Image shown: Patience. Photo credit: GOSH Arts.

Susannah Hall

Susannah Hall, Joint Head of GOSH Arts, reflects on The Temporary Tattoo Parlour at Great Ormond Street Hospital, developed by artist Davina Drummond with adolescent patients. The project illustrates the socially engaged approach underpinning the work of GOSH Arts and how the programme has responded to teenagers’ feelings of isolation in a child-centred environment.

At GOSH Arts we aim to think of the hospital as an arts venue, just like any other we may have worked in previously. Because that’s just what it is. A public venue, with easily the most diverse range of audiences and potential artists as any gallery, theatre or music hall.

Whenever I have to do something new or scary at work, I tattoo myself. Temporarily. With a design created by a young person at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Usually discreetly on the inside of my wrist, and often with a small simple sign of a heartbeat trace, that reads ‘Life Beats On’. When I stumble on my notes, or get a tricky question, I glance down quickly, take heart, and stumble on.

In 2017, artist Davina Drummond worked with 40 young people at GOSH to create a set of temporary tattoos that could be shared with other young people in the hospital. The impetus for this project came from feedback from our Young People’s Forum that teenagers often feel isolated at GOSH. The pervading perception of our patients as ‘children’, not young adults, meant they often felt out of place in bright primary-coloured wards, or out of step with the ‘fun’ primary-aged activities offered, and struggled to make connections with other patients their age.

Tattoos are traditionally signs of bravery, or reminders of important events or people. Temporary tattoos (luckily now as on-trend as the permanent variety, to the relief of many parents and carers!) are ubiquitous at festivals, parties, carnivals etc – exactly the kind of normal adolescent rites of passage you might be missing out on if you are in hospital. The temporary nature was very important to the project concept (and not just to stop us getting in to trouble with mums and dads) as a symbolic reminder that not all events and feelings are permanent, and the hospital experience too will not always be the same. An aide to mindfulness; Life Beats On.

The young people came up with a number of themes that reflected what they saw as important ideas or positive messages. Pets, for example, as a symbol of missing home and a source of comfort – which resulted in a very cool French Bulldog design. The environment and nature feature strongly as always, as a representation of the world outside the ward walls, and recognition of the healing power of nature. So there is a tree and a mountain design. A set of lungs with the tag line, Inhale Hope, Exhale Pain. The heart design I mentioned above, created by a now ex-patient who was treated for a cardiac condition.

Davina’s project encapsulated the high quality socially engaged approach which GOSH Arts aspires to; developing ideas together with patients through discussion and workshops, and leading to a beautiful end product, with the help of tattoo artist Ella Bell to add the finishing tattoo-studio-style touches. The designs were then printed up onto one sheet that could be given by project participants to other young people as a sign of support, a conversation starter, a gift. Play Workers and other hospital staff could also request them to hand out to young people arriving at GOSH, or who they identified as needing support.

The tattoos proved very popular – not only with young people, but also with staff. Nurses and Doctors would often ask for one, our team started wearing them around the hospital, and we were asked to share them at staff and public events, hence The Temporary Tattoo Parlour was born. Staffed by a rotating team of Davina, an ex-patient involved in the project, and GOSH Arts staff, we have now applied tattoos on hundreds of patients, staff, dads, mums, grandparents and interested bystanders. On arms, necks, feet. Over scars, under scrubs. Creating a small moment of human connection whilst the wet sponge is applied and the image transfers – the chance to chat, to share the project, to share your story, to celebrate the creativity of young people at GOSH.

I have focused on this one project as an illustration of GOSH Arts’ work with adolescents. And as an illustration of our artistic approach.

At GOSH Arts we aim to think of the hospital as an arts venue, just like any other we may have worked in previously. Because that’s just what it is. A public venue, with easily the most diverse range of audiences and potential artists as any gallery, theatre or music hall. Who tell us that their health is improved by seeing quality art, and experiencing and making culture whilst they are here. Whether that’s waiting for an Outpatient appointment or spending a large part of your childhood living here as an Inpatient. Who may experience barriers to accessing the arts outside the hospital, and may discover something new within it.

If we agree that arts as early intervention make a huge impact on life chances (Marmot et al) and that therefore every child has a right to experience the arts, even if they are ill, then a paediatric hospital arts programme is one essential step to ensuring that cultural entitlement. Arts funders should take note, and consider hospital arts programmes as producers rather than just recipients of culture.

And as hospital arts managers we should aim for a rich and varied arts programme, of the highest quality. Because we know what a difference it can make to children, young people and their families. Inhale hope, exhale pain.


GOSH Arts is the arts programme at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Its award-winning participatory programme, art commissions and temporary exhibitions inspire creativity, create welcoming environments, and offer meaningful cultural opportunities across a variety of art forms for patients, families and staff. The programme plays an essential role in enhancing the hospital experience.
GOSH Arts is funded by Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity.

Susannah Hall is Joint Head of GOSH Arts. She has previously worked at the Barbican, English National Opera and London City Learning Centre, and undertaken freelance project management and consultancy for Southbank Centre, Arts Council England, Trinity College, British Film Institute and Look Ahead Housing and Care, amongst others. Her passion is cultural entitlement for children, young people and families.

Davina Drummond is a social practice artist and art educator who lives and works in London. She works at the intersection between socially engaged art and art education, purposely blurring the boundaries between the two disciplines. She creates context specific relational works, often incorporating the use of text and textiles. Davina’s practice explores modes of making artworks, which involve the process of social interactions and creative collaborations with others in gallery and non-gallery spaces and educational settings.

Michael Marmot, Peter Goldblatt, Jessica Allen, et al, 2010, Fair Society Healthy Lives (The Marmot Review)


Sign up to our e-bulletin to keep up to date with the latest news and opportunities.