A gap toothed smile spreads across the face of eight-year-old Delila McKinney as she carefully peals back a piece of white paper to reveal her creation:  a vivid pink and purple ink print. She inhales deeply and lets out an excited “Oh my gosh."

  Artist Silvia Lopez Chavez is leading this one-on-one art lesson not in a studio or summer camp, but on the tenth floor of Boston Children’s Hospital.  She has spread out supplies for creating ink prints on Delila’s bedside table. Delila is being treated in the wake of a lawn mower accident that left her with severe injuries to her leg and foot. She’s been in the hospital more than a month and is eager to get home to friends and family in Lisbon Falls, Maine.

“I’m going to tell them it was a very long time to get out of here,” says Delila.

Art projects like this one pass the time, although Silvia aims to do more: She’s teaching Delila some of the same techniques she uses in her own studio.  It’s helps shift the focus away from medical issues and back toward a sense normalcy.

“A lot of times you also impact the parents and people in the room who can be really stressed out or tired,” says Silvia.  “It [the art] just takes them [the patients] to another place.  Mentally they’re able to escape the room and get lost in the art-making and it’s awesome.”

Artists like Silvia are an increasingly common sight at Children’s Hospital. Three years ago, the hospital hired its first artists in residence. Today, Silvia is one of six.   The hospital has also doubled the number of music therapists who work with patients from two to four.   

“It’s about being in control, having fun in a place that they [the patients] don’t always get to do that,” explains Miranda Guardiani, who runs the hospital’s Creative Arts Program.

She says beyond creating a better experience for young patients, there’s evidence the art program may actually help patients heal.  A hospital-wide survey found exposure to art decreased patients anxiety and pain.

“The kids have already told us in their own words, the parents have already told us in their own words that they’re feeling less pain and they’re feeling less anxiety,” says Miranda. “Now let’s physically prove it.  Let’s look at blood pressure, let’s look at oxygen levels.”

She says if further research offers physical proof that exposure to art reduces pain and anxiety, it could change patient care.

“Can we see shortened length of stay for these kids,” asks Miranda.  “Can they be on less medication?”

Two-year-old Addie has been in and out of the hospital’s oncology unit for the past year.  Tubes connect her to a rolling medical stand, but her focus is on music therapist Dana Osterling.  Dana is playing guitar, Addie is shaking a pair of maracas.  They are both singing  “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”.

“It’s taking the focus from okay we’re going to do your vital signs or I’m going to give you this medicine now and then you sit and wait,” explain Addie’s mother, Stephanie Tajima. “Instead it’s, ‘oh, what fun things are happening?’”

By the end of the music therapy session Addie is on her feet, dancing. Her parents are laughing.   It’s tangible evidence of one thing: for at least a few minutes music is giving a young patient and her family a reason to smile.