Founder, Hearts Need Art
“Healing Hearts Through Art”
By Meredith Kay
Photography by Brittany Paul
It doesn’t take long, once you begin a conversation with Constanza Roeder, to realize that you are in the presence of a truly passionate and talented woman. Named after Mozart’s wife, Constanza was born and raised among the giant redwoods in Scotts Valley, California, in the mountains above Santa Cruz. She studied at Bethany University, one of the oldest higher education institutions affiliated with The Assemblies of God church, where her father was a professor. However, her love for music and the arts has been a driving force in her life since she was a girl.
Constanza was diagnosed with leukemia in high school, and she underwent 130 weeks of chemotherapy at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University. During her hospital stay, she realized that having a creative outlet when you are going through a personal trauma can have incredible healing and recuperative benefits. She has a beautiful singing voice and studied music in college once her leukemia went into remission. She has always believed that music and art can have a transformative effect on people.
In 2008, Constanza moved to San Antonio with her husband, Jeff, and began volunteering in the adult oncology unit at a local hospital where she was often asked to sing for patients. She says, “I began to see how much loneliness, despair, and anxiety these patients were experiencing. The medical staff is so busy treating the medical needs of the patients that quite often the emotional needs are overlooked.”
She began to hold “corridor concerts” for patients and even brought castmates from the various community theatre productions that she was involved with to perform as well. Her efforts were met with much excitement. The concept took hold, leading Constanza to launch Hearts Need Art on November 27, 2016, which coincided with the 14th anniversary marking the end of her leukemia treatments.
“When we are going through a traumatic experience, the part of the brain that processes that trauma is not verbal, so we can benefit from having a creative outlet to express that pain. Art is an essential part of being human. We all have an artistic side, and when we are in distress, art can get through the cracks of the armor we encase ourselves in, soothe our souls, and help us let go enough to let help and love back in so that we can heal.”
Hearts Need Art is a non-profit organization that began with a crowdfunding campaign to buy art supplies and to hire their first visual artist to support oncology patients at Methodist Hospital. The mission of Hearts Need Art is to bring the expressive arts to hospital and home-bound patients through private concerts, bedside and virtual art projects, and art lessons of all mediums. The goal is to sponsor patient-led experiences while working with healthcare providers, to bring purpose and peace to patients while they undergo treatments and process catastrophic life changes caused by illness.
Constanza lights up when she describes, “Our artists in residence are there to ‘hold space’ with those suffering from a traumatic illness and facing life-altering health challenges. We ‘minister in presence’ with them as they express themselves in ways that help them to process their emotions.”
All of the artists attending to patients through the Hearts Need Art program are paid a living wage for their talents and include professional musicians, visual artists, writers, and poets. The organization strives to provide meaningful economic opportunities for local artists, and when they are onboarded, the artists undergo thorough training in how to relate to a patient’s emotional mentality, as well as how to work with healthcare professionals and how to maintain infection controls as outlined by HIPPA. The organization employs eight artists, visiting patients at seven San Antonio hospitals at the moment, and they are vigorously engaged in fundraising campaigns so that they can hire more artists to serve a larger patient population.
When the pandemic hit, Constanza leapt into action and redesigned the program to provide virtual and interactive live streams to patients. She was also able to reach out to national support groups to provide her program to patients in need. This has also allowed Hearts Need Art to reach those immuno-compromised patients who are home-bound.
Constanza speaks eloquently when she discusses the benefit of having access to art as an outlet. She states, “There are documented benefits to having access to the arts. It stimulates our senses and often touches us physiologically. Being exposed to art that moves us has been shown to lower pain levels and shorten hospital stays. Hospital patients often experience intense loneliness, and loneliness can kill people. The arts are a catalyst for human connection. We all need to feel that we are seen and that we matter, and art has healing and restorative powers.”
Nurses at the hospitals served by the Hearts Need Art program always report that the presence of the artists can bring down patient stress levels and soothe agitated patients who may be resistant to medical treatments due to fear. The program has also been shown to have a positive effect on the overworked medical staff. They state that the insertion of art into their stressful shifts can offer levity and inspiration to an otherwise sad atmosphere. They notice a change in patient attitudes when they focus on something beautiful instead of just being surrounded by sickness.
Constanza and her organization have been widely recognized for their accomplishments in transforming patient care, and Hearts Need Art even hosts its own podcast, called “Arts for the Health of It.” She was the recipient of the Graceann Durr Humanitarian Award in 2018, and she was also selected as one of The Top 100 Healthcare Visionaries by the International Forum on Advancements in Healthcare for 2021.
The organization continues to grow and touch the lives of patients by providing access to the arts. Society tells us that only talented people should be allowed to do art, but Constanza feels that making art is our birthright as humans, and she will continue to bring art to those who cannot seek it out for themselves, uplifting and encouraging patients through beauty.
Learn more about Constanza Roeder and Hearts Need Art at heartsneedart.org.