Arts program provides services, guidance to HIV/AIDS patients

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- As an art educator and researcher, Julia Kellman has long been aware -- from her academic's box-seat vantage point -- that art can impact people's lives in profound ways. But for the past four years, she's witnessed the phenomenal power of art-making from the perspective of a director who is on stage, engaging in an ongoing, intimate dialogue with the actors.

Only in Kellman's case, the actors are real people -- people who've been hit head-on by the brutal reality of HIV/AIDS diagnoses, then left to work through the many and varied response stages that inevitably follow, from despair and depression to acceptance and healing.

Kellman, who has joint appointments in the School of Art and Design and College of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, began working first-hand with HIV/AIDS patients at a community hospital as part of a small pilot program launched in 2000.

In its first year, the Carle Hospital Arts Program -- sponsored by the U. of I. medical school's psychiatry department and funded by the Carle Foundation -- provided individual art instruction for just three people. Kellman taught the class, which met once a week for four hours -- over a 3 1/2-month period -- in a medical school computer lab that served as a makeshift art room. Art supplies and projects were stored in a nearby office.

Since then, the program has moved to a home base at the hospital, and more than 25 individuals have moved through the program. And over time, Kellman believes her role has shifted as well. These days, she sees herself less as an instructor, and more as facilitator.

To Kellman's knowledge, the U. of I./Carle Hospital program is the only hospital-based program of its kind that offers what she terms "expressive-arts" classes for HIV/AIDS patients. Expressive arts, she added, is not the same thing as art therapy.

"Art therapy is much more aimed at diagnosis and treatment," she said. "It's

Contact: Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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