Looking at recorded history, humans have been using dances and music as well as storytelling and visual arts as healing rituals. Art and health are a well known pair; a healthy mind in a healthy body.

Much research has been done about the benefits of art in the healing process.

One such study from a neurobiologist at the University of London found a link between artwork and dopamine. After scanning the brains of volunteers looking at beautiful artwork, he discovered the substance was released in the brain. Dopamine is a hormone related to pleasure and feelings of love, the so called happiness hormone.

Art as a healing tool can help in different ways. Looking at artwork can reduce pain and hospitalization time with patients in intensive care. And art lets people express themselves when words are powerless to express such experiences as receiving a diagnosis of cancer. Crystal Shimoon understands the power of art. She is the coordinator of volunteer services and patient support at the Whitehorse General Hospital and is behind a new initiative to brighten up some key sectors of the hospital with artwork.

She first started with the specialists clinic. This is where visiting doctors such as the dermatologist and internal medicine specialist from southern hospitals meet with patients in Whitehorse.

Wendy Thompson was the first artist invited to showcase her work at the clinic.

Thompson was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and spent more than 10 months in Calgary for treatments. There, she saw first hand what art could bring to patients.

“I had to walk in those long, horrible corridors to get to all the various treatment rooms, but the walls were always covered with artwork,” Thompson said. “Some gorgeous and some awful ones, anything to have something to look at, to distract your mind.”

When Thompson came back home in Whitehorse, her energy levels were not the same. She had to stop what she likes doing most: teaching kids.

Instead, she rekindled her love of painting.

In the last few years, she has created artwork depicting her time in Dawson City and the many deep friendships she made there.

It was through her friend’s daughter, who works at the hospital, that she heard about the art project. She thought Thompson would be the perfect fit.

“This was my way to give back to the community, something I wanted to do after receiving such good care for my cancer treatment,” Thompson said.

Since the summer months, her work has been hanging on the walls of the specialists clinics, along with other artists who who have provided art for display. They bring in their art pieces and the hospital will take care of the wall mounting. Works are displayed for a minimum of six weeks and any resulting sales are organized between the artist and buyer.

All mediums are welcome as long as it can be hung on walls and is suitable for the general public.

“We like bright colours,” Crystal Shimoon said. “It gives patients something to look at, to distract your mind when you are waiting for that stressful appointment with a visiting doctor.”

She hopes to have more artworks displayed in other sectors of the hospital and welcomes other artists to step in. For more information or to participate, call Crystal Shimoon at 867-393-8673 or email her at Crystal.Shimoon@wgh.yk.ca