The artist worked with a focus group of six residents in Skibbereen Community Hospital, Skibbereen, County Cork.
- To work with a focus group of older people in a community hospital setting to investigate whether a performative element could be part of the participatory art sessions and how these might be delivered.
- To draw on the experience and interests of the group to explore ‘bridge’ as a metaphor for connection and transcending obstacles through task-based performance art.
- To have the time and space to research and develop the artist’s performance art skills.
- To work collaboratively.
- To create a safe and accessible space for the participants.
- To engage a mentor and consultative support to be guided through this process.
Sharon Dipity is a multi-disciplinary visual artist. In recent work, she has been exploring a performative element to her practice. She currently works regularly at Skibbereen Community Hospital as a Visual Artist on the Arts for Health (AfH) Partnership Programme, West Cork.
In 2022, with the backing of hospital staff and the AfH programme, Sharon received an Agility Award from the Arts Council to explore new ways of working, introducing a performative element to enrich and expand the ambition of her participatory practice with older people in a healthcare context.
The award afforded Sharon vital time for experimentation as part of sustaining creativity in long-term participatory practice; and to work with two mentors: Dr. Katja Hilevaara, lecturer at the Department of Theatre and Performance at Goldsmiths College, University of London, for guidance and feedback on developing a performative practice in her work; and Sarah Cairns, educator in dementia care and communication skills, for advice and support in working with older people in a healthcare setting and to safely extend the creative ambition of the artist’s work in the hospital.
In addition, the artist received the support of Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre for performance and workspace to develop the work.
Sharon invited a focus group of six residents to collaborate with her. This research project took place over four sessions in the hospital. The artist centred the work on bridges, as a metaphor for connection and transcending obstacles. She drew on the experience and interests of the focus group to investigate this theme through movement, spoken word, storytelling, soundscapes, drawing and sculpture.
This project enabled more time to research the concept and prepare for the engagements than would normally be possible in a weekly Arts for Health session. In addition, it allowed the artist to make her own creative responses to the work through drawings, sculpture, writing and performance.
Through reflective conversations with and guidance from her mentors, Sharon planned each session responding to content that arose from the weekly sessions with the focus group.
Creative collaborative outputs of the group included pen drawings responding to the saying ‘A bridge too far’; sculptures of bridges responding to earlier conversations with narrative around these; soundscapes and audio pieces including ‘A collective remembering’ (this sound piece describes part of the artistic process and is a clip of the culmination of the project).
A private slideshow presentation sharing and celebration was held in the hospital for the participants.
The artist’s own responses included a series of drawings of bridges; three bridge sculptures; and a set of storyboard ‘prompt cards’ which were used for ‘A collective remembering’.
Handmade personalised ‘Thank you’ cards for each participant showcased a highlight of their contribution to the project.
The artist evaluated the project informally through conversations with participants at the close of each session which she made into a reflection and evaluation document; and through reflection with her mentors.
The artist kept a journal throughout the project, recording conversations and reflecting on the artistic process. Informal discussions took place throughout the project with the artist and the Clinical Nurse Manager 2, the Director of Nursing and other staff at Skibbereen Community Hospital. A final report was written for the Arts Council.
Reflection by artist Sharon Dipity:
The award enabled time for research, preparation and to try out new ways of working. Having more time for this enriched the quality of the sessions. I found the theme ‘Bridging the imagination, celebrating connection and tenacity of spirit’ an excellent conduit to the imagination, fostering connection within the group.
Rather than developing my own performance, the emphasis became the work in the hospital. However, I did work on how I ‘performed’ and collaborated with the group within these sessions, and this was an important learning. To begin with, I found exploring performance with the group challenging and a little out of my comfort zone, concerned that they might feel uncomfortable or find it ‘weird’.
In fact, these were my inhibitions, and the participants embraced the project wholeheartedly, willing to have a go at whatever I brought to the sessions. This project has given me more confidence to try out new ways of working and has influenced my current practice.
Feedback from participants:
‘The bridging together is another good thing to do and it’s nice.’ – Angela, talking about the physical bridge made with our bodies using the driftwood, which the group decided was ‘the bridge of hope’.
‘It was interesting and made you think.’ – Nora.
‘I’m glad I did that today. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. It’s years and years since I’ve made anything. I’m glad I achieved it, what I wanted to do.’ – Angela, after making a bridge sculpture; and ‘The bridge too far is getting nearer’.
‘Sorry I couldn’t participate more. I feel like I haven’t contributed. This is only my second full session… Angela made an exceptional bridge …’ and, ‘That art is beautiful’ (referring to the storyboard prompt cards), ‘So much understanding for what the person meant.’ – Josie
‘I am glad I have done that project and I am very happy about it.’ – Kathleen.
Feedback from Skibbereen Community Hospital:
‘The materials they used for the project surprised me. Participants had a great time exploring their ideas and putting them into action. Sharon is a fantastic artist, and we are honoured to have her on board.’ – Sandhya Zachariah, CNM2
‘The positive impact of Sharon’s project extended far beyond the residents themselves. By involving the residents she not only provided them with a sense of purpose and belonging but also created a stronger sense of community within our hospital. The personalised approach Sharon took allowed our residents to foster a sense of pride, purpose and accomplishment. I was very impressed with how Sharon managed to create an inclusive approach and it was truly a delight to see the residents faces light up as they shared their stories.’ – Joan M Browne, Director of Nursing
Documentation and Dissemination
The project was documented throughout in video and audio recordings, photographs, writing, drawing and sculpture.
For the final session, the artist invited Justin Grounds, composer and musician, to document this project through audio and video. Justin was familiar with working in this particular setting, which was advantageous as he already had a good relationship with the participants.
A slideshow of the highlights was presented to the participants and to Joan Browne, Director of Nursing at Skibbereen Community Hospital, in a celebration of the project. This included the ‘A Collective Remembering’ audio piece.
Each participant received a personalised ‘Thank you’ card handmade by Sharon as a closing gesture.
Skibbereen Community Hospital
Sandya Zachariah, Clinical Nurse Manager 2, Skibbereen Community Hospital (the main liaison for project facilitation)
Justine Foster, Programme Manager, Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre / Arts for Health Partnership Programme West Cork (advised and consulted throughout project development).