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The Puppet Portal Project

The Puppet Portal Project merged the areas of art, technology and health, in order to facilitate children in hospital to create interactive puppetry performances in four acute hospitals (Dublin, Limerick and Sligo), over a five-month period.

Aims

The Puppet Portal Project aimed to merge the areas of art, technology and health, in order to facilitate children in hospital to create interactive puppetry performances.

The use of puppetry and multimedia technology aimed to reduce the child's sense of isolation while developing and nurturing their imagination and creativity.

Methods

Four artists worked with approximately 450 children, across four hospitals, in providing puppetry sessions and related activity for young patients. The artists worked one day a week for a period of 20 weeks. The number of participants varied, depending on medical issues, but an average of five children attended each session.

The project used Áit Eile, an online community for children in hospital developed by researchers at the Centre for Health Informatics in Trinity College, Dublin, to help the children in the four locations to share their puppetry, and to engage socially with each other.

The project supported reflection and dialogue among artists, health professionals, hospital teachers and play specialists about best practice in creative engagement with young patients. It encouraged also the transfer of the creative skills and understanding of the creative process to hospital staff and to parents. The project provided the artists with five professional development days and four further days for artistic and evaluation briefings and for training in web and video technology. Kids' Own Publishing Partnership provided peer mentoring for the artists. The website www.practice.ie, which is an on-line platform managed by Kids' Own Publishing Partnership, acted as a forum where the artists could reflect, with their peers, on their work and professional practice. Through their blogs on www.practice.ie, the artists shared their insights, experiences and challenges.

Kids' Own Publishing Partnership co-managed the project and provided a structure for communication and creative exchange among the artists and focused on achieving best practice in every aspect of the project.

Evaluation Methodology

The project was evaluated independently by Spiral Orchard.  The project was evaluated based on 292 completed questionnaires, on-site observations and other creative ways of gathering data devised by the artists to facilitate the children. The evaluation showed:

  • Children were likely to be happier and less bored as a result of taking part in the puppetry project. The activity distracted them from their illness. The project allowed the children to express themselves through the puppets and their stories. Often they expressed their anxiety at their healthcare situation in this way, which reduced their stress and gave them a sense of greater control over their environment. Being able to communicate with children in other hospitals helped reduce feelings of isolation. The project introduced children to the use of multimedia technology. It encouraged creativity, social contact, physical movement, self-expression, and confidence.
  • Parents, guardians and staff felt the puppetry had improved the children's mood and reduced their sense of alienation in hospital. Parents were delighted to see their children enjoying themselves; many took part in the activity with their children, and learned creative skills they intended to use at home.
  • The project brought creativity and humour to the hospital environment. New creative skills were acquired by health staff and teachers through the puppetry sessions.
  • Hospital teachers found the puppetry activity covered many aspects of the school curriculum, which further developed the model for working within hospitals.
  • The project allowed artists and health professionals to jointly discuss best practice for working with children. Communication between artists and hospital staff facilitated the sharing of skills and insights into children's creativity, which informed other aspects of the hospital environment.

Evaluation Outcomes

Children reported their 'favourite activity' was 'making puppets'. Many liked 'learning new things' and 'doing the puppets how you like', activities that gave them freedom of choice and expression in what is otherwise a controlled medical environment. The creative activity allowed the children to express themselves through the puppetry and the shared activity with other children. It gave them a sense of control over their restricted environment, and left them feeling happier and less stressed. It relieved their boredom and distracted them from their illness.

In its next phase, the Puppet Portal Project will incorporate another on-line community, www.solas.ie, developed by the TCD Centre for Health Informatics, as a further resource in developing a children's community in hospital. It will engage with clinical and care staff in developing the role of the artist in the hospital and further develop best practice for creative activity with young patients. Specific objectives include finding ways of using art and technology in the hospital ward to reach children who otherwise might not be able to participate. In working towards these ends, the project will draw on the experience gained through the first phase and identified in its evaluation.

Documentation & Dissemination

The children made and used the puppets, created their stories and performed the resulting shows through a live video link. They also made videos and documented their work through on-line multimedia journals.

The artists' blogs can be accessed on www.practice.ie.

Dates

March–December 2009

Participants

Over 450 staff, children, and family members, in four acute hospitals (Dublin, Limerick and Sligo)

Lead Organisation

Helium - Children's Arts and Health

Partners

The Centre for Health Informatics, Trinity College, Dublin and Kids' Own Publishing Partnership

Funded By

A contribution from participating hospitals, HSE, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, The Arts Council

Location

Dublin City, Limerick, Sligo

Web Link

Artist(s)

Anna Rosenfelder, Emma Fisher, Helene Hugel, Siobhan Clancy

Artform

Puppetry, Technology, Visual Arts

Context

Children

Nature of Project

Collaborative/ participatory


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