Nonprofit uses art to give hospital patients chance to heal

By Laura Moretz

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Anna Vogler’s vision for The Arts for Life took shape in 2001 while her sister, then 11, underwent treatment for bone cancer.

“I saw how little control Katy had over her body and her schedule,” she says.

As a cancer patient, “your life is dictated by blood counts and chemotherapy,” she says. “For a kid it’s even harder. They don’t understand.”

So Vogler developed a program that helped her sister and children like her use artistic expression to deal with the emotional aspects of physical illnesses.

Vogler, then 22, was a recent graduate of Marlboro College and the School for International Training with a broad experience in the arts.

She had worked with a group in Guatemala City called Ninos Artistas de Guatemala.

With the group, she taught kids living in shanty towns how to use cameras. The children gained a small measure of control by taking pictures.

That little bit of control made all the difference, she says.

A camera would also help Katy, she thought. So she gave Katy a camera and some photography lessons.

“It helped,” says Vogler, who also started working with other children in the hospital. “It really helped.”

The Arts for Life took off.

                             Anna Vogler

Job: Executive director, founder, The Arts for Life

Education: B.A.I., Bachelor of Arts in International Studies, Marlboro College and School for International Training, 2000

Awards: Gold medal, NFL Junior Quarterback Award, 2003

Born: Winston-Salem, N.C., 1978

Hobbies: Growing vegetables, flowers

Favorite Flower: Trillium

Book to recommend: Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, by Tracy Kidder

“When there’s a need and you start filling it, it fills up really quickly,” she says.

Vogler found that photography was too expensive and expanded her offerings to other visual arts, music and writing.

Instead of fleeing the hospital after a treatment, kids wanted to stay another hour so they could finish their projects. They were more relaxed before treatments after doing artwork in the waiting room.

“Instead of worrying about the spinal tap they’re about to get, they’re painting or making magic pictures they can play with later that day,” Vogler says.

“The goal is surviving the illness, but there’s so many issues from surviving the illness,” she says. “The emotional effects are really strong too, not just the physical. We try to give the kids all kinds of memories to have with their friends and their families, just in case they don’t make it. If they do make it, we’re giving them tools and skills and helping they make it a positive experience.”

In early 2002, the Arts for Life became a nonprofit organization affiliated with Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

Now, the group has chapters in Winston-Salem, at Mission Hospitals in Asheville and at Duke Children’s Hospital and Health Center in Durham.

With seven employees and an internship program, the organization provides about 200 hours of programming a week.

Katy recovered from stage 1 osteosarcoma and plans to begin her sophomore year this fall at Mount Tabor High School in Winston-Salem.

Vogler lives in Weaverville, N.C., and travels each week to Asheville, Durham and Winston-Salem to work with patients and staff.

She has received calls from all over the U.S. from people who want to start programs similar to The Arts for Life.

Vogler is pleased with this success, but her focus is on the mission of Arts for Life, which helps people handle the stress of serious illnesses and develop an identity separate from the illness.

Along the way, the patients experience moments of joy instead of constant fear. And that’s what it’s all about for Vogler.

Leave a Response

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.