NIH: 'Artists are the experts on creativity'

Why the world's largest medical research body is now studying the brains of artists

Vol. 1 issue 25


Yesterday, I had a brief discussion with Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the world’s largest clinical research budget, who shared that the National Institutes of Health has 20 million dollars set aside to study the brains of musicians.

It’s all part of the NIH’s plan to study the mechanics of creativity, with an eye toward learning how we might generate it in people who lack it, or enhance it in others who don’t, among other reasons. You can hear more about in the audio clip below.

Musicians are the starting point in part because Dr. Collins is one, but moreso, because operatic soprano and Kennedy Center artistic advisor-at-large asked him how her institution and his might work together to be of service to the nation. Now, they are working with researchers — Charles Limb, MD, an otolaryngologist, surgeon, and amateur saxophonist at The University of California, San Francisco — on their Sound Health Initiative. The occasion for the panel was a day dedicated to celebrating the power of the voice at the Kennedy Center REACH Festival in Washington, DC.

I spoke with Dr. Collins first during a Q/A at a panel discussion during which the three talked about their collaboration and why it matters to the future of America. Hint: better problem solving is something we need, and artists are an untapped source for where to find it.

“Artists will be the root of problem solving in the future,” Dr. Limb said. “Artists are the experts on creativity.”

A stated objective from the panel was for science to learn from people (artists) who are all about being exceptional, being different, living in the moment, versus looking for the statistical average.

I nearly fell out of my chair when Dr. Limb essentially said what I have said as a health sciences reporter for decades: namely, that we are all so data crazed, but people don’t live their lives in the data. They live their lives in the stories.

Following the panel, I spoke further with Dr. Collins who explained why the NIH’s funding priority is shifting from the older generation to the younger one.

Highlights of the discussion are here in this 10 minute compilation:

And if you are a premium subscriber, coming soon, you can see and hear more highlights from what was nearly three hours of fascinating discussion about the voice. Plus, footage of Dr. Collins, Dr. Limb, and Fleming singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

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Meanwhile, since it’s Friday, here’s a Friday funny, compliments of yesterday’s discussion about the power of music to move us from birth:

Have a great weekend!