Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Art in Healthcare Reaches Out

If you think that Art in Healthcare (AIH) is only about displaying their collection of artworks on walls in hospitals and care centres, then you will be interested to learn that, as part of a pilot programme, Amelia Calvert, AiH Outreach Manager, has been organising a series of artist-led workshops in a variety of settings around Edinburgh for people of all ages and needs.

One of the artists, painter Leo du Feu, led two workshops at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children. He explains in his own blog that he was asked by AiH to select one of about 600 artworks currently available from their collection on which to base his workshops aimed at children aged between 3 and 11. A keen birdwatcher himself, he chose a stylised lithograph of a bird by Colin Thoms, a great choice which was bound to appeal to children. And indeed they responded wonderfully well as we can see from the images of collaged pictures that illustrate Leo’s blog, using different media and techniques and sometimes in collaboration with another child. Their lively pictures speak for themselves of the fun the children had. 

Colin Thoms  Bird, Tree and Red Sun lithograph 49x65cm
AiH collection

AiH repeated this process with other artists and with various organisations around Edinburgh such as the Libertus Day Centre, St Crispins School and Contact the Elderly. The latter group was kindly given permission by the National Gallery of Scotland to meet within their premises and were able to view some of their paintings as well as those from the AiH collection. The feedback from participants and organisations has been overwhelmingly positive. Staff commented on the unusual focus and engagement of all the participants, how they enjoyed creating the artwork and the different techniques offered to them, often revealing very individual responses. All felt that they would have liked more sessions and some thought that the participants would benefit even more if the sessions were particularly suited to their needs. On that last point there is also the argument to consider that perhaps part of the participants’ enjoyment was down to the input of ‘fresh energy’, in Amelia’s words, into the setting by an external practitioner.

Rainbow Owl by Joy, age 11 
image courtesy of Leo du Feu

It takes a particular set of skills to lead art sessions in healthcare settings. The artists selected by AiH for the pilot scheme are not only all practising artists but they also have had prior experience of running such groups. They have already proved their ability to engage with people and to create a relaxing environment that brings out the participants’ creativity. In short and again in Amelia’s words, they are ‘great with people’. As artists they know what different techniques can do and which ones are best suited to the participants’ age and abilities and with their interpersonal skills and their aptitude at dealing with emotions through art, they know how to help the participants express their feelings visually, focusing on the process rather than the end product.

Colourful Bird background by Keegan, age 4
bird and leaves by Jessie, age 6
image courtesy of Leo du Feu

This six months pilot programme was made possible with government funding.  AiH would like to take it further with longer term sessions of workshops and more sustained interaction between the artists and the participants but as with everything else, it is a matter of securing the necessary funding. This programme has been an important learning experience for all involved: for the participants and their carers, for the AiH managers who, incidentally, are all practising artists themselves, and also for the artists. They now have the know-how to build on its success. They have been recently given funding from Age Scotland for another set of workshops. Let us hope there will be many more to follow. You can keep up to date with their Outreach Projects by following AiH on Facebook.

Blackbird by Finn, age 5
image courtesy of Leo du Feu

When the programme ends in January, AiH will be bringing together many of the artworks created during the workshops in an exhibition that will reunite them with the original works from the AiH collection that inspired them.  This promises to brighten up our dark winter days.

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh


Thank you

to Amelia Calvert, Art in Healthcare Outreach Manager, for providing me with the information on the current programme and vision for the future

and to Leo du Feu for giving me access to his blog. The results of his workshop at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children can be seen here:
http://landscapeartnaturebirds.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/painting-birds-in-royal-hospital-for.html  If you wish to hear of Leo's future exhibitions or to discuss workshops you can email him at leo@leodufeu.co.uk


http://www.baat.org/art_therapy.html  The British Association of Art Therapists
http://www.leodufeu.co.uk/ Leo du Feu’s website
http://www.ageuk.org.uk/scotland/ Age Scotland 

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