The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage awarded a $300,000 grant to Thomas Jefferson University to extend its year-old work with ARTZ Philadelphia to foster empathy in health professions, the university announced Thursday.

The project will pair about 80 people living with dementia and their caregivers with Jefferson medical students in a mentoring program. The grant is enough to keep the program going for two more years.

The ARTZ@Jefferson course is designed to engage students through a series of conversations generated by arts-based experiences. The work will culminate in an original theater performance about what it means to become a healer, produced by Theater of Witness.

"Our program provides a safe, mutually respectful forum where the stigma of dementia can be dismantled and students can learn from the experts," said Susan Shifrin, founding director of ARTZ Philadelphia.

ARTZ Philadelphia, founded in 2013, is a branch of ARTZ: Artists for Alzheimer's, a national organization based in Boston that creates arts programming for people with the disease, and incorporates the participation of caregivers. The program offers tours, arts activities, training, and research.

ARTZ Philadelphia was founded in 2013 as an affiliate of the I’m Still Here Foundation, which had established ARTZ: Artists for Alzheimer’s to create arts programming for people with Alzheimer’s disease. In 2015, ARTZ Philadelphia became a stand-alone nonprofit organization with a broader mission to serve people with a full range of dementia diagnoses and their caregivers. The organization offers programs emphasizing arts-based conversation and art-making.

Jefferson has a history of merging art and medicine. In 2014, the university began offering drawing classes to first-year medical students at the Fleisher Art Memorial in South Philadelphia.

Michael Natter, a former medical student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College who took the class, went on to self-publish a comic book detailing his life with type 1 diabetes. Natter also shares his medical cartoons on Instagram with his 67,000 followers. The drawings are a way to help him remember and digest the torrent of information.

"We believe that medicine is a performative and relational art as well as a science, and that empathy is a process of authentic dialogue and relationship-building that cannot be taught through textbooks," Megan Voeller, director of humanities at Thomas Jefferson University, said in a news release.