Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Volunteering with Art in Healthcare

My name is Martine, I started volunteering for Art in Healthcare (AiH) in January this year and have been involved in five different projects since. This first blog allows me to look back and reflect on my experiences over the past six months.
AiH has a large collection of high quality contemporary artworks which they place in hospitals and care homes all around Scotland. My first job was to promote this service to care homes and explain how it can improve their patients’ quality of life. It was a revelation to me. I learned as much about these homes and patients’ care as they did about AiH’s services. The length of calls varied between a few seconds to 20 minutes and I am grateful to that manager who took the time to educate me in the needs of her patients.
'April 1997', Barbara Balmer, currently at the new Royal Victoria Hospital
Next I helped with the documentation of AiH paintings for the Public Catalogue Foundation, a national project which will eventually make available online every oil and acrylic painting in the public domain. Led by the collection manager, the AiH team of volunteers went to track down all such relevant paintings hired out to hospitals and homes. Eventually each artwork was taken down, photographed and rehung.  A considerable achievement made even more interesting wherever the description on ‘the list’ had become somehow disconnected over the years with the actual painting. We met some wonderful hospital staff as we searched around. Somehow, when put together, the words ‘art’ and ‘healthcare’ seem to make people want to talk and share anecdotes.
I also met up with another volunteer and shadowed her as she gave a talk in a care home about two paintings hired from AiH. I was able to see for myself the positive impact this carefully planned activity can have. At the end of the talk, some of the residents who had appeared disengaged at the beginning were chatting with her about the paintings and reminiscing about their own experiences.
'Energy is Delight', Alan Davie, currently at the new Royal Victoria Hospital
Next I became involved with the QR (Quick Response) code project. AiH are gradually encoding each of their work on display in hospitals and I was part of a team tasked with writing up reviews for the paintings going to the new Royal Victoria Building in Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital. I found this opportunity very enjoyable and it allowed me to put into practice my training in art history. My list of artists included some prominent Scottish painters such as Barbara Balmer, Elizabeth Blackadder and Alan Davie. It was a pleasure to research the artists and to correspond with some of them. It was also enlightening to consider their works from a healthcare perspective and the effect they can have in a nursing environment.
Finally I was asked to write the introduction to the NHS Lothian art collection for the Public Catalogue Foundation mentioned earlier. AiH were recently appointed to develop and implement their arts strategy. As part of my research I visited the Chaplain of the Royal Infirmary who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the collection. He gave me some fascinating insights into its history and the logistics of displaying works in hospitals, an exercise which can provoke strong reactions, positive and negative, from staff and patients.
When I started to volunteer for AiH I never imagined the range of activities they are involved with or the variety of tasks that would be opened to me. It has been, and still is, an education.

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