colorful watercolor of aspirins

Can the arts reduce pain?

A free half-day virtual seminar March 11 will explore the science behind using the arts to help manage pain


Philosophers have argued for centuries that the arts can draw the individual from isolation, create purpose and enliven existence. But can the arts also relieve pain? 

On March 11, Ian Koebner, an assistant professor in the Division of Pain Medicine at the UC Davis School of Medicine, is co-hosting a free, half-day virtual conference on the topic in Amsterdam. Called “The Analgesic Museum,” the event starts at 9:30 CET (12:30 a.m. PST) and will explore the different ways the arts can reduce the burden of pain. Anyone who registers for the event can later view the conference recording (for those in the U.S. who are not night owls). 

“The public health potential of cultural engagement is an exciting field of study,” said Koebner, who is also the director of Integrative Pain Management at UC Davis Health. “The Analgesic Museum conference is bringing together an internationally renowned group of artists, scholars, and practitioners from diverse fields to explore the intersection of art and pain management practices. The opportunity for new research, exhibitions and artistic works is tremendous.” 

Ian Koebner pictured at a museum
Ian Koebner is an assistant professor in the Division of Pain Medicine.

The Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Amsterdam, CLUE+ and PULSE Network - Vrije University Amsterdam, University College London and Tilburg University are co-hosting the event. 

Featured speakers include:

Topics discussed by the international group of artists, health professionals, museum curators, and scholars will include: 

  • Arts strategies for addressing the opioid crisis
  • Research and creative scholarship to explore how museum-based interventions can lessen pain
  • Exhibition development to showcase the aesthetics of analgesia
  • Arts experiences and practices to reduce the burden of pain 

In both the United States and Europe, an estimated 20% of adults experience chronic pain. Chronic pain is pain that lasts for three or more months. It is often resistant to medical treatment. 

The intention of The Analgesic Museum conference is to seed an international interdisciplinary network. It will include scientists, museum and healthcare professionals, individuals living with chronic pain and artists committed to exploring the aesthetics and impact of museum engagement to reduce the burden of chronic pain. 

Koebner created the successful and popular collaboration with Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, Art RX. The program used specialized in-person museum tours (now presented virtually via Zoom) and discussions as a way to decrease pain and social disconnection for people with chronic pain. Koebner’s research showed participants experienced Art Rx as a positive and inclusive experience, with potential lasting benefit. 

Link here for more information and to register: