The participants included patients of St Finbarr’s Hospital including patients in long-term care (geriatric, psychiatric and physically disabled), rehabilitation & respite care patients, day-care patients, mental health service users, and people attending out-patient clinics (DCD Unit, Dental Hospital). Staff and visitors of St. Finbarr’s Hospital, staff and visitors of Triskel Arts Centre, the local community, local and international visiting artists and students also participated in this programme.
Encounters aimed to enable the community of St Finbarr’s Hospital to engage with and participate in the artistic and cultural life of the city through a diverse programme of participatory projects, workshops, commissions, performances, events, film screenings, exhibitions & installations.
This collaboration between an arts centre and multidisciplinary hospital site aimed to link the two institutions to facilitate unique opportunities for creative exploration and discovery.
Both institutions committed fully to the partnership with the aim of supporting the artist in residence to integrate and to access their resources to assist in the delivery of an innovative programme.
Additionally, the programme aimed to demonstrate that access to and participation in the arts could have a positive effect on both individual and the hospital community’s general health and wellbeing.
Encounters explored and applied many different practices, concepts, activities and methods. At the beginning, the artist in residence visited the many wards, clinics and departments and discussed with patients and staff what type of artistic engagement would be most appropriate. This consultative approach and relationship building formed the core of the programme and enabled many of the more artistically challenging projects to proceed.
Throughout the years of the programme, the artist in residence continued to have weekly contact with inpatients (and staff) and delivered an ongoing ward-based core programme of participatory visual arts sessions and projects. She also held regular open access, drop-in, visual art workshops for staff, outpatients and visitors.
The artist in residence was a member of the Triskel programming and management team, with studio and office access in the arts centre. The Triskel team viewed Encounters as an integral part of their programme.
The programme of short term artist-led projects, commissions, performances and residencies gave the hospital access to a rich and diverse mix of artists, projects, methodologies and outcomes.
Encounters also included film screenings, environmental enhancement projects, an exhibitions programme, and an outreach programme offering access to and participation in the Triskel programme and other citywide cultural highlights.
The former disused laundry provided an artist studio facility enabling site-specific residencies and a rich source of inspiration.
Below are some examples of projects that took place over the duration of the programme:
The Laundry Residencies 2005
The laundry was the focus and the inspiration for two very different residencies. In the first, artists Therry Rudin and Patricia Hurl spent six weeks in the laundry. The hospital sheets linked to a recent body of work Rudin and Hurl had created – The Sheets are Laid in Perfect Order – exploring bonds of family and relationships, and their own feelings about aging. The artists spent time in the wards, with long term and respite-care patients, shredding, knotting and wrapping the sheets. During this process participants shared stories, fears, wishes and regrets.
The second project, Sonotop, with artist, musician and composer Charlotte Hug was a residency hosted by Encounters as part of the ArtTrail Festival. While this had no participatory aspect, the artist held open sessions for people to visit her and discuss her artistic process and response to the site as she created a body of work for performance.
Souvenir Exchange 2005
This interactive mobile art project created by artists Colette Lewis and Beryl Breuil engaged participants in the process of exchange and memory. Souvenirs were made from written memories and collected objects that the public sourced and could then exchange at the stall for someone else’s souvenir. The project spent a week in the waiting rooms of St. Finbarr’s out-patient clinics and also featured at the Feast of St. Finbarr and the 2006 Encounters exhibition at Triskel.
Memory Dress 2006/07
Memory Dress was a collaboration between artist in residence Charlotte Donovan and visual artist Marie Brett. It was the single largest and longest of the artist residencies/projects – spanning 9 months – and over 150 participants took part from both the hospital and local communities. The project encompassed many strands exploring personal and collective memory associated with dress through the creation of individual and group artworks.
In cases where it was appropriate and relevant, artworks created were exhibited, installed and performed throughout the hospital in the wards, waiting rooms, vacant buildings and grounds. Exhibitions of artwork created were also exhibited in the Triskel galleries and other community venues.
In 2005, the work of that year’s programme was showcased and celebrated at St. Finbarr’s hospital in The Feast of St. Finbarr – an open day which attracted over 3000 visitors to a grand spectacle featuring music and dance, craft and food stalls, a dramatised historical guided tour as well as many interactive art installations and exhibitions across the hospital grounds.
The Laundry Residencies culminated in installations in the laundry which were visited by the hospital community. Rudin and Hurl created an altarpiece installation, reminiscent of wishing trees, featuring the dense shredded, knotted collection of sheets. This was recreated as part of Triskel’s White Show in January 2006 which also included a community participatory workshop. Sonotop culminated in a sound performance as part of the ArtTrail Festival.
Many artworks were produced as part of the Memory Dress project. Some were group pieces from facilitated workshops, others personal responses created in intimate collaborations. The project culminated in a curated exhibition at Triskel.
The programme was never formally subject to an external evaluation. However, the project co-ordinator kept reflective journals and submitted regular project progress and completion reports to both Triskel Arts Centre (who reported to the Arts Council and City Council) and to the HSE through the Hospital Manager.
As part of the evaluation of Cork 2005 Culture & Health Strand, Encounters was featured in the evaluation by Mike White, University of Durham, and in ‘A Change of Seats’ from White’s text Arts Development in Community Health.
Encounters was an innovative arts and health programme in two key ways: the programme co-ordinator also occupied a role as the hospital artist in residence and the programme was based simultaneously in the arts centre and the hospital.
The benefits of this dual location from the artists’ perspective included:
- professional recognition attributed to association with an arts centre
- access to cultural programming, artists and networks
- being part of a team devoted to the arts
- access to technical and expertise resources within the arts centre
- enduring support from both the Hospital and Triskel management
Challenges from the co-ordinator’s perspective included:
- managing the many roles and responsibilities – creative/ co-ordinator/ programmer/ mentor/ carer/ counsellor/ mediator/ technician
- the internal politics of both the hospital and arts settings
The benefits of the programme to the Triskel included:
- having an outreach programme which linked in people who would not normally have access to the arts centre programme
- having an off-site facility which enabled interesting and challenging artistic opportunities
The benefits to participants at St. Finbarr’s Hospital included:
- the opportunity to experience and participate in a programme of artistic and cultural experiences otherwise not easily accessible
- the opportunity to meet, collaborate with and witness professional artists at work
- the opportunity to express individual creativity
- the feeling of being ‘part’ of something (especially Cork 2005)
‘This art work is health promoting … It is providing a vitality that’s as crucial to health as treatment.’ – Claire MacGabhann, Director of Nursing
‘At first I was a bit sceptical, because I didn’t think they could do it, but I’m amazed at what can be done.’ – Cathleen Bowen, Hospital Manager
‘I put a lot of work into it and made a lot of it. I’m keeping myself occupied. The art makes me feel healthier and happier‘ – Tom O’Donovan, patient
While there were innumerable truly magic moments, and overall, the enthusiasm with which St. Finbarr’s embraced the arts was quite remarkable, the programme did not continue. A number of factors, including budget challenges along with a change of hospital management and a change of direction at Triskel, led to the decision to end the programme in December 2007. Another contributing factor was that the programme’s continuation relied on the support and goodwill of two institutions which each had a multitude of other priorities.
One of the key learnings from Encounters, therefore, is that sustainable support structures must be in place for the long-term viability of programmes of this nature.
Documentation and Dissemination
Each of the projects, events, performances, exhibitions and installations were extensively visually documented through photography and video. The programme was documented on the Triskel website (2005-2007) and was featured in local media.
Sonotop is documented on artist Charlotte Hug’s website here.
Memory Dress was documented in a publication available to view here. Work from this project was selected for the Arts Council/Create initiative, Vital Signs, a programme of arts and health events that took place in Dublin in 2009.
Encounters has been featured in presentations to artists and health professionals at various conferences, seminars & workshops, including the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork; Crawford College of Art and Design, Cork; and Dialogue Arts + Health.
The 2005 programme also featured in the Cork 2005 Culture & Health Strand Publication.
St Finbarr’s Hospital, HSE South
Cork Arts & Health Programme, HSE South
Cork 2005 Culture & Health Strand
Boomerang Theatre Company
Ballyphehane & Togher Community Development Project
Cork School of Music
Cork Opera House
Cork Community Artlink