In 2012, Anam Beo artists Tina Gaffey and Kieran Brennan facilitated an eight-week participant led pilot project for patients in the Renal Unit of the Midlands Regional Hospital, Tullamore.
The accessible technique of print was introduced to the participants of various ages. As the project developed and individual prints were produced, participants decided on the theme of sanctuary for their group artwork.
Anam Beo is an independent artist led arts and health organisation based in County Offaly that works on a voluntary and grant aid basis.
The aim of this project was to:
- engage participants directly in the creative process so that they become both the authors and the observers of the work being created.
- encourage participants to find their creative voice and in doing so help to potentially change the way they feel about themselves, their environment and any difficulties they are enduring.
- to encourage participants to be expressive as individuals and create unique individual and group artwork.
- use visual art as a tool to distract patients from the repetitive time consuming nature of renal dialysis.
Patients undergoing dialysis are in a stationary position for over three hours three times a week. This is a life sustaining but tiresome and uncomfortable process.
Visual artists Kieran Brennan and Tina Gaffey jointly delivered the first workshop which allowed them to support each other whilst understanding the realities of being an artist in such an environment and how best to continue the project within the timescale allocated. Following this introductory session they worked separately enabling access to as many participants as possible. The workshops took place two days a week for eight weeks. Artists worked with the participants at their bedside while they were undergoing dialysis treatment.
Hospital staff guided the facilitating artists on how best to approach working within the dialysis environment and prior to starting the project the facilitators completed an infection control workshop provided by the hospital.
The technique of block printing was introduced which is a simple and exciting process where quick results allow participants to enjoy and engage with the process. It involves firstly drawing/etching an image into a soft plastic slab. Ink is then applied to the slab. This is done by firstly applying ink to an inking tray. A roller is then used to pick up a thin layer of ink which is then rolled onto the slab in all directions. A clean sheet of paper is then laid over the inked up slab. A dry roller is used to rub evenly all over the sheet of paper. The paper is then lifted up to see what the print looks like.
It was challenging to deliver this process to patients due to space restrictions and patients’ physical restrictions. However, once these difficulties were overcome, this method of printing proved to be both simple and effective. After seeing a block printing demonstration participants were keen to continue with the relaxed environment of the workshop. The artists ensured the participants that there was never a need to perform or produce masterpieces.
As the workshop process developed and relationships were established with the facilitating artists, participants decided on the theme of sanctuary for their large group work.
This word encompasses a lot of elements that embraced their experience. It can be associated with the words - safety, shelter, protection and refuge. Some participants responded to this by citing nature as a source of sanctuary and developed their pieces around that while others decided to experiment with colour as a response to the theme.
The Sanctuary pilot project at the Renal Unit enabled participants to print individual pieces of artwork to bring home whilst also producing a large group artwork which is framed and permanently exhibited in the unit for participants, their families and staff to enjoy.
Artwork from Sanctuary was exhibited during the Bealtaine Arts Festival at Aras an Chontae, Tullamore and was also on display in the large atrium of Tullamore Hospital. Showcasing the arts in a hospital context provided a social exchange for the participants, their families, staff, doctors, funders and interested parties.
Subtle feedback was gathered by the artists from conversations with participants and key staff within a sociable and relaxed atmosphere. Artists never asked participants to fill out evaluation forms or other paperwork as it was felt that it may have placed unnecessary pressure on the participants and the paperwork exercise may have taken from the artmaking process.
A quality assessment sheet was given to the key hospital staff to complete.
Anam Beo artists use a formatted workshop evaluation sheet for each project. All the necessary factual details about each art session in the Renal Unit were noted on this evaluation sheet alongside the artists’ insights and comments.
The artists also filled out their own project assessment sheet to aid the development and provision of any future project.
The following learning and challenges emerged from the evaluation process for the artists and will be considered in developing future projects:
An artist working in a Renal Unit needs to be very sensitive to the participants involved. Patients in the unit are prone to fatigue, feeling ill and being depressed. The challenge is to strike a balance in terms of encouraging them but not pushing them too hard when they are not able.
During the project the artists learned about infection control and the diverse requirements of working within a healthcare environment. On a practical level, all art materials and tools must conform to hospital regulations regarding health and safety. The artist must be extra vigilant with cleaning materials and sharing tools between patients.
The artists learned that having access to an art trolley is very important when working in a busy ward in order to contain the art materials in one place. Working in pairs can be helpful to the artists in terms of support for one another.
Staff support is essential so that the artist can raise a query if necessary. After liaising with the nursing staff one artist commented “by the end of the sessions, I was starting to learn that it was okay to wake the patients on arrival!”
It is important that staff members are made aware of the project and when the art sessions are taking place as this involves more people in the process and creates a greater understanding of the positive benefits of creativity in such an environment. Staff are also informed as a mark of respect so that they are aware and kept in the loop about anything out of the ordinary that is taking place.
Patients’ achievements should be celebrated continually with exhibitions inside and outside of the hospital setting if possible. Exhibitions offer a breath of fresh air in the ward and give patients something to focus on and look forward to. Also for all of the reasons listed below.
The benefits of the project are numerous. The project:
- increased access to the arts for staff, patients and visitors
- generated positive working conditions thus improving quality of care and quality of life
- improved the atmosphere on the ward
- gave individual patients a creative voice
- challenged and motivated the participants
- helped participants to learn new skills
- increased the social aspect on the ward especially when patients worked together towards a group project
Responses to the project have been very positive from staff, facilitating artists and participants, all of whom have expressed a wish to be able to continue the workshops when future funding is secured.
Testimonials from participants:
‘I didn’t think I’d like it, but I did.’
‘I only joined to encourage someone else, but am very happy with results.’
‘I surprised myself by doing this. I didn't think I could. I'm going to miss it next week.’
Testimonials from hospital staff:
‘He really benefits from this.’
‘The artwork is good for both patients and their families.’
‘Happy to work with artists coming in.’
Following this pilot phase, Anam Beo hopes to secure future funding for a sustainable Renal Unit workshop programme to benefit patients for whom dialysis is a life sustaining but tiresome and uncomfortable process. Different working methods/ print techniques could be introduced with an annual event to celebrate the work achieved and to share the work with the wider arts and health sector.
Documentation & Dissemination
Sanctuary has been publicly exhibited on two occasions and is now on permanent display in Tullamore Hospital.
Local radio and press coverage about Sanctuary and the Offaly Arts in Health Programme supported the hospital exhibition.
With permission from staff and participants, the artists documented the workshops and all the artwork produced. The Anam Beo website provides a documented history of the artwork produced through this project.
The project outcomes were recorded in the Anam Beo end of year report and relayed to the project stakeholders.
In March 2012, Anam Beo was invited to the Oireachtas to address the Joint Committee on Environment, Transport, Culture and the Gaeltacht on the topic Utilising the Arts to combat disadvantage among the young, the old and the socially disadvantaged and to encourage their greater integration and social inclusion within local communities.
December 2011 – January 2012
12 patients in the Renal Dialysis Unit of the Midlands Regional Hospital, Tullamore.
Offaly County Council and Dublin Mid-Leinster HSE
Dublin Mid-Leinster HSE, Offaly County Council and Anam Beo
Kieran Brennan, Tina Gaffey
Acute Hospitals, Renal Dialysis
Nature of Project