ArtsForce Asks: Shelley White on art & medicine

April 27 2022

By Kaitlin Kerr-Osman

Hi CFA students! 

I recently talked to Shelley White, the manager of the Linda B. & Robert B. Wiggins Wellness & Integrative Health Center at the Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI). Shelley also recently finished her PhD in nursing, specifically researching music’s effect on those affected by cancer. 

I was excited to talk to her because arts and medicine is an interest of mine, and she gave me some valuable insight into how the two can overlap.

Since COVID-19, the Wellness and Integrative Health Center has been providing virtual art resources to patients, families, and staff at HCI. They emphasize patients’ needs in supporting wellness throughout cancer treatment. Under Shelley’s leadership, the programs offered have expanded to include all different art, music, and dance therapy, as well as writing workshops. They also support resident artists in each of these fields to work with patients.

Shelley said that during her time at HCI she’s learned that, “The arts are protective...A lot of the time, people will label the arts as soft science when – in actuality – now that we can start measuring them scientifically, are they?”

However, there are also still challenges to this understanding of the arts. Integrating arts and health is still a growing practice. Many researchers have little experience in the arts.

But Shelley believes “the arts are the future of research.” This conviction drove her to further education. There were only a handful of researchers willing to look at the influence of the arts on cancer populations, and she knew earning a PhD would make the community take her pitch more seriously. 

Shelley advocates for artists who are interested in health to participate in research to help the field, and create more arts opportunities to benefit both artists and patients. I’m excited to see art and health integraton expand in the coming years thanks to Shelley and others like her.

Artsforce Takeaways:

  • Put yourself out there in order to create connections and find jobs.
  • Sometimes it’s important to get additional credentials in order to be heard.
  • ANYONE can be an artist!

Author Kaitlin Kerr Osman is a modern dance major and an Emerging Leaders Intern with ArtsForce.