New George Family Center for Healing Arts brings artistic therapies into traditional healthcare settings

Portrait of Dr. James George. - Photo via Rowan Today

After a tragic accident in his home left Dr. James George paralyzed, he had very little hope of regaining movement in his body again. After spending nine days in the Jefferson Hospital neuro ICU, he was transferred to Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia. While there, he slowly began to regain movement in the left side of his body. 

How did he do this? With a paintbrush and canvas. 

Through the guidance of an art therapist at Magee, George began to paint every single day. 

“I had taken a couple [of] painting lessons before my injury but nothing like what happened to me as part of my rehabilitation at Magee,” George said. 

Forced to adapt to life in a wheelchair, George found healing in the paintings he was creating. 

“I felt an early sense of freedom because I was not trying to recreate a portrait or a landscape or a seascape. I was just making random marks. About 3 or 4 weeks after that, I started to use more color and that’s when the miracle of art really took hold of me,” George said. 

During his stay at Magee, George created 125 paintings, some of which were used in the redecoration of the waiting room at the rehabilitation center. Now, he wants to bring this kind of healing to Rowan. 

As a Rowan Foundation Board of Trustees member, George knew he wanted to create the George Family Center for Healing Arts, in collaboration with the Ric Edelman College of Communication & Creative Arts. 

Dean of Edelman CCCA Dr. Sanford Tweedie explained that physically the center will be run out of the Edelman College of Communication & Creative Arts, hopefully by March of this year. Although the center is not officially up and running yet, Tweedie and George’s work has already begun. 

George has donated exhibitions of his work to multiple locations of Magee Hospital, the Inspira Medical Center in Mullica Hill, and at the Rowan School of Osteopathic Medicine. 

“We saw this really as the first aspect of the center because we’re trying to not only bring the arts processes into the healthcare situations but also to display the art,” Tweedie said. 

Tweedie and George hope that the George Family Center of Healing Arts will work to combine the therapeutic arts in healthcare centers that are being used in Rowan affiliate organizations. While they are beginning the program with the visual arts of painting, the pair also wants to bring in music, dance, and writing as means for healing as well. 

Additionally, this kind of work can already be recognized through the Rowan-Virtua CARES Institute, the Rowan-Virtua Regional Integrated Special Needs Center, and the smART program. The CARES Institute provides medical and mental health services to children who have experienced abuse or trauma, and the Rowan-Virtua Regional Integrated Special Needs Center (RISN) provides medical care to people with chronic health conditions as well as those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. George and Tweedie plan to work further with Rowan-Virtua CARES and RISN specifically. 

Although this is not the introduction of an art therapy program at Rowan, the center will act as a place for students to gain hands-on experience with patients. 

“We want to have students, particularly art students… will have the opportunity to, through classwork and experiential learning, work in the healthcare setting with the patients, with the families, with the workers, to see a part of what they’re doing in the healthcare setting,” Tweedie said. 

Tweedie continued, explaining, “We first actually met to discuss this in June of last year, and in July I had gone into the emergency room at Inspira Mullica Hill and there was his artwork, beautiful, brightly colored pieces. So I’ve experienced exactly what Dr. George wants people to experience.”

Ultimately, George and Tweedie want art to touch others’ lives as it has touched theirs, from patients to healthcare workers. 

“The hope is that we will be able to impact many other organizations within Rowan University and external to Rowan University to encourage, nourish, and support the healing arts in medical care and in everyday life. So that’s the hope and the goal and we’re at the very beginning of this exciting journey,” George said. 

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