UIC TARGETS HEALTH HAZARDS OF WORKING IN THE ARTS
"When are you going to get a real job?" is a question often heard by musicians, dancers, actors and visual artists. But the occupational health professionals who developed the new Arts-Medicine Project at the University of Illinois at Chicago Health Sciences Center view work in the arts not only as a serious occupation but also a sometimes hazardous one.
Only a few programs nationally specialize in treating artists; these programs all focus on a particular group of artists, such as dancers or musicians.
The UIC Arts-Medicine Project, located in the UIC School of Public Health's Great Lakes Center for Occupational and Environmental Safety and Health, is the only program of its kind that is geared to artists working in all of the arts, as well as individuals, such as stagehands, lighting and scenery designers, carpenters, stage directors, and maintenance workers, working in the arts. It is one of just a few programs that takes an occupational health approach, emphasizing prevention as much as treatment.
The codirectors and founders of the program, Drs. David Hinkamp and Katherine Duvall, are artists, as are most of the other health professionals in the program. Hinkamp, a physician in the UIC University Health Service, plays jazz flute and saxophone. Duvall, a physician in the UIC University Health Service, plays piano and performs jazz dance and ballet.
The project staff is working closely with local museums, galleries, arts and cultural organizations, art schools and art departments including The Art Institute of Chicago.
"We welcomed [the program] with open arms because of our concern for the welfare of our students, faculty and museum staff," said Linda Pas, director of health services at the Art Institute. "Maintaining a healthy environment and raising awareness about arts safety is an ongoing challenge. There is a great need for this project and I've been very impressed by the dedication of the project's leadership."
Hinkamp and Duvall have treated many visual and performing artists as part of their practice. In one instance, an art instructor, having noticed a dramatic change in a graduate student's mood and behavior, referred the student to a local psychiatrist who, in turn, referred the student to Hinkamp. The student had been missing classes and exhibiting extreme irritability. The doctors discovered that the student had developed nerve damage from solvents he had been using in the creation of oil paintings at school. After school he taught airbrush painting at an art center where he breathed in even higher concentrations of solvents. The student recovered within eight weeks by avoiding further exposure to solvents.
Working with artists presents numerous challenges, Hinkamp and Duvall say. Hinkamp notes that it is difficult to reach artists because many work in isolation and many have no medical insurance. For these reasons and others, many artists self-treat or rely on alternative health practitioners. The UIC Arts-Medicine Project and its affiliate, Cook County Hospital, will provide services to individuals without insurance or other means of payment.
Many people working in the arts ignore health problems, especially when they are preparing for a show or an exhibit. By the time they seek treatment, the condition has become chronic and more difficult to treat.
Complicating the situation further is that the recommended treatment for many of the health problems that artists experience is to stop or dramatically reduce the activity causing the problem. "I know artists are not going to just stop doing their art. The challenge is to work with them to modify what they are doing, rather than stop it," Duvall says. "We also have to be willing to explore with them their use of alternative medicine."
Though occupational medicine professionals can offer a variety of treatment options, Duvall says that prevention, followed by early diagnosis, is most effective. Repetitive motion problems, for instance, can be reduced or eliminated by, among other things, adjusting practice schedules, modifying technique, properly warming up and cooling down, and exercising.
In addition to creating an interdisciplinary network of specialists to treat arts workers in a clinical setting, the UIC Arts-Medicine Project offers educational programs and workplace evaluations and includes a research component.
The Arts-Medicine Project also proposes to meet the general health care needs of arts workers. "Some artists may not have arts-related disorders but just are more comfortable seeing a health care professional with an understanding of arts-related issues," Hinkamp said.
Common Arts-Related Health Problems
Many artists also experience performance anxiety and sleep disturbances, especially if they travel or work irregular hours. Isolation, the pressure of performing or exhibiting and other stress factors also can lead to psychological problems among artists.
With 25,000 students, the University of Illinois at Chicago is the largest and most diverse university in the Chicago area and one of only 88 national Research I universities. Located just west of Chicago's Loop, UIC is a vital part of the educational, technological and cultural fabric of the entire metropolitan region.
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