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News - September 2019

Art attack: Getting the most out of projects

Art attack: Getting the most out of projects

“If hospitals are just pasting vacuous decorations onto walls, then they are missing an opportunity to change society for the better. Art in hospitals could be opening minds and extending horizons.”

This hard-hitting statement from Catsou Roberts, director of Vital Arts, the charitably-funded arts and health service within Barts Health NHS Trust, is not meant to be offensive. More, it is intended to challenge the current way of thinking around arts in health projects to ensure they have maximum impact.

And, according to Roberts, there is still much to be done.

Grand designs

Speaking to hdm, she said: “Art in healthcare needs to be ambitious.

“I feel privileged to have the opportunity to commission art for such large and diverse audiences. I see it as a way of contributing to culture in general, and to the health and wellbeing of the many patients who come through our doors.”

In the past decade, the evidence base regarding the positive impact of arts on health and wellbeing has grown exponentially.

In the last 12 months alone a number of very-important reports have been published that will help teams to very persuasively make the case for the positive impact these schemes can have on health.

These include Creative Health - drafted by the APPG for Arts, Health and Wellbeing; Changing Lives: the social impact of participation in culture and sport - by DCMS; and Public Investment, Public Gain - by the Creative Industries Federation.

In addition to this, Arts Council England has named health and wellbeing as a priority in its draft strategy for the coming 10 years (2020-2030) and has been heavily involved in the move towards social prescribing.

But, says Roberts, it is still often an afterthought.

Design is king

“Hospitals are key civic spaces in which the public can interact with innovative contemporary artistic practices”, she adds.

Roberts has spent 30 years as a curator in public art centres

and museums and, unlike most hospital arts curators, who work for charitable trusts, she is employed directly by the NHS.

This means her colleagues are the clinical staff at the forefront of the NHS, with whom she has built essential relationships when developing projects; from permanent, site-specific visual artworks, to more performance-based interventions involving music, dance, poetry and literature.

One of the stumbling blocks currently, she reveals, is how artists are chosen and commissioned.

“We generally work with modest budgets and manage to deliver enriching projects. Let’s be clear, though: art projects are not frontline medicine; they are not saving lives.

“We fundraise for individual projects from external sources, so we are accustomed to working resourcefully.”

Vital Arts is approached by clinical staff who recognise an opportunity for an arts intervention.

The team then assesses the context, identifies possible artists, and develops with the selected artist and stakeholders a proposal that responds specifically to that space and the people who use it.

Simultaneously, Vital Arts seeks funding from charitable sources; all the while steering the proposed project to comply with health and safety and infection control protocols and a range of other parameters that a hospital context presents.

And, of course, paramount to Vital Arts is to ensure the art is of exceptional quality.

Building relationships

“It’s important to have experience working with artists,” says Roberts.

“Often artists with international reputations are keen to work with us. Everyone in the UK has some connection to the NHS, and many artists agree to work within our modest budgets in order to give back to the NHS.”

She concludes: “Art has to be site specific, patient responsive, and sensitive to the particular hospital context.

“Work within a bereavement suite, for example, will be totally different to art installed in a paediatric waiting area.

“We think long and hard about who we are commissioning for and why we are doing it. It’s a labour of love.

“And support at board level is key. Ideally senior management and clinical staff would believe in the benefits that ambitious art can have to enhance recovery, and improve the patient experience and clinical environment.”

Recent projects by Vital Arts have included a ward-wide installation by cartoonist, Tom Gauld, which was developed after conversations with the cystic fibrosis patients using the unit.

The project is philosophical and gently humorous, and absolutely appropriate for the context.

The organisation also has a museum-quality collection of more than 2,000 objects; runs an artist-in-residency programme; and stages temporary exhibitions to serve the five east London hospitals within the trust.

And it devises patient participation projects run by artists, such as a recent workshops for young patients exploring emotional storytelling through drawing, painting and collage making; and a series of inter-generational creative workshops for older patients and schoolchildren.

But Barts is not the only trust driving the arts in health agenda.

Chelsea and Westminster Hospital’s CW+ arts group recently unveiled its book, The Healing Arts, which celebrates 25 years of the hospital’s arts programme.

Built in 1993, the hospital was the first in the UK to lay down an arts and design manifesto. And, since then, the collection and programme, which is entirely funded by the charity, has grown significantly, amounting to more than 2,000 pieces and with performances and participation programmes reaching more than 1.5 million people every year.

Positive outcomes

“The CW+ arts programme actively supports the physical, mental and emotional experience and recovery of patients – in some cases, shortening their stay or reducing their need for pain medication,” said Chris Chaney, chief executive of CW+.

“We know that prolonged hospital stays can often result in stress, boredom and loneliness for patients and the ‘Arts for All’ programme provides meaningful cultural opportunities which offer distraction, entertainment and social interaction.

“In addition, the Design and Environment and Future Hospital areas of our work look to optimise the built environment, in turn improving psychological, physical and clinical outcomes within our hospital.”

Offering advice to other trusts, Chaney said: “Arts in health is best approached through the lens of demonstrating positive outcomes, improved efficiency, and a better patient experience.

“And evidence-based research and tangible outcomes are necessary to emphasise how meaningful these programmes can be.”

Director of the patient environment, Trystan Hawkins, adds: “Involving a range of different stakeholders, including patients, is essential. It is also important to be able to adjust and refine projects to changing requirements.”

And, he agrees with Roberts that getting buy-in at board level is crucial.

“It is important to build meaningful relationships with the teams on the ground, who see patients every day and are aware of their needs. In turn, this helps to construct a dialogue and build standing with management who will then see the benefits,” Hawkins adds.

Examples of some of the latest arts in health projects include The Royal Papworth Hospital, which opened in April and features an impressive art installation by Adam Ball.

The 3m by 16m light installation forms the exterior wall of the hospital next to the main entrance and is one of the first things people see on approaching and entering the building.

With the positive impact of colour particularly well documented in scientific and medical journals; the illuminated coloured panels transition through the seasons, with warm oranges and yellows in winter, and relaxing blues and greens in the summer.

“Hospitals can be intimidating environments, so I wanted my work to be welcoming for patients and their families as they arrive, and to create a less-clinical, optimistic feel and a brief distraction from their circumstances,” said Ball.

Reducing anxiety

And a whopping £5m has been invested on an arts programme for the new Royal Hospital for Children and Young People and the Department of Clinical Neurosciences in Edinburgh.

Despite the opening of the building having been delayed due to ventilation and drainage issues; once open visitors will be able to view the work of more than 30 different artists.

The largest capital commissioning programme for hospital arts in the UK, the project was curated and produced by arts consultancy, Ginkgo.

It includes stained-glass windows, musical installations, bespoke furniture, cut-out graphics, wall-mounted historical displays, and a 188m spine wall featuring prints formed from skin textures magnified to form 3D panels.

Roslyn Neely, chief executive of the Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity, said: “A trip to hospital can be daunting, but we hope that the innovative use of art and design will help to reduce that anxiety for all visitors.”

As well as the charities that are underpinning much of the work in our hospitals, there are also arts consultancies that are increasingly specialising in this very-unique sector.

Niamh White of Hospital Rooms said: “The evidence shows that the arts have a robust and pivotal role to play in our healthcare system and there is very vibrant conversation around the topic at a variety of levels.

“The extent to which this is being properly factored into the design of new hospitals is unclear as yet because, despite a robust evidence base, it is possible that the arts continue to be seen as an optional extra when resource allows, rather than a fundamental aspect of health services.”

She adds: “The key to success is to tap into a variety of different skills and knowledge bases so that artists, people with lived experience, and clinicians are all working together to deliver on a common goal.

“We ask for a financial contribution from NHS trusts to show their commitment, but the main investment is the time needed from staff and their support in engaging communities.

“This is pivotal to a projects’ success. And the funding we raise for our projects is always ringfenced and managed by Hospital Rooms, so it cannot be allocated elsewhere.”

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