The cancer journey: Bridging art therapy and museum education

Karen Deane, Marianne Carman, Margaret Fitch


The paper describes the application of art therapy in assisting cancer patients to visually express their cancer experience on several levels - physically, psychosocially, and spiritually. The art therapy/museum education program was developed in 1996 at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in partnership with Toronto-Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre-Bayview Support Network. To date, the program has run for three rounds with 16 sessions in each round. The facilitator for all three rounds was a trained art therapist.

The program provided an unique opportunity for an arts institution to serve the community at large by offering an artistic outlet in a peaceful, rural setting in contrast to a sterile hospital environment. The specific goals of the program and the general therapeutic benefits of art therapy are described.

In addition, the effectiveness of an existential/phenomenological approach in not only serving the cancer population, but also bridging the two diverse disciplines - art therapy and museum education - is explored. It is suggested that an existential therapeutic approach promotes the confrontation and acceptance of death that is necessary in order to lead a more meaningful life. Moreover, a phenomenological approach promotes the act of "seeing" as an essential ingredient in gaining objectivity and bringing unconscious thoughts into consciousness.

The importance of social and emotional support in the way of art therapy in addition to medical care is emphasised. Through art therapy, cancer patients are encouraged to discover ways to face pain and misfortune and be creative in their "art of living."

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