The University of Florida College of the Arts has appointed Ferol Carytsas to lead the Center for Arts in Medicine (CAM) as its permanent director. She succeeds the center’s co-founding director, Jill Sonke, who has moved into a new role as CAM’s director of research initiatives.
The Center for Arts in Medicine was formally established by the Florida Board of Regents at the University of Florida in 1999. The Center grew from the groundbreaking clinical work of the UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine program, and serves as the academic, research and outreach component of the partner programs. The Center was proposed and became operational in 1996, following the development of the nation’s first university level coursework in the arts in healthcare by the Center’s co-directors at UF in 1995. Its founding co-directors were Dr. John Graham-Pole, Dr. Rusti Brandman, and Dr. Jill Sonke.
Carytsas brings fresh leadership perspective and specialized expertise in curricular design and pedagogy into a moment of exponential growth, both for the center and the field of arts in health, where CAM is a pioneering institution.
“I have gratitude and respect for both my predecessors: Tina Mullen, who was on the UF Health Shands side, and Jill Sonke in CAM. Both programs had the same directors for over 20 years. I'm cognizant that I’m stepping into big shoes, and I’m excited to lead the center into its next chapter. We're entering a new era,” Carytsas says.
“It’s an exciting time for new leadership in the Center for Arts in Medicine,” says Sonke. “Ferol brings more than a decade of experience and leadership in arts in health education and practice. And her experience in field-building will help the center’s faculty and students not only meet the present moment of growth in the field, but also continue to drive the leading edge.”
Carytsas earned her Master of Music (M.M.) in music education from UF after receiving an undergraduate diploma in viola performance from Longy School of Music at Bard College and a B.A. in music with a minor in psychology from Florida State University. She cites attending CAM’s Arts and Health Intensive during grad school and subsequently beginning her career as the volunteer coordinator at UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine (AIM), as her entry points into the field of arts and health.
After serving six years as AIM’s volunteer coordinator (2012-2018), Carytsas entered CAM, where she held a variety of roles as lecturer, undergraduate advisor, undergraduate curriculum coordinator, assistant director, and most recently as the center’s acting director beginning in January 2022. She co-developed UF’s Undergraduate Certificate in Music in Medicine at CAM in 2016 and was one of the 2019 recipients of the UF Office of Teaching Excellence's Rising Star Award, a runner-up for UFIT’s Exceptional Course Development Award, and a 2022 UF Superior Accomplishment Award winner.
Carytsas is also a founding board member of the National Organization for Arts in Health (NOAH), established in 2016, where she chaired the organization’s professionalization and research committees, co-led efforts to develop the first-ever code of ethics and standards for arts in health professionals, and co-edited the national Core Curriculum for Arts in Health Professionals.
“I credit NOAH in many ways for helping me discover my true love, and being able to bring that back to the work I do at the center is a beautiful, reciprocal relationship,” Carytsas says.
“Having those opportunities reinforced my love for curriculum design—being able to have a voice in that process, not just at the local level but at the national level as well as the international level,” she adds.
An internal search committee chaired by Center for Arts, Migration, and Entrepreneurship (CAME) director, Oṣubi Craig, conducted an extensive international search to select CAM’s new director.
“It was clear from the onset that Ferol brings an amazing understanding of the pedagogy of the field. She has grown with the center and has been both on the AIM side and on the CAM side over the last 10 years. I'm excited about her continuous expansion,” Craig says.
Developing an Arts in Health Ph.D. program is a priority item for CAM. The UF Center for Arts in Medicine was the first arts in health program in the United States to offer an M.A. degree; now, CAM intends to offer the nation’s first Ph.D. by the year 2030.
“The work Ferol has done in helping to be one of the architects of the curriculum on the national scale is really powerful—because the thing we know, more than anything, is that the research that is being called for in this space requires students. You have to have people who are coming in to study so that they can go out and fill those much-needed spaces. Her experience in that, I think, is going to be truly incredible for CAM,” Craig says.
Designing a ‘new era’ at the UF Center for Arts in Medicine
Director Carytsas will lead CAM’s administrative operations, as well as guiding the expansion of the center’s academic programs and curriculum.
Carytsas emphasizes her belief that the center’s processes, including curricula development for its current academics and upcoming Ph.D. program, should prioritize feedback from CAM students and faculty as well as alumni graduating into the growing arts in health workforce. Building a “student-focused curriculum,” she says, is about “integrating the students into the process.”
As CAM’s assistant director, Carytsas developed a ‘Meet the Director’ series to facilitate dialogues that center students’ concerns, priorities, and feedback. The center also has a ‘Friends of the Field’ initiative providing access points for its alumni network. Carytsas also expresses a commitment to supporting the center’s teaching and research faculty.
“Expanding opportunities for our faculty to share their research is especially important. This includes establishing a UF arts in health journal that publishes leading art research and practice articles,” Carytsas says. “This will provide a forum for students as well as leading scholars in the field.”
Another central motif of CAM’s “new era,” as Carytsas envisions it, will focus on strengthening relationships across the University of Florida and with local communities. She notes that CAM’s groundbreaking “away from home” partnerships—such as the center’s NEA Research Lab, the EpiArts Lab, that operates in partnership with University College London—have earned the center a powerful global reputation. She anticipates that CAM’s external-facing operations will continue to thrive under Sonke’s new leadership role as the center’s director of research initiatives.
Now, Carytsas says, it feels important to “bring CAM home” by leaning into existing UF partnerships such as those with UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine and CAME at the College of the Arts, as well as branching across the university to initiate new conversations, research collaborations, and resource cultivation.
“One of the things I love about the program and the field is their interdisciplinarity. We’re not serving the field if we're not exploring all the avenues and connecting, even with the departments and programs that do not have obvious connections. If somebody wants to explore collaborative opportunities, let’s have a conversation. Let’s see what the possibilities are for intentional partnerships,” Carytsas says.
“Because historically,” she adds, “we [CAM] are not doing the work by ourselves. We're partnering with the NIH; we’re partnering with the CDC. I think that relationship-building, partnership, and collaboration is critical. I hope that we continue to see more of that on campus—and that we start to see the Center for Arts in Medicine integrated into medicine, law, technology, and beyond.”
As society transitions into an era that is increasingly impacted by our relationship with artificial intelligence, Carytsas also believes that thoughtful, critical, and human-centered research engagement with AI through an arts and health lens will be paramount. She notes that CAM being a global leader in the arts in health field, while also situated in Florida’s ‘AI University’ presents a great opportunity for cross-disciplinary engagement.
“The AI initiative is compelling because it touches all levels. It fits into research, education, and how we practice,” Carytsas says. “What does AI mean for education, for how we interact in health care settings, and out in communities? And how do we do all of that in a way that can support more effective work while not eliminating the human work?”
Beyond the university walls, Carytsas says she’s excited about fostering meaningful connections in the Gainesville-Alachua community. She highlights SPARC352, a Mellon grant-funded Humanities in Place initiative in which Gainesville community members are working with CAM and CAME to develop self-sustaining community centers for learning, wellness, workforce development, and historic and cultural preservation through the arts.
“CAM and CAME have a shared relationship with SPARC352 that has the potential to blossom into a leading national initiative that places arts and wellness at the foundation of communities,” Carytsas says.
“I would love to see SPARC352 programming be replicable across the country. So, the next consideration becomes: how do we develop that framework so that it's actionable outside of Gainesville, so that other communities can implement it?”
CAME director Oṣubi Craig sees enormous potential in Carytsas’ skill set to help navigate large-scale endeavors like building out the SPARC352 model.
“Ferol is a systems person,” Craig says. “She has existed, functioned, and been able to make moves inside of this system—and functioning inside of a complex organization like UF is no small feat. Just being able to get basic things done, and then to do the type of national and international-scale work that CAM has been doing for years—her understanding and navigation of the nuts-and-bolts side of it, and then also in the public-facing side of it makes me feel encouraged and hopeful.”
Carytsas’ vision for the future of CAM is anchored in her desire to establish an identity for the center that highlights its strength as a collective defined by the sum of its diverse, innovative, and deeply care-oriented parts. She emphasizes establishing CAM’s identity at home—at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
“We have such an external reach; people want to come to Gainesville. They want to see us in action—but in practice we’re heavily remote. It comes down to building coursework, curricula, and projects, and having a stronger community presence—both on campus and in our Gainesville community—so that when people say, ‘Hey, I want to come to Gainesville,’ I can tell them: ‘Yes, and here are all the things you can see happening at the Center for Arts in Medicine! Here are all the things you’ll get to see. You're going to see live community artmaking and artists practicing at the bedside. You’re going to be able to go to a research lab and actually see how people are talking about and analyzing the data,’” Carytsas says.
She concludes: “The work that we do is truly special. It’s an honor and privilege to work at the intersection of arts and health. I feel very grateful to our team for their innovative and creative ideas and the connections we have built at various levels. I look forward to nurturing and developing those relationships.”
Ferol Carytsas’ appointment as the director of the Center for Arts in Medicine at the University of Florida began on July 1, 2023.
Corrected on Sept. 14, 2023: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Jill Sonke as the sole founding director of the Center for Arts in Medicine. The article has been updated to clarify that Sonke co-founded the Center with John Graham-Pole and Rusti Brandman in 1999. Sonke led the Center for Arts in Medicine from 2008 - 2022 as the center’s sole director before entering her current role as the center’s director of research initiatives.