Led by the NCAH artists, participants included staff and patients of TUH, members from the wider Tallaght Community connecting through RUA RED Arts Centre, Tallaght Community Arts Centre, The Civic Theatre, Tallaght Library and Tallafest 2018.
The project aimed to:
- Create a unique permanent art installation within the hospital.
- Encourage the involvement of patients, staff and the local community to be at the creative centre point of the project from start to finish. Specifically, for patients, to provide a distraction away from clinical worries, outcomes and treatments, and for staff, to foster relationships throughout the hospital and the local community.
- Develop an inclusive project for all ages through creating designs, participating in a series of balloon making and painting workshops supported by professional NCAH artists.
- Establish a sense of pride, achievement and wellbeing through engagement in a creative project experience.
- Enhance the space by providing multiple viewing points of beauty, reflection and enjoyment.
Take a breath; and close your eyes as you slowly E X H A L E… now picture a scene of colourful hot air balloons. Silently, drifting in the sky. Perhaps they carry your thoughts and dreams or you imagine letting your worries float away with them.
For resident artist Lucia Barnes this image was so vivid and uplifting it became etched in her mind’s eye, but how to recreate that vision for others to experience within a hospital setting was the challenge ahead. With over 15 years’ experience and understanding of arts and health projects she could relate to the need for a spectacle of escapism for patients, staff and visitors who might simply need to look up and take a moment.
The concept of creating a mobile-style balloon installation for the space was probably the quickest part of the whole project; the arts practice of reconfiguring that vision into a participatory and collaborative project model, designing prototypes, participant workshops and creating an installation plan distinguished the three stages of the project:
Stage 1. Colouring Competition: July – September 2018
TUH launched a colouring competition open to all and extensively advertised within the Tallaght community in August 2018 inviting submissions for unique hot air balloons designs. There was an overwhelming response to the competition with over 290 original designs (including individual and collaborative group designs) submitted from entrants ranging in age from 2-85 years! A judging panel selected 39 winning designs which went on public display during a balloon-making demonstration workshop on Culture Night.
Stage 2. Creating the Artworks: October 2018 – May 2019
A series of 12 workshops were facilitated within TUH and RUA RED Arts Centre over the next eight months. The purpose of the workshops was, firstly, to train the NCAH artists in the balloon-making process to ensure quality assurance standards were achieved, and thereafter, engage participants throughout all stages of the creative process. Staff painting workshops in the hospital canteen were stimulated by a great atmosphere and camaraderie as all were intrigued to see the next development of the balloons. Many staff happily delved into the task of painting during their lunch break as the workshop provided a one-stop shop solution. It quickly became apparent the number of staff that are hugely creative and interested in art but don’t always have the time to participate.
At the RUA RED workshops, parents and siblings of children who created designs got involved too and worked alongside the artists discovering a wonderful sense of colourful exploration and fun in these shared creative experiences. Likewise, patients and staff always positively responded to the everchanging appearance of the balloons as they underwent completion in the dialysis unit or Day Hospital, during transportation through the hospital or if they were being delivered to staff members who opted to paint their final designs at home.
To put the structure of a balloon into context, each one consists of seven individual layers of overlapping papier maché. A wire mesh is embedded between the layers in the top section of the balloon to stabilise it and produce grounds for the hanging point. Two coats of white paint are applied before the decorative design is drawn and painted onto the balloon. Finally, a coat of fire retardant is applied.
While the many intricate designs were being painted onto the balloons, decisions on the baskets and hanging systems were being explored. Research was conducted in order to comply with health and safety standards and infection control. Woven hessian was replaced by a washable oilcloth to create the baskets. Balloon and basket openings were sealed with a layer of Perspex or acetate to make the cleaning process more efficient.
The biggest challenges throughout the creative stage of the project were not having a main creative space to work from and the lack of dedicated storage space to house the artworks within the hospital. This increased the workload of guarding and checking the balloons against damage as keeping track of their various completion stages was pivotal in adhering to our timelines.
Stage 3. Completion and Installation of the project: June – October 2019
Designing a hanging system that would meet all compliance standards within the space whilst not compromising the aesthetic of the project involved much collaboration between the Arts Officer, Artist, Estates Management, CES Solutions (external installation contractor) and suppliers. Certificates of conformity and load bearing for all parts were obtained with over 247 meters of wire involved. Once the hanging system was in place the balloons were installed into position following a rigorous layout plan.
Speaking at the official launch of The Sky’s the Limit, Lucy Nugent, CEO of TUH, and Mairead Shields, Chair of the Meath Foundation, commended the project for bringing a wonderful sense of beauty to the space for all to enjoy and encouraged everyone gathered to complete a comment card and share their thoughts on the project. The event was supported by the Volunteer Coffee Shop with hot beverages and celebratory cake by Jolly Cakes while the crowd were entertained by performances from Heartbeats (the TUH Choir) and singer songwriter Clara Rose. As joyous as the occasion was it was an equally poignant evening for some family members remembering their deceased loved ones who had participated in the project. A Participants Legend was also unveiled in the hospital atrium which presents information about the project, those involved and the winning designs.
- A beautiful colourful installation of 35 individually designed hot air balloons with a unique story behind each one
- An accompanying Participants Legend detailing information on the 39 winning designs and many interesting facts about the project
- A public launch of The Sky’s The Limit in November 2019
- A series of 12 workshops with NCAH artists, staff, patients and members of the public held in RUA RED Arts Centre, and at TUH canteen and CLD, involving the balloon making and painting of designs processes
- A public event and workshop on Culture Night 2018 at the Volunteer Coffee Shop announcing the winning designs
- A collection of photographic and video documentation to be used in phase two of the project as a book or video production.
The lead artist kept a reflective journal throughout the process. Project progress was also assessed through organisational meetings, feedback from stakeholders and photographic documentation. A comment box has been provided which invites viewers to complete a questionnaire.
From the beginning I envisaged the eventual outcome of the project – a colourful display of balloons floating quietly in the hospital’s atrium embodying carefree dreams and thoughts. I wasn’t surprised by the huge interest to participate in the project as it gave such an opportunity for escapism. It was wonderful to be involved in so many areas around the hospital and local communities, forging the way for greater communication and artistic collaborations.
The following are some of the responses received:
‘When I look up, I feel like Mary Poppins, I want to be up there, floating weightless among the balloons.‘
‘A very big thank you for such a lovely family experience last Saturday in the Rua Red arts centre painting Tom’s balloon. We all enjoyed it not just the children. We very much appreciate all the effort that went in for us to be able to just walk in and paint!‘
‘I love walking into the coffee shop and seeing Eimear’s Mindfulness balloon smiling at me even though she is no longer here‘
‘We spend so much time looking down, the balloons give people a reason to look up‘
‘The surprise on a child’s face when you ask them to look up and they see the balloons‘
‘They make me smile every time I look at them‘
‘Imagining where each balloon has journeyed‘
The project and the work grew, with many hurdles to cross along the way. The lack of a storage space was quite an issue as the balloons had to be constantly minded against damage. Sourcing the fire retardant for papier-mâché sculptures and obtaining the relevant certificates for the balloon installation hanging system was difficult. However, with the constant support of Alison Baker Kerrigan, I was able to complete what has been a most rewarding and exciting project.
From the moment The Sky’s The Limit was installed we have only received positive and encouraging feedback.
Documentation and Dissemination
The Sky’s The Limit was documented in many different formats: through the artist’s journal and notes from organisational meetings, budget proposals and interim reports. There was photographic and video documentation throughout the project.
Funding has been committed to the artist to complete a thorough documentation of the project in the form of a book or video documentary based on feedback, statements gathered, interviews with artists and participants involved, photographs and video footage captured during the project, alongside thoughts and ideas from the artist’s reflective journal.
Various articles on the project have been published in local newspaper The Echo.
A short video capturing the launch event of The Sky’s The Limit installation can be viewed at youtu.be/7rrxYg2m_ZE
Key funder and supporter: The Meath Foundation