In 2013, Galway Technical Institute was awarded an NAPD Creative Engagement Award to work with visual artist Marielle MacLeman and Further Education students on an introduction to Arts and Health practice. A series of participative workshops informed the publication, The Music of What Happens: A Student’s Guide to Arts and Health. This publication was launched at the GTI end of year art exhibition, where Nursing Studies students exhibited alongside Art students.
The project sought to introduce arts and health practice to Further Education students in two ways: through experiential art workshops aimed at supporting students to explore their creative potential and to learn transferable skills for work placements, and through a series of informal discussions which aimed to promote the value of arts and health through local and international examples.
Introducing a new area of professional practice to the GTI curriculum, a key objective of the project was to create an educational resource for subsequent year groups studying Art and Applied Health and Social Sciences. The wider intention of the project was to foster knowledge and understanding in Further Education that would consequently support effective partnerships between arts and healthcare professionals towards good arts and health practice.
An opening lecture used local and international examples of arts and health practice to discuss the role it plays in promoting wellbeing and enhancing the healthcare environment. Invitations to attend this were extended via project information sheets circulated by teachers, and during classroom visits by Artist in Residence Marielle MacLeman and the Head of Art and Design, Sarah Farrell, who was the Project Co-ordinator.
Following the introductory lecture, a series of limited capacity workshops allowed students to further explore the artforms, contexts, approaches and guiding values associated with arts and health. The first workshop focused on the importance of a person-centred approach and having access to high quality materials. Starting with a large white sheet of paper, a single graphite pencil and no stimuli, each student was invited to ‘Draw something,’ before gradually being supported individually to explore a range of media. Marks resulting from the exercise, along with students’ responses to it, then informed a narrative that was used in a concertina bookbinding demonstration and was subsequently included in the project publication.
Thereafter, participative workshops introduced specific creative techniques illustrated with working examples of where each technique had been used to address patients’ priorities. For example, the students learned a Japanese book-binding technique and looked at how this had been used as an alternative to writing a life journal where time was finite – collating the simple, poignant spoken reflections of a fatigued patient at the end of her life. Practical aspects of workshops were supported by group discussion which, alongside artwork, guided the design and content of the project publication.
Students were encouraged to apply their new practical skills to their work placements and, where this was possible, materials were provided. A range of arts and health publications was made available to students and they were also encouraged to study national and international case studies on artsandhealth.ie.
The project culminated in the publication, The Music of What Happens: A Student’s Guide to Arts and Health, available as a limited edition case-bound book and a downloadable PDF. Original artwork created during workshops was exhibited alongside pages of the book and a case bound copy at the GTI end of year art exhibition in Galway. The exhibition included a selection of hand-bound books, paintings and crockery featuring students’ designs. In October 2014, these will be exhibited alongside NAPD Creative Engagement projects from around Ireland at the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts & History, Collins Barracks, Dublin.
Students were encouraged to keep project notebooks throughout and an open discussion during the last workshop provided a platform for the students to advise on improvements for future reference. The project was monitored through a process of ongoing dialogue between the Artist in Residence and the Project Co-ordinator, and between the Project Co-ordinator, Principal Geraldine Gibbons, Deputy Principals, and the Applied Health and Social Sciences teachers. Adjustments to format and delivery were made accordingly.
Though the project was initially designed for Nursing Studies students, the involvement of an art student (a practicing nurse) brought a broad range of perspectives and a commitment from GTI to sharing the project findings with all Art and Applied Health and Social Sciences students. Cross-discipline artistic collaboration resulted in a new social dynamic and Nursing Studies students recommended that a creative exercise be introduced as an important ice-breaker at the start of subsequent academic years.
The participation of students from several different class groups was voluntary and took place outside their accredited studies. The resulting clashes in availability prompted a revised schedule with longer sessions that proved invaluable in encouraging those unfamiliar with art to explore their creative potential and to develop confidence in their ability. Some rekindled a love of art that they had enjoyed at school, prefering the pace of person-centred participation.
As the project’s defined funding period coincided with accredited assignments and interviews, some students were unable to attend all workshops. Others missed valuable opportunities for practical vocational application of their new skills as their work placements predated the project.
However, as one student reflected: ‘The simple act of sitting down beside a patient while they drew taught me the importance of giving time and a listening ear. On hearing their stories it gave me a more rounded view of their life and circumstances and I was better able to understand their illness, its cause and appropriate treatment… I’d have never heard them if I hadn’t sat down beside them and talked about what they were drawing… I was very humbled by the experience. It’s a powerful tool. I’ve never witnessed anything like it in all my years practicing as a nurse.’
The project introduced students to the responsive and inclusive nature of participative arts and health practices so that they might go on to facilitate equitable initiatives. As another student noted, ‘I learned about materials and methods for patients who have limited time, dexterity and skill. This is important because it allows more people to make a stab at being creative.’
Documentation and Dissemination
Workshops were documented by participating students, the Artist in Residence and the Project Co-ordinator. The resulting publication was printed as a limited edition, hardcover book with a dedicated copy for both the Art and Design and the Applied Health and Social Sciences departments. These are kept in the GTI Arts and Health resource, along with other publications from the field. Thereafter, the publication was made freely available to students and teachers as a PDF. The production of a bespoke artbook and softcopy was considered a more effective, creative means to disseminate learning from the project than a generic, disposable brochure format. An animated version of the book can be viewed here. The project was featured in local press.
Galway Technical Institute
Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board
Galway University Hospital Arts Trust
Galway University Hospitals
Burning Bright (a partnership involving Galway County Council, Galway City Council, Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust, Galway Arts Centre, the Artists, the Community Nursing Units, the HSE and the Arts Council).
January – May 2014
Galway Technical Institute
The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) Creative Engagement Award, Galway Technical Institute, Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board, with in-kind support from Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust and Burning Bright.
Marielle MacLeman, Sarah Farrell
Training & Education
Nature of project
Collaborative/ participatory, Residency