Student organization seeks to alleviate ailments through artistic expression
Third-year student Karen Elrayes plays the flute and third-year student Daniel Talebzadeh Shoushtari holds up a still life painting. Talebzadeh Shoushtari said Medicine and Art at UCLA has allowed him to maintain his hobby of painting while melding the creativity with his degree. (Megan Cai/Daily Bruin)
Medicine and Art at UCLA is capitalizing on the curative properties of creativity.
Founded in 2018, the club provides volunteer opportunities, guest speakers and an artistic outlook for Bruins and pre-health students, president Daniel Talebzadeh Shoushtari said. The third-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student said the organization is separated into two artistic cohorts – music therapy and arts therapy – which emphasize different areas within the arts while still allowing all students to apply the interests of their degree.
“When I came to UCLA, I was first thinking, ‘OK, I really like to paint, but I’m so busy with school (that) there’s almost no time,'” Talebzadeh Shoushtari said. “But being in an organization like this gives me the chance to be involved in both of those (interests).”
Similar logic drew music therapy committee director and fourth-year philosophy student Stephanie Abakians to the organization. She said she was enticed to join Medicine and Art because it combined her high school love of clarinet with her aspiration to be a physician. Abakians said the club is constructed at the intersection of music and art to show that health care isn’t just about providing prescriptions – it can be about utilizing music and art as therapy. The two sections of the club also allow members to choose an art form that resonates with them, though Talebzadeh Shoushtari said all students still volunteer and socialize together.
One way this collaboration occurs is through the club’s annual art gallery, he said. Talebzadeh Shoushtari said the goal of the event, which is hosted at the end of every year, is to provide a space where club members can come together to showcase their art in a low-stress environment. After two years of canceling the art gallery because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Abakians said the program’s in-person format will now facilitate live music, which will add to the ambiance of the experience and enhance the gallery’s soothing atmosphere without distracting from the art.
Some of the other events the club hosts are more service-related, Talebzadeh Shoushtari said. During fall quarter, he said Medicine and Art designed bookmarks, painted them and donated the creations to be included in literacy kits for pediatric patients at the Venice Family Clinic. Talebzadeh Shoushtari said prior to the start of the pandemic, members of the club also volunteered through the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center’s Creative Arts Program, which supplies patients with art kits and boxes of comfort items.
“Both artists and doctors study anatomy, so that’s a practical way that (medicine and art intersect),” Talebzadeh Shoushtari said. “In a broader context, you could consider medicine as an art itself – the art of healing.”
This healing notion can also take place sonically, and Abakians said Medicine and Art has sent students to play pieces at the hospital through Music by the Bedside. Although the program has also been on pause for the past two years, she said she was able to replace it with an event at the Solheim Senior Community, where her committee has plans to play music for residents next month. The event will also incorporate painting, as the art committee will lead activities in the audience to combine auditory and visual experiences, she said. The program will consist primarily of chamber pieces, and Abakians said the music genre is what the directors of Solheim said their residents enjoy the most.
Part of the club’s appeal to students is how the artistic volunteer work acts as a therapeutic outlet for the members as well, said internal vice president and third-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student Karen Elrayes. Studies have shown that creating art can have positive mental health effects, she said, so while the club members give back to the community through their creative talents, they are also relieving stress by creating art themselves.
“Emotional pain and physical pain are all very interconnected,” Elrayes said. “So, if you try to heal through doing something enjoyable like painting or playing music, that is a tool (to) help with stress.”
Going forward, Elrayes said the club hopes to facilitate more volunteer opportunities for members and increase the number of guest speakers involved. Additionally, the club intends to implement a mentorship program to allow new members to gain access to more senior members within the club to whom they can turn for guidance on academics and applications, she said. Ultimately, Abakians said she hopes the club can continue connecting with the community through music and aims to make performances at the Solheim Senior Community a weekly occurrence.
“The mission feels really important to me because I’ve seen how much music has changed the lives of people who are suffering,” Abakians said. “Music makes them feel better and helps them on this really difficult journey – it’s been super enlightening to see.”