Leland Little presents Art of the Decoy at Duke University Hospital

About Arts & Health at Duke


Since 1978, Arts & Health has sought to enrich and support the healthcare environment by providing quality literary, performing and visual arts programming to Duke University Hospital and its hospital-based clinics. We believe that access to the arts is essential to the health and well-being of patients, their loved ones, staff, volunteers and visitors. 

Arts & Health provides a multitude of services for patients and those who care for them, including journaling sessions, musical performances and art for waiting areas and patient rooms.


Arts & Health at Duke was founded in 1978 by James H. Semans, MD, in collaboration with Wayne Rundles, MD, professor of hematology and then-president of the American Cancer Society. First known as Cultural Services, the program originally offered monthly musical performances in the hospital cafeteria with the support of the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation.

With a successful grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, additional funds from the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, and the support of a receptive, progressive hospital administration, the program was officially organized in October 1978.

Programming expanded to include not only performing arts but also the the acquisition of visual art for patient rooms and waiting areas and a literary arts program that offers journaling and poetry programs.

As one of the oldest and most comprehensive hospital arts programs in the United States, Arts & Health is a recognized leader in the international arts and health movement. From organizing the first convocation of hospital arts programs to publishing the first guide for developing arts in healthcare programs, Arts & Health continues to develop partnerships between arts and healthcare organizations. Janice Palmer, founding director of of Duke’s program, was also instrumental in founding the Global Alliance for Arts and Health and North Carolina Arts for Health (NCAH), the first statewide organization for the field.

Arts & Health at Duke is now a department within Patient Experience of the Duke University Health System.

"From the point of view of the physician, I have chosen to call this experience of cultural enrichment "healthy distraction." Although the phrase may seem incongruous, it actually describes the benefit to the patient very well, because the patient is distracted from the premonition and preoccupation which the unknown brings to an ill person. During those periods of anxiety, neither the physician nor anyone else can give the patient the reassurance that he would have if he could be transported by personally experiencing some art form, whether his particular preference is visual, auditory, or both. It is for this reason that the idea has been so attractive to physicians and nursing staff who care about the feelings of patients in this strange environment."

- James H. Semans, MD (1910-2005), Professor Emeritus, Division of Urology, Department of Surgery, Duke University Medical Centerfrom The Hospital Arts Handbook by Janice Palmer and Florence Nash, Duke University Medical Center (1991)

Your donation to Arts & Health at Duke help support future programming for patients at Duke University Hospital.

Make a Gift to Arts & Health

Patient and Staff Requests

Engaging in art during a hospital stay can help to alleviate stress, depression, boredom and isolation. Each year, Arts & Health at Duke provides thousands of free writing, drawing, and craft activities to inpatients at Duke University Hospital. Activity Kits include coloring books, journals, brain teasers and playing cards.

  • Staff members, patients or patient representatives can request Activity Kits by completing the online form below or by calling our office at (919) 684-6124.
  • Activity Kits are delivered M-F, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm within 48 hours by request, often within the same business day.
  • We deliver 2 kits per patient, per week to Duke University Hospital, Duke Medicine Pavilion, and the Duke Central Tower.

View Available Activity Kits

Order and Activity Kit

The hospital can be a scary and overwhelming place, especially for our pediatric population. Arts & Health helps bring a little bit of fun and normalcy to the hospital experience by offering art kits and visits for pediatric patients at Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center. Our Visual Arts Coordinator for Pediatrics works to create engaging art kits and activities for pediatric patients of all ages. Art kits can include projects ranging from paper arts, watercolors, and mixed media. Arts kits can be delivered FREE to patients rooms by request. Our Pediatric Art Teacher is able to facilitate art sessions for patients at the bedside and in our outpatient clinics.

Staff members, patients or patient representatives can request art kits and/or art visits for pediatric patients by completing the online form below or by calling our office at (919) 684-6124.

Order a Pediatric Art Kit Here

Beginning in 1988, The Artists in Residence (AIR) Program is one of Arts & Health’s longest running programs. The AIR program provides regularly scheduled professional performers to every Duke University Hospital unit that serves an adult population. These performers bring the beauty of music from diverse cultures and genres to staff, patients and their families.

Arts & Health’s Artists in Residence are accomplished performers who possess compassion and exceptional interpersonal skills. Trained in hospital protocols and oriented to the procedures of the units they are assigned, the artists have a unique capacity to bring a quality musical experience to patients, families and staff. As many as ten Artists in Residence are scheduled to perform throughout the year. Each residency lasts for a minimum of four months, which allows the artists to establish relationships and create an impact on the units they serve.

Please note: Musician bedside visits are available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., excluding holidays.

Visits are fulfilled as possible.

Request a Musician at Bedside Order Form


Are you a painter, photographer, sculptor or other creative who would like to exhibit your art at Duke Hospital?

Arts & Health maintains several galleries for showcasing works of art by individual artists and groups in:

  • Arts & Health Main Gallery
  • Clinic 1A Concourse
  • Clinic 1D 
  • Duke North to Eye Center Concourse

To apply, complete the following form and we will contact you within 2 weeks to discuss your exhibit interests.

Artist Exhibit Application Form

All of our volunteers have unique reasons for volunteering their time and skills. Duke Health volunteers have the opportunity to be of service to our patients, their families, the staff and the greater community while also gaining the personal satisfaction of knowing that they have helped others.

Click Here to Become a Volunteer

Contact Us!

Phone: 919-684-6124

Email: artsandhealth-duh@dm.duke.edu