How does art change the hospital environment? What role can art play during this time of Covid? Staff from St Vincent’s University Hospital explore their favourite artworks on loan from the Arts Council of Ireland Collection and how ‘art bridges the gap between functionality and emotions’.
Hospitals are the yin and yang of human infrastructure. Their purpose is to accommodate sick people who are in need of intervention to make them feel better. Some will be really ill, while others will be the “walking wounded” and many will fit in the spectrum between these two extremes. These patients expect professional experts to care for them, physically, mentally and emotionally.
But hospitals have to be havens of sterility, continually at war with bacteria, viruses and microbes. Armies of cleaners wipe every surface and clean every piece of equipment from floors to walls to ceilings. Clean buildings are functional buildings; bare surfaces and vast expanses of bare walls promote this image to society.
These buildings must support the patients, the families and the staff physically and emotionally, in times of great fear, uncertainty and pain. Art bridges the gap between functionality and emotions.
St Vincent’s University Hospital prides itself on its beautifully functional buildings. It is a temple to modern healthcare, with clean lines, bright lights and an industrial aesthetic. The fantastic opportunity to borrow from the national collection of the Arts Council allowed us to marry this functional approach with a softer warmer environment, that has soothed staff and patients alike. The initiative has been like a gust of spring breeze blowing through the buildings.
It has been very interesting, during Covid times, not to have so many of the public walking through the corridors. During the past year, the pictures that were hung on the walls comforted and consoled staff more than the public; the public will hopefully have their time soon. So, our audience is somewhat one-sided at the moment. Not a bad thing, minimising footfall has been the goal of hospitals since last March. And helping our staff get through this stressful time is hugely important.
So we asked staff what their favourite picture was…..One member of staff picked a picture by Micheal Farrell (artwork featured above):
‘I love the freedom in this etching, particularly at this time when our lives are so constrained. It reminds me of the birds on Sandymount Strand making their usual apparently carefree swoops, which gave me a feeling of normality last year as everything became progressively more abnormal.‘
Featured artwork above: Farrell, Micheal, Untitled 28/42 (Birds), 1987. Etching, 50 x 67cm. Collection of the Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon.
Another member of staff chose a picture by Anne Crowley hanging outside the medical student’s lounge:
‘Every time I walk past this picture, it reminds me that it sits outside the student res. Though the picture may be about something else, to me, it reminds me of books on shelves in a library and therefore the learning that is taking place with students embarking on a life of healthcare delivery. That is a powerful image for me.‘
A piece of art on a wall in a hospital can be a moment of mindfulness in this chaotic time. We will never know what effect it may have on the viewer, but even if it has a minor positive benefit in bringing peace, comfort, or even provocation to our patients and our staff, it is surely worth two screws in an otherwise plain wall.
About the series
The Arts Council Collection in Healthcare Settings is a six-part series produced in partnership with artsandhealth.ie and the Arts Council Visual Arts Collection Department. Selected artworks on loan from the Arts Council of Ireland Collection are chosen by participating healthcare settings together with responses from staff, service users and artists working in these settings. An accompanying perspective by Ben Mulligan and Ann O’Connor from the Arts Council provides insights into the lending process.
View artworks from the series on this dedicated page: