"Art and culture are well suited for all areas of healthcare"

Interview with Prof. Erwin Wagner, Project Manager of "KulturStation" (English: Culture Station) of the University of Hildesheim Foundation

Theater, choir, photography – art and culture soothe the soul. Professor Erwin Wagner of the University of Hildesheim Foundation, who founded the "KulturStation" project together with the AMEOS Clinic, is sure of this. Patients and associates of the hospital’s psychiatric unit were involved in artistic activities. The goal was to improve well-being.


Photo: Older man with glasses and suit - Erwin Wagner

Prof. Erwin Wagner; ©private

After three years, Professor Wagner sums things up at MEDICA.de and reveals what he is most proud of.

Professor Wagner, what role do art and culture play in everyday hospital life?

Erwin Wagner
: They are not at all important or just very little. Sometimes hospitals use art and culture to attract interesting people when art exhibits are being organized for example. There are a few houses that truly produce art or create cultural forms in the hospital, but that still rarely happens. There are also types of entertainment that provide comic relief and distraction like the so-called hospital caring clowns, who primarily try to distract people from their illness and suffering and take their minds of things.

How did you come up with the idea to set up the KulturStation at the AMEOS Clinic in Hildesheim three years ago?

: The stars were aligned, as is often the case in these instances. In this case, it was three people that came together at the right time: one colleague from the therapeutic field, another colleague, who had already tested a similar project in an experiment at another facility and I, who had consulted the hospital’s management. Together we came up with the idea to engage in art and culture together with patients and staff from the psychiatric unit to see what impact long-term projects have on well-being in everyday hospital life.

There were different reactions from the management level. Some were excited about the idea. Others – particularly those who are in charge of finances – were initially somewhat reluctant. They were concerned whether this type of project could also cast a different light on the hospital – which is perfectly ok. They were hoping for more attention from the media and the public. And that is perfectly acceptable.

The KulturStation consists of several individual projects. How were they organized?

: Over the past three years, we were able to conduct different cultural projects. There were several concerts for example, dance, photography or theater workshops, light installations and exhibitions. A team at the hospital was in charge of organizing the individual events. So-called cultural couriers informed patients and employees of the different wards about our activities and promoted them and subsequently provided feedback on new ideas by interested parties. We then organized several projects on a small scale based on the requests and ideas by the participants. Aside from patients, hospital employees also joined in the projects – not quite to the extent we would have liked, but there were quite a few people involved and I thought that was great.

Which of the many individual projects are you most proud of?

: Together with the Hildesheim Center for Pedagogy (German: Theaterpädagogisches Zentrum in Hildesheim), we were able to set up a theater group for two years, which staged a play and performed it two times. What’s more, the KulturStation developed a choir that also regularly meets outside of the project and continues to sing together. I am particularly proud of this one.
Photo: Scene from a play

In the Theater Station, the participants have reinterpreted a Shakespeare play against the background of experience in psychiatry. With "Midsummer Night's Dreams at the A7", the theater group appeared two times; ©KulturStation

What effect does culture have on a patient’s health?

: Those, who participated in the various activities felt significantly better afterwards. After the events, we asked the participants to fill out questionnaires intended to provide feedback as to how helpful the projects were to them. We can conclude from these that both the participating patients and the employees of the psychiatric unit enjoyed the activities very much. This also boosted their well-being and self-confidence. However, we are not able to provide any scientific findings on which artistic activities work best to what extent and for which disease.

Did the project also have any commercial relevance for the hospital?

: Here I would like to quote our former medical director, who once said, "we would not have achieved this amount of public attention, if we would have invested the money in a marketing department." The public interest was therefore clearly noticeable though some definitely expected a lot more from this.

What conclusion do you draw after three years and what’s next for the KulturStation?

: The project was definitely worth it. I am also very thankful that the hospital got involved in the project and that we were able to implement it. Even though I will leave the project, it will continue. Marie Beisert, who was already a part of the coordination team, is going to take over its continuation starting next year.

The findings and impressions, methods and networks we created together will continue to be used to introduce this idea to other hospitals and subsequently offer them as an individual product. We created two brochures as documentation. We work on spreading this idea in an adapted form to other healthcare fields, for instance in elder care or support. We believe that art and culture are always well suited for all areas of healthcare and can be both stimulating and useful.
Foto: Michalina Chrzanowska; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

The interview was conducted by Michalina Chrzanowska and translated by Elena O'Meara.