Le Pont des Arts is a non-profit artistic company working in the paediatric departments of Brussels’ main hospitals. For 21 years, six artists (currently a singer, a musician, a dancer, a storyteller, a juggler and a visual artist) have been performing weekly in children’s rooms. It is still the only Belgian pluri-artistic company specializing in the arts and health field.
Children in hospitals from 0 to 18 years old.
The programme gives hospitalized children the opportunity to share an artistic moment and enjoy a poetic space of freedom and imagination during their stay.
The heart of our practice is to meet each child in an individual and personal way, in a one-to-one relation. Another important aspect for us is to give children the choice of which art, show or workshop they want to take part in, or not to take part at all. Some children may be discovering an art form they’ve never encountered before; for many, they are watching an artistic show for the first time, in an unexpected place. We have no therapeutic intentions, but we are conscious of the positive effects such moments can have.
Our main approach is individual, in general paediatric services, and so these are mostly one-time encounters.
We sometimes have a collective approach, when we perform our professional youth shows in the hospitals’ playrooms, transforming the playrooms into a theatre venue.
In a specific project for premature babies, we have a collaborative approach with the medical staff: nurses and artists form and rehearse a choir, and sing together in rooms to encourage parents to sing and talk to their infant child.
These specific projects about singing and storytelling in neonatology are also based on a scientific approach aiming to improve the babies’ cognitive development and bonding with parents.
Finally, we have a social and educative approach with a specific public: children called « SOS » who are not ill but placed in foster care in a paediatric hospital due to social and family reasons. With these children we collaborate with the hospital’s school, meet them on a longer term basis and also take them monthly to see shows at a youth theatre in the city.
For the general programme, our methodology is the following :
Each artist works part-time as a permanent employee, positions being 95% financially covered by Brussels’ Regional Government. Every Monday morning artists have individual time to practice and rehearse at home. They perform one afternoon and two mornings each week in the hospitals, mostly in teams of two to four. Finally, we have one weekly afternoon team meeting which includes the two administrative employees of the office, to share thoughts about the programme and our experiences, plan and make decisions.
The programme has existed for a long time, but since 2013 our artistic outputs have included:
- Three professional shows for children in hospital, created in duos: « Fillon & Fillette » (an adaptation of a traditional story), « Croké-Là » (music and objects theatre) and « Le Cirque du Vent » (The Circus of Wind, mixing storytelling and visual arts). A new show is being created with dance and juggling. The shows are performed in the hospitals on a regular basis.
- An upcoming project will see the release of a children’s book based on “Le Cirque du Vent”.
- A CD has been recorded by two artists with songs for babies. It is given free to parents who benefit from the project in neonatology.
- A short publication with photos and testimonies from the artists was released in 2013 following a seminar about arts and children in hospitals.
- A documentary film about the programme was made in 2016 by Isabelle Rey, named « La Vie est là » (Here is life). It is available on demand and with English subtitles.
Each artist completes a monthly monitoring form with the services they went to and the number of children they performed for. Two artists who lead the projects in neonatology also write a diary about their stories with the babies and parents they met. The office team keep internal statistics about the beneficiary children (number of children, who were « SOS » children, and repartition in services) and meet each of the services annually for an evaluation of the project and collaborative planning. The weekly team meeting is used to debrief and to evaluate projects and situations the artists have encountered.
The main challenge of the programme is to maintain a good relationship with the hospitals’ services and staff. There are constant changes within hospital settings and we have to introduce ourselves and invite staff to watch us or to meet on a regular basis.
Another challenge is to support the artists who are meeting sick children every week on a long-term basis and are confronted with difficult situations. We established team supervision with a specialized therapist, and to help us with cultural challenges (Brussels being the second most multicultural world city) we are in touch with cultural mediators of one hospital. The final challenge is the need to constantly seek funding and to try to make the programme known in the public eye.
As our objectives are not therapeutic, we do not seek to measure therapeutic impact on participants, so the quality of the relationship with the children is a subjective evaluation of the artists, parents and staff. However, in the frame of the neonatology projects, we rely on scientific studies that have been released (mostly in the USA) and we apply specific methodologies they recommend to have the best and safest impact possible (for example, the use of live voices, before and after controls of the baby’s parameters).
Finally, the growing interest of the media and international peers is providing us with a positive evaluation of our work and programme.
Personal reflection by Gauvain Duffy, storyteller for Le Pont des Arts:
In my opinion, having professional artists in hospitals is very important for many reasons: it is a link with the external world, and art as a living process and a nourishing thing for human beings can be of great support in that context. Being in a hospital is challenging, especially for kids, and having an artist sharing his art and bringing a creative moment to their room can be a bubble of fresh air and a way to relate and create, regardless of any health condition.
In my practice, it has taught me a great deal about adaptation, presence, simplicity and relating in the moment. A hospital room is very different than a stage, and every room is a different world, every kid has his own background. Sometimes he’s alone, sometimes you play for a whole family, so I’m in constant discovery and adaptation. You have to be very solid and versatile in your work; in my case I come with a large repertoire of stories for all ages and tastes, so I can give some choices to the kids. It has clearly nourished me both as a person and as an artist, giving a real meaning to my profession.
Documentation and Dissemination
The annual activity report is published on our website and disseminated to the funding authorities. The documentary movie is a testimony to the global nature of the programme and is still regularly broadcast in various places (hospitals, cultural centres, even in a restaurant!).
We also take part in an arts & health working group gathering Belgian professionals with the mission of releasing publications. In 2019, a book called ‘9 essentials about art in care fields’ was published. The introduction features a description of Le Pont des Arts and a special note about the documentary movie is included. The book has been sent to the authorities, arts and health professionals, and to some specialised libraries (for example, the university) and is available online on the website of Culture & Démocratie.
An insight into our work can be found in the following videos:
‘Danse au pied du lit’ interactive performance with dancer Linda Kurtovich:
‘Babou and Eve at Villa Indigo,’ Christmas week performance 2018:
Brussels’ hospitals: Saint-Luc, Saint-Pierre, Saint-Jean, Erasme, Huderf (Children’s University Hospital Queen Fabiola), Chirec-Delta
Villa Indigo (A respite house for disabled children where we perform weekly)
Association Nos Enfants Cardiaques
International: Enfance & Musique (Paris), Fundatia Internationala Pentru Copii si Familie (Bucharest), Waterford Healing Arts Trust (Ireland)
Smart and LaVallée (administrative residency)
Promethea (support and training for private fundraising)
Théâtre de la Montagne Magique (youth theatre where we bring the SOS children)
Culture & Démocratie (organization supervising the arts and health work group)
Date of Publication
The programme started in 1998 and is ongoing
Le Pont des Arts asbl
Region of Brussels-Capitale: covers 95% of permanent part-time positions for 6 artists and 2 administrative employees
French Communautary Commission (COCOF): funds administrative costs and our participation in seminars and engagements abroad
Federation Wallonia-Brussels: Funded some of our youth shows in 2018-2019
In 2020 we will also receive exceptional support from The City of Brussels (Culture) to invest and increase our communication tools and from 2 Foundations: Cooperative Cera and Fondation Lippens (mostly for costumes and material investment)
We are currently looking for private long-term sponsors.
Gauvain Duffy (actor and storyteller), Margarita Dakou (dancer), Maxime Loye (circus juggler), Nico Castiaux (musician and bass player), Régine Galle (singer), Vero Vandegh (visual artist)
Circus, Dance, Literature, Music, Storytelling, Theatre, Visual Arts
Acute Hospitals, Children, Maternity Hospitals, Primary Care/ Community Health, Training & Education
Nature of project
Collaborative/ participatory, Performance, Residency, Training/ Continuous Professional Development