Architect, exhibition designer, cultural manager and founder of Cultura en Vena

“The arts and music not only favor people’s health and well-being: they can also help save money for the public health services”

TEXT: JUAN FRYBORT IMAGES PROVIDED BY: JUAN ALBERTO GARCÍA DE CUBAS

Juan Alberto García de Cubas’ relationship with music led him to co-found Música en Vena, an association that, ever since 2012, has been transforming the suffering of thousands of people in hospital, bring them relief through live music. His firm belief that culture, art and music are all therapeutic has encouraged Juan Alberto to go one step further. Cultura en Vena is an initiative that has just been born and, among other things, is going to bring Goya’s works closer to several hospitals.

So then, can the arts – culture – cure us?
We started Música en Vena [Music in the Vein] to bring live music into hospitals with a humanizing goal, seeking to transform the hospital atmosphere thanks to the beauty of music, so as to enhance the ambience for patients, relatives and health personnel alike. But music is extremely powerful as we soon realized; not just ourselves, but we saw doctors raising their eyebrows as if to say “what’s going on here? Is this patient’s reaction a coincidence?” After a host of experiences, seeing how different patients with a whole range of pathologies responded in an unexpected manner to the effects of the music, we understood that live music is an emotional scalpel that can really work as a complementary treatment.

And, since 2012, a growing number of people are involved in the project.
During my time in Música en Vena we achieved some incredible figures: 2,600 concerts, over 7,000 musicians, more than 51,000 patients benefiting from it. We have worked with artists such as José Mercé, Leo Nucci, Jordi Savall, Silvia Pérez Cruz, Los Secretos, Jorge Pardo or Jorge Drexler.

“We can use the arts not just for health prevention, but also for health management and treatment”

How can you create employment in a philanthropic initiative?
From Música en Vena, I launched the MIR (Musical Interns) project which has three objectives: to humanize the health service, generate clinical evidence to legitimize artistic activities in hospitals and, moreover, generate employment for musicians. At the Doce de Octubre Hospital in Madrid we began to sketch out a line of clinical study that could provide evidence of improvements in patients attributable to music. We launched seven clinical research projects in the fields of Intensive Care Medicine, Neonatology, Rehabilitation, Hematology, Cardiology, Occupational Medicine and Neurology. And to this end, 46 MIR musicians were hired to come to the hospital in shifts every day over three years. The data collection phase is over and we are now in the analysis phase. The aim is for live music to form part of the medical protocols and turn out to be a therapy that complements and facilitates the other clinical therapies.

How did Música en Vena evolve into Cultura en Vena?
CeV is a further step in this drive to legitimize artistic activities, not just the musical side, in hospitals. Music, the elder sister of the arts, is perhaps the best able to transform people, but it never ceases to be a temporary art form: it ends when the musician leaves. My relationship with the visual arts gave me the key to enhancing areas within the healthcare environment on a more permanent basis. Música en Vena is still humanizing through music, while Cultura en Vena will continue with this MIR research project, broadening its scope of action to include other art forms.

You recently received moral support from the WHO
Indeed, in November 2019 the WHO’s European Region published an unprecedented report entitled What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being. It clearly recommended that governments in Europe introduce artistic activities in public health policies. The UK has been doing just this for 20 years with the program Arts and Prescription, which consists in “prescribing” visits to museums or concert halls alongside needed medication. This is health prevention, but the report also values its use for treatment and health management purposes. And it is not just our experience over seven years; rather, this is the WHO saying this it and it is now the responsibility of governments to see to it that this occurs. And we’re going to do everything possible to make it happen.

MIR musicians participating in the research project at the Doce de Octubre Hospital in Madrid.

Are we facing a paradigm shift?
Absolutely. With all these reports and the clinical evidence, we can now say that museums and cultural programmers have a new responsibility to be added to their tasks of conservation and dissemination of their cultural heritage: the health and wellbeing of citizens. And it is also a paradigm shift for hospitals; suddenly, they have scientific evidence showing that artistic activities boost the clinical treatments they are providing.

How do hospitals receive your proposal?
Very well. The hospitals see in this project a positive, highly important opportunity to enhance the care of their patients. Furthermore, the MIR project advances the medical treatment offered by the hospital. The idea is to weave a sustainable network of hospitals that can benefit from a series of temporary, traveling exhibitions, as well as the MIR project. For the first exhibition, with reproductions of works by Goya in the Prado Museum, we have carefully chosen the design, exhibition systems and texts to best convey this culture to these new audiences.

Where do you exhibit in the hospitals?
The project “colonizes” several areas of the hospital, filling them with cultural content and artistic interventions. We work on three levels: main lobbies, waiting rooms and patients’ rooms. In the case of the Puerta de Hierro Hospital, we will be present throughout the whole Oncology ward.

Why do you use the term Ambulatory Art to define your exhibitions?
It’s a play on words that reflects very well the spirit of the project, given that it refers to the itinerant nature of the temporary exhibitions. In Cultura en Vena we are aware of the emigration problem affecting many rural regions of our country. For this reason, many of the traveling exhibitions that will be on show in hospitals will be going to regions at risk of depopulation, with limited access to such cultural content.

What is the first exhibition going to be?
Goya, in the Puerta de Hierro Hospital, this April.

‘Goya in a hospital?’ exhibition on the Oncology ward at the Puerta de Hierro Hospital in Majadahonda.