemotherapy.

“Besides offering an opportunity for self-expression, the workshops give patients and caregivers a setting in which to talk and to bond,” observes Ms. Gould. “The relationships that develop over the course of a workshop are extraordinary and can help sustain people through difficult times.” Through Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Office of Development, private donors are ensuring the program’s continuation.