Disrupting the New Normal: Meet Activist Artist Ruth Westreich
Healing can come in many shapes and forms.
Just ask Ruth Westreich, president of the Westreich Foundation, who works to bring arts programs to hospitals and creates her own activist art.
Ruth is an artist, philanthropist, and activist. For many years, she’s brought art into the world of healthcare and education, and she has been a supportive partner for Moving Art’s Wonder & Awe podcast since the beginning.
Her new book is called “Creating Conscious Conversations of Consequence.” As she writes in that book, both her art and her philanthropy share an important goal:
“to create discussions that disrupt the new normal of unsustainable choices that have been thrust upon the people and the planet. The timing of so many disruptive events – our environment, our health (before and after the pandemic) and our diversity, equity and social norms – are all reminders that now is the time to open our hearts and minds to a more holistic and inclusive way of being.”
You can meet Ruth on the next episode of the Wonder & Awe podcast
Why Art Matters
For Westreich, the secret to healing from disease is not just about doctors and medicine, it takes a truly integrative approach that involves mindfulness and a connection to creating art.
“The arts play such an important role in reducing stress dealing with PTSD at every level, including hospice,” says Westreich.
“You can go from babies to preschool, all the way up to people who are in palliative and hospice care, when you introduce arts to them, they do better.”
In fact, patients that participate in healing arts programs require less medication, heal more quickly and overall are more alert. “If you are in the bone marrow transplant unit, you’re there for months,” explains Westreich. “What do you do with yourself?”
Westreich has established an art cart program for patients in hospitals around California including at UCSD, as well as Cal State University San Marcos’ Institute for Palliative Care.
Art carts include materials such as coloring pencils, watercolors, paint-by-number, paper and adult coloring books – creative tools that patients can use that will not spread germs. At CSU San Marcos, Westreich is underwriting a curriculum to train artists and other professionals how to deal with this kind of art.
“It’s not art therapy,” explains Westreich. “You’re helping people express themselves with no intended outcome.”
Westreich has been working to bridge the gap between science and art for many years.
In 2016, she co-authored the book, Creativity Unzipped: Why Your Thoughts Matter, a work that uses stories, science and social research to explore the power of creativity to debunk the idea that left-brained people are analytical and right-brained people are intuitive. Our brains are, in fact, much more complex.
In recent years, Westreich has created her own art that challenges the modern medical industry’s “linear way of thinking.”
Her activist paintings are inspired by global issues including plastics in the ocean, the influence of big pharma, and government failure to stop the ravages of global warming. The paintings are colorful and complex, yet depicting in great detail the issues we face today as a society and inhabitants of Mother Earth.
For Westreich, who has spent years focused on whole person care and integrative medicine, planetary health also has a direct impact on personal health.
“Planetary health and human health are inextricably connected to each other,” she concludes.
“The toxins in the environment hurt not only the people, but the plants, all of the animal species and Mother Earth. If we don’t address the root cause, we might as well all go home. It’s not going to matter.”