Bedside is an art project by Sligo artist Andy Parsons at the Inpatients Unit, Mental Health Services Sligo / Leitrim. In collaboration with patients, the artist developed a series of etchings for each bedside locker, as part of a commission for both male and female wards.
Alongside Andy, participants included inpatients of the Mental Health Services Sligo/Leitrim who informed the development of the work, making their own art work in response to the artist (and he to them), and who also acted in an advisory role. Niamh O’Connor (arts coordinator) provided curatorial support for the work.
Bedside aims to address the aesthetic needs of patients amid the functional needs for storage, security and personalised space. Relational design and reception within a health environment are also important factors in the development of the project.
Andy Parsons is primarily a printmaker and painter. He has worked in mental health settings for some time as an arts facilitator and this project saw him extend a collaborative approach to his printmaking practice as artist in residence at the Inpatients Unit in Sligo Town.
The commission was initially for individual artworks for each patient bedside with consideration to the health status of service users, the locker as a personalised space, the catchment area that the facility serves as well as other possible leads. Parsons met with patients and healthcare professionals to explore imagery, materials and technique in a visual conversation that took place over a three-month period.
The process of creative consultation with patients, through a number of workshops, informed the resulting works of receding landscapes, snatches of vegetation and winding sweeps of the Sligo/Leitrim countryside.
Originating as seven roadside drawings, Bedside was produced as a set of etchings printed at the Leitrim Sculpture Centre Studios in Manorhamilton. The artworks themselves are small, quiet black and white prints, each hand coloured and carefully positioned, like windows within the units allocated to each patient bedside.
Parsons created other works (woodblock and chine collé prints and preparatory sketches) and along with patient artwork, these were displayed on the ‘landing gallery’ in the unit.
As an adjunct to the Bedside series, details of the prints were reproduced and framed as freestanding pieces for administrative desks and were also developed as writing materials for the onsite shop by the Arts Initiative in Mental Health.
To date the project has not been formally evaluated. Informal conversations with patients and member of staff have taken place to ascertain the response to the artworks, which has been overwhelmingly positive.
It is difficult to know conclusively how such a project ‘acts’ within its context over time in terms of ‘impact’, but there is growing acceptance of the value of arts and health and the place of culture within healthcare. Participants who engaged directly with the artist reported to enjoy an interesting and stimulating collaborative process that led to resulting artworks that have been well-received by patients and healthcare staff alike.
One challenge of note during the lifetime of the project was the delay in installing the work. Due to the planned and eventual reconfiguration of wards, the artworks lay safely stored in boxes for 18 months before finding their ‘home’.
According to the Coordinator of the Arts Initiative in Mental Health, ‘Arts and health is not a linear or predictable landscape, as the artworks themselves confirm, and so decision-making can be thwarted by other changes within the environment. This is a frustration but also something that is inevitable, as priorities compete within complex systems, such as healthcare. The patience of the artist was much appreciated in this regard.’
For Parsons: ‘It was an important part of my ongoing exploration of ways in which relational practices and object making can go together.’ He described a sense of surprise at the newness of the imagery that stemmed from this collaborative approach.
As a first commission for the Arts Initiative in Mental Health, albeit modest in terms of resources, it stands as a marker, demonstrating the potential of collaborative arts to the wider community of context.
Documentation and Dissemination
The project was documented during the consultation phase and after the installation of the works, to capture the impressions and involvement of participants and the wider hospital community. This is purely for the Arts Initiative in Mental Health’s own purposes.
Arts Coordinator Niamh O’Connor was interviewed about Bedside and the Arts Initiative in Mental Health by Ciara McGinn for Arts House on Ocean FM. The interview can be accessed at the following link: https://soundcloud.com/artsandhealth-ie/ocean-fm-interview-with-niamh-oconnor-about-the-bedside-project
Mental Health Services Sligo/Leitrim
Arts Initiative in Mental Health, a programme of the Mental Health Services Sligo/Leitrim
Mental Health Services Sligo/Leitrim with funding from Lundbeck Irl Ltd. as part of the Art Against Stigma Award
Nature of project
Art Commission, Residency