- Young patients attending the Paediatrics Department at University Hospital Galway either as inpatients or through outpatient clinics.
- The siblings of young patients.
- Older people in long term Care for the Elderly context at Merlin Park University Hospital.
- To provide young patients and their families with positive and shared experiences to enhance their experience of hospital and distract from anxieties.
- To pilot creative opportunities for the siblings of young patients, who can also spend significant time in hospital.
- To support older patients in exploring their creative potential and to provide shared experiences to enhance their experience of hospital and distract from anxieties.
- To support artists’ practices across the life course through opportunities for professional development and exchange.
- To engage with staff and stimulate exchange between diverse members of the hospital community.
The project began with a visit by Aoife Barrett to the studio of Aosdána member Margaret Irwin West, both highly skilled printmakers of different generations. This was an opportunity for the artists to exchange skills and their experiences of working with schools and communities of interest, both here and abroad. For example, Margaret Irwin West shared a printmaking technique she had used to explore pattern with a large group of Indian school children and Aoife Barrett shared her plans for developing a mobile print-case suitcase which included a modified pasta-maker printing press.
Aoife then facilitated a series of participative workshops with the hospitals’ youngest and oldest patients using mobile, low-tech printmaking techniques to create handprinted postcards. Drawing inspiration from an extensive family archive of notebooks, letters, and cards from her grandparents, and in celebration of the way the post has connected communities, the artist reimagined this for the healthcare setting using the hospitals’ internal mail to send the musings and marks of different generations between waiting rooms, offices, beds, and buildings. The postcards were sent to other patients to brighten up a long and isolating day or to staff as an unexpected thank you and a vital affirmation of a job well done. At times, the themes of artwork or messages on postcards prompted the recipient to write back with their own reflections.
There were nine workshops in total: two in Paediatrics Inpatients, four in Paediatrics Outpatients and three in Care for the Elderly. In the Inpatient playroom, children were able to explore repetition and multiple colours in longer workshops. Even in the fast-paced drop-in workshops of the Outpatients waiting room, young patients and their siblings were able to make multiple prints in a short time using the pasta-maker printing press – taking some home and posting others to the hospital community in the project’s post box.
For older participants, the same techniques were not always appropriate for those recovering from stroke, fatigue or with limited strength. In instances where participants struggled to apply the pressure needed to get a good print, the artist adapted tools to support independent mark making. For example, printing rollers were covered with foam piping insulation incised with patterns. This meant that, with even the lightest touch, someone with little strength or fine motor function could roll patterns over the surface of paper with ease.
An exhibition documented the inspiration, artworks, messages, and interactions from the project. Grouped according to the recurring thematics of workshops and alongside materials from the artist’s family archive, the exhibition offered a privileged peek at people connecting from a distance and sharing what they know and love, from the right way to pick apples to the attributes of a 1990s Toyota Mini-van. It served as a reminder of the significance of sharing, even if we seem to not be saying very much, and of the role this has in making the hospital more human.
- A body of mini-prints circulated across two hospitals through internal post.
- An exhibition of artwork from a series of workshops took place at University Hospital Galway from August – September 2019.
- A limited edition set of hand-printed mini-prints made in response to the workshops.
The artist completed a reflective journal, staff were consulted for feedback, and an end of project report was prepared. The project was monitored through regular meetings and reflective practice with the artist and project lead.
Each setting and patient group had distinct parameters and challenges to respond to. In UHG’s Paediatrics Unit, space was limited so the postcard-sized prints worked well in this context. Before being discharged, one young patient decided to send a postcard to every member of staff who had helped her during her stay, from her consultant, to a staff nurse, to an administrator in the Patients Accounts Department. The unexpecting recipients of postcards said that their post was a welcome lift to what had sometimes been a challenging day.
Parents of young patients and their siblings valued that their children had a different focus, were positively engaged and distracted from their worries. Following the workshops in the waiting room of Outpatient clinics, one consultant reflected that all her young patients came into the consultation room full of pride and enthusiasm in place of the anxieties that are usually prevalent during appointments. For older participants, the printmaking activity and exhibition served as a catalyst for new conversations and storytelling.
The day of skills sharing between Aoife Barrett and Margaret Irwin West proved an insightful and valuable opportunity for the artists to discuss adapting printmaking techniques to the ageing process and approaches that would and wouldn’t work in the healthcare setting.
Documentation and Dissemination
The project was documented and disseminated internally with the outcomes publicly shared in an exhibition marking Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust’s relaunch as Saolta Arts, opened by our patron Mrs. Sabina Higgins.
University Hospital Galway, Saolta University Health Care Group
Date of Publication
April - September 2019
Creative Ireland, Galway City Council, University Hospital Galway, Saolta Arts, Saolta University Health Care Group
Aoife Barrett, Margaret Irwin West
Acute Hospitals, Children, Older People
Nature of project
Collaborative/ participatory, Exhibition, Training/ Continuous Professional Development