Older adults from Enniscrone Primary Care Centre (33 participants), Easkey Day Centre (12 participants), and four older participants who worked with the artists from their own homes.
The project offered older adults (those who visit day care settings and those who are living at home cared for through home supports) the opportunity to interact with creativity in a meaningful way. This interaction with the artists was also to be the catalyst for the making of new artworks by each of the participating artists.
The project also provided the artists with the opportunity to be part of a curated four-person exhibition.
The methods described here are informed by artist interviews with writer Maura Gilligan who captured each artist’s insight into their engagement with older people and exhibition work.
Artists Daniel Chester and Amy McGovern’s creative practices were influenced by their art sessions with older adults in care centres. Artists Cherry Dowling and Stephen Rennicks’ creative practices were given direction by their work as home care/companion workers supporting older adults living will illness in their homes.
Amy is a mixed-media visual artist working across drawing, watercolour, acrylic and gouache. To connect with participants in a way that has meaning for them, Amy found the Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, a photography publication by David Creedon, to be very useful as a trigger for making work. Creedon photographed the interiors of abandoned, derelict houses throughout Ireland, capturing the isolation of rural Ireland in the twentieth century as a result of large-scale emigration. Ghosts of the Faithful Departed provided Amy with a uniting element in terms of a common memory bank: ‘some of the group have made art based on the objects which feature in the photographs, often on pieces of patterned wallpaper and plasterboard from that era which lends its own texture and depth to the finished pieces.’
Cherry’s artworks always begin with a photograph. Drawing, painting, printmaking and sculpture enable what is for Cherry ‘the magic in constant reproduction of an image’ until it is stripped back to the minimal information required to convey character or feeling. Branching into digital art has, she feels, added significantly to her work.
Cherry chose to create work that links her daily occupation to her own art. In her role as the support and companion to a family friend named Rosaleen, she connects with this former artist and creates a vision of the fullness of her earlier life. That earlier life informed and inspired Cherry in the pieces she created: ‘Rosaleen was a poet and a painter, the daughter of a woodturner and a milliner, she was wife to an artisan carpenter – there were multiple layers of care and creation to her life, including the creative work of raising a family.’
Daniel is a painter who paints almost exclusively in oils on aluminium. He enjoyed the connection with people in their eighties and nineties in the care centre. Some of the men say they’ll tell stories but won’t do any painting, many of the women take up the challenge. The artist found himself identifying with the journey presented to him – encountering people who have lived full lives, dealing with group work dynamics in an area of compromised health, experiencing the strength of family bonds in his own life, facing ‘the parallel pull of what is, and was, home’.
Stephen is an artist and qualified carer. In his daily work, he travels to his clients who are located across rural County Sligo. He called his artwork for the Cúram exhibition Nothing Wild on Your Travels? / On the Way to Work: ‘The main title of the work in fact came from one of my clients, who has since died. I noticed that he would almost always ask me the question “Nothing wild on your travels?” when I would arrive each day… People craved local reports… had it rained in Ballymote etc.’
A method of combining the arts in health project with his work routine needed to be devised: ‘I initially chose to focus on clients who are largely house-bound. I decided to use photography as I often had to work quickly, on the way to work or between visits.’
- The Cúram exhibition took place at Hyde Bridge Gallery, Sligo from 9-29 October 2019.
- Exhibition tours and workshops were facilitated for over 200 primary school children.
- Postcards of the work were created for the general public to take home. These postcards were also given to some of the older people who could not attend the exhibition.
- Artist interviews with writer Maura Gilligan
- Artist feedback sheets
- Check-in meetings with project co-ordinator Catherine Fanning
- Artist exchange: an opportunity for the artists to share information / creative learning with each other
- Check-in phone conversations with care centre staff to review the creative sessions.
The general feedback from project artists was that the project had a positive impact on their own creative practices and for some artists new projects have sprung from it.
For the two artists working with older people in their own homes, they felt that the project had a positive effect on their relationship with older clients in areas such as trust and lowered stress levels.
For Amy McGovern, the creative sessions with older people in Easkey Day Centre have given her new approaches to her own practice.
Artist Daniel Chester found working with older people in a rural care setting has influenced his creative thinking: ‘This other journey threw me [the parallel pull of what is, and was, home] but I’m conscious that I’m an author of something, and so many artists find an avenue to express their current life path in work that reflects that path.’
The day care centre managers noted that participants found the sessions very enjoyable. Even if the creative sessions weren’t something that every client wanted to participate in, they felt having the artist in the centre brought a good feeling, new energy and change of conversation to the centre. Sustainability of projects like Cúram was highlighted as an issue. Centre managers have voiced concerns around the ending of a project, with no new project to replace it. This, they say, impacts on clients’ overall mood and wellbeing.
The project did face specific challenges: very few of the older people involved in the project were able to attend the Cúram exhibition due to ill health, lack of transport / care support and the confidence to do so. Also, the exhibition was located on the first floor of the Hyde Bridge Gallery which can be accessed by stairs only.
The artists and co-ordinator were aware of these issues before the exhibition took place. To involve participants in the exhibition, project artists took a number of approaches. Postcards of exhibition work were made and given to older participants. The artists also brought some of the exhibition work to the care settings and clients’ homes. Enniscrone Health Centre held their own exhibition featuring artwork created by participants during group sessions.
When working within health settings, boundaries around documentation are unique to each setting. We needed to be sensitive to client confidentiality at all times and this did pose challenges for project documentation and promotional material for the exhibition.
Documentation and Dissemination
Cherry Dowling and Stephen Rennicks took part in artist talks for third level art students from Sligo IT.
Writer Maura Gilligan interviewed the artists about their engagement with older people and response artwork. The full documentation/interview text was printed and made available for reading during the exhibition. A segment of text about each artist was published on an A5 card alongside one of their images. These cards were available to take home. A child-friendly version of this text was also printed for primary school children.
Sligo County Council, HSE West