To the untrained eye, the painting hanging on the wall of the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute May look like Van Gogh’s original masterpiece Starry Night. In fact, it was not painted by Van Gogh, or even by a professional artist. Rather, most of the painting was produced by five children under the age of 11 in one day.

On February 2, 2012, the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute opened a gallery of contemporary art, an exhibition created by patients, family and staff. The art program has become a source of therapy and emotional release for many patients undergoing treatment at UF Proton Therapy Institute, and for their families. The program is run by Barbara Holmes-Fryefield (or Ms. Barbara, as many participants call her), artist-in-residence, UF Proton Therapy Institute, a trained artist with a degree in psychology.

The classes, offered three days a week, provide a much-needed outlet and distraction from the frustration and boredom often associated with daily proton treatments and appointments over a six- to eight-week treatment schedule. With 12 to 50 participants per session, ranging from 3 months to 86 years of age, Holmes-Fryefield designs each lesson for a broad audience.

The art program is designed to be accessible to everyone, and participants are positioned for success,” says Holmes-Fryefield.“Oftentimes, participants are new to art, or haven’t made art in years and feel apprehensive about the program. But we work through those fears together, and once they get started, they can’t stop.
Cate Wilson and her 6-year-old daughter, Edie, who is undergoing proton therapy for a brain tumor, can attest to the power of the art program.

"It’s the highlight of Edie’s week when she gets to see Ms. Barbara," says Wilson."Art keeps Edie’s spirits up".

Cate and Edie Wilson live in Hertfordshire, England, and are like many patients at the UF Proton Therapy Institute who come from around the globe for Proton Therapy. The challenges of leaving life and loved ones back home can make an already-challenging situation even more difficult

“Not only is Edie fighting cancer; she is away from home, school, family and friends. The anxieties and fears that come with these circumstances are hard for anyone, let alone a 6-year-old, to express,” says Wilson."The art program allows Edie to share those feelings that otherwise she could not express."

The rich art curriculum covers a variety of media, including painting, drawing, writing, jewelry design and clay. The classes are so treasured that Holmes-Fryefield is creating take-home books of the art projects of individual patients and their families.

The UF Proton Therapy Institute was awarded a grant by the Lance Armstrong organization, LIVESTRONG, which provided funding for the artist-in-residence program in 2011. Responding to the positive impact the art program has had on patients’ emotional and psychological well-being, the institute has made a commitment to continue the program, which is offered at no cost to families.

"I’ve had patients say, ‘When I do art, I don’t have cancer,’" says Holmes-Fryefield. "Doctors heal the body, but art heals the spirit."


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