Cloudlands connected with young people aged 11-18 who are living with chronic illnesses and who spend long periods in hospital. Between 2012 and 2015, the artists worked with approximately 200 of these young people. Some of these were once-off engagements while other participants worked with the artists for the duration of the project. Cloudlands ran for 30 weeks per year in Temple Street and 15 weeks per year in University Hospital Galway (year 1 and 2) and Cork University Hospital (year 1 and 3).
Cloudlands aimed to:
- Inspire young people in hospital by presenting them with opportunities to engage in professionally run arts engagements where their ideas, experiences and interests are at the core
- Encourage resilience among participants by providing them with the creative tools to re-imagine their situation and to engage in activities that do not focus on illness
- Connect participants and artists across three hospitals in a creative conversation which encourages communication, collaboration and peer support
- Contribute to the development of arts and health for young people by documenting, evaluating and disseminating the work
- Strengthen relationships within each hospital and encourage the sharing of skills across sectors by working in close collaboration with hospital staff
- Support and develop the artists’ professional practice through on-going mentorship and development opportunities
Artists were selected based on their interest in developing work in a hospital setting and their track record of collaborative practice. The three selected artists have a multidisciplinary practice. Rachel is a visual artist, Eszter is a theatre maker and Emma is a theatre maker and puppeteer. Each week, the artists visited the hospitals and worked at the bedside with patients to develop stories from which work could then be created. In order to begin this process, the artists worked together to develop some starting points and inspirations from which a conversation could begin.
For example, in year 1, while working with their mentor, visual artist and theatre maker Mark Storor, the artists chose to bring a series of boxes or parcels to the bedside. Each parcel contained a different item – one might contain wool, another a feather, another a mirror. The teenager was invited to select a box which immediately put them in control in an environment where they rarely have the chance to make choices. Together the artist and teenager would examine the item. From this process and the stories that emerged from these parcels, the artists and teenagers made games, animations, songs, shadow installations, sculptures, books and anything they could imagine.
Technology was an important aspect of this project from the outset. A dedicated online space was developed where teenagers and artists could share their work with their peers in other hospitals. The work itself also used technology and the artists explored the use of sensors, QR codes and projections to alter the space and to help the teenagers to create their own space within the hospital.
In year 2, the project took place in Dublin and Galway only. The theme of ‘escape’ and of ‘sharing stories’ beyond the wards and with the wider hospital community became very important. In Galway, one participant developed a story about the first Irish woman on the moon. Her paper astronaut visited and was photographed at Áras an Uachtaráin, the home of the President of Ireland. The astronaut also visited the school of another hospital when the teenager was transferred. Similarly, teenagers in Dublin developed a series of stories and methods of connecting. A set of Russian dolls or Story Dolls containing riddles were placed around the hospital for staff and visitors to find. They returned with answers from those who found them.
In year 3, the project took place in Dublin and Cork. Ezster and Rachel worked with teenagers on specific projects. Eszter developed a radio game using answering service technology and the teenagers’ own phones. Rachel developed an installation of wooden figures containing stories from the project. Both pieces will tour in 2016 as part of an Arts Council Touring and Dissemination of Work Award.
At the end of year 1, the three artists held an exhibition of work in response to their collaborations with the teenagers. Beyond the Box was exhibited in Pallas Studios, Dublin in November 2013. In spring 2016, Helium will tour some of the work from the third year of the project to arts venues and hospitals in Cork, Dublin, Galway and Waterford with touring funding from the Arts Council.
- One participant wrote a book of poems, Colours of Life, which the artist illustrated (with some help from her friends).
- Sundreams is a ‘sound quilt’ which was made by all of the teenagers working on the project in year 2. Each teenager made their own panel which contained sounds sensors to go with their stories. The piece is now hanging in Temple Street.
- A teenager choreographed a dance piece and dancer Rachel Ensor performed on the corridors of the hospital
- The Titans is an installation formed through a beautiful family of wooden figures. Audience members are invited to move the Titans into different combinations to reveal sound recordings of the teenagers’ stories hidden inside. This piece forms part of the 2016 tour.
University Hospital Galway
- 72 Chances, a collaborative story, developed over the course of the project. The work was turned into a book and distributed to participants.
- Teenagers also made animations, wrote songs and developed games.
Cork University Hospital
- Participants created a series of games and trails using QR codes and hidden messages.
- Radio/Silence, a radio game where listeners can use their own mobile phones to influence the outcome of the story, was first broadcast on CUH Radio in summer 2015. This piece also forms part of the 2016 tour.
- Monitoring of the project was on-going and managed by Helium. An annual report for project partners was completed at the end of each phase.
- Each week, artists completed a monitoring form which collected information on numbers of participants, staff, parents engaged with as well as any notable interactions.
- Artists kept a blog which was accessible to the project manager and mentor.
- Regular meetings with hospital staff were held to seek feedback.
- Participants and their families were invited to complete comment cards at regular intervals during the project.
Feedback from participants, parents, staff and the artist has been very positive. From this feedback, it appears that the project has been successful in taking the focus away from the illness and allowing teenagers to be themselves and explore their interests. It is clear from the artists’ blogs that participants who have been involved in the project in the longer term have increasingly taken more ownership over the project and decisions relating to the work. Parents have commented on the difference the project has made to their child. Some of the comments can be seen here:
‘It made all the worries go away. It lets me be Me.’ – Participant
‘A place where you can be who you want to be. A place full of creativity.’ – Participant
‘It’s been great to see the different ways in which the children taking part can explore art/creativity. It has helped them to place their hospital experience and their illness in a better way in their lives.’ – Staff member
‘The difference in attitude to life and attending hospital since participating in the Cloudlands project has been fantastic, such personal growth and optimism.’ – Parent
‘Often the hospital can lose focus on the needs of teenagers, it may be too child focused, or difficult to involve them. So a project aimed at teenagers helps staff to learn more about the young people too.’ – Staff member
One element of the project which has been a challenge is the lack of reliable internet access in the hospitals. The project had intended to use technology as a connector between the hospitals. Often this was not feasible due to non-existent or slow internet connections. However, the artists did find other ways of sharing work and collaborating across the hospitals, as noted in Methods above.
The outcomes and learning from Cloudlands will inform a new phase of Helium’s artist in residence programme with teenagers in hospital, beginning in 2016.
Documentation and Dissemination
- Helium developed a curated online gallery to share some of the work from the project: http://cloudlandsgallery.helium.ie/cloudlandsgallery/
- Regular blogs on Helium’s website outline the project’s progress.
- Beyond the Box, an exhibition of the artists’ responses in year 1, was accompanied by a panel discussion chaired by Patrick Fox at NCAD.
- In 2014, Helium was awarded a documentation bursary from artsandhealth.ie. Filmmaker Siobhan Perry created a 10-minute documentary showing some of the work taking place in Temple Street. The documentary was launched in 2015 at the Light House Cinema in Dublin and was also screened in competition at Galway Film Fleadh.
- The artists together with project manager Avril Carr presented on the project to the UCD Paediatric Society in 2014 and 2015.
- The 2016 Cloudlands exhibition tour will include a series of discursive events.
- Helium Arts and BNP Paribas won at the Allianz Business to Arts Awards 2014 for Cloudlands Dublin in the category ‘Best Use of Creativity in the Community’.
Temple Street Children’s University Hospital, Cork University Hospital and Cork University Hospital Arts Trust, University Hospital Galway and Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust.