The Pandemic has brought about extreme difficulties and challenges for the Irish Healthcare System over the past year. Staff were forced to adapt to new practices in line with Covid-19 safety guidelines and patients were faced with isolation, and increased health risks from the presence of this viral nightmare. In this unprecedented situation, arts practices and projects have provided some light and joy to those giving or receiving care. We spoke with Margaret Flannery Arts Director of Saolta Arts about the challenges they faced in adapting their Arts programme during the Pandemic, the transformative powers of the Arts in healthcare settings and the overwhelming outpouring of gratitude and positivity from patients in response to these initiatives.
As part of The Deepest Shade of Green, an Arts and Health programme for Galway’s European Capital of Culture 2020, Saolta Arts and Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture in partnership with Saolta University Health Care Group are presenting A bird at my window and other stories by Sarah Fuller and Manuela Corbari. This is an enchanting collection of tales inspired by the Italian children’s book Nine Stories About Love, where the natural and human worlds intertwine. Plants and humans become friends, animals can talk, and flowers think like philosophers.
To address the specific challenges presented by Covid-19, the artists used inventive means to respond to the ever-changing needs of the Paediatric setting culminating with the design of a bespoke shadow-box theatre (using light from a mobile phone that slots into the box) which allows intimate bedside performances incorporating puppetry, storytelling and shadow-play, to create immersive worlds and transform the clinical environment. The artists also designed a tote bag for their shadowbox theatres and each one is accompanied by a seed-paper postcard which can be planted in the ground when the children leave hospital. Together they will form a keepsake and a reminder of the more positive aspects of their hospital experience.
“The experience was magical. My little girl forgot where she was, she was so invested in the story”. – Parent of young patient in UHG
“Whilst the Pandemic has brought about a lot of challenges, it has also had a positive impact on our Arts programme. Everything that we create can be accessed online so what began as an initiative serving the west of Ireland now has a much broader Global Reach. For example, there is a shadowbox template available on our website so that the wider public can cut out characters from their stories and create their own shadowbox theatres at home. We also have an accompanying suite of downloadable stories and soundscapes and an instruction video which can be accessed from the Saolta Arts website for anyone to download and enjoy”.
“We’ll bring nice memories from the hard time in hospital”. – Parent of young patient, UHG
Galway as European Capital of Culture 2020 has been plagued by controversy even before the Pandemic further skewed plans for what was to be a unforgettable cultural marker for Galway but Margaret explains that without funding from Galway 2020, they would not have been able to deliver such an ambitious programme. A bird at my window and other stories is part of an overall programme of exhibitions and specially commissioned artworks for Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture titled The Deepest Shade of Green, which explores the importance of connecting hospitals with the natural world and of listening to and learning from those who use them. Overall, Margaret envisages that this programme of events will help her colleagues in recognising the value of Arts and Health creating long term benefits to the health, wellbeing and cultural access for the whole hospital community”.
Saolta Arts runs the west of Ireland’s leading Arts and Health programme as a means of improving the hospital experience for patients, staff and visitors. The charity believes that access to the arts promotes well-being and enhances the hospital environment. Its multidisciplinary programme of events and activities includes exhibitions, music, theatre, and poetry, its established participative arts programme has allowed people of all ages to explore their creative potential. It also works with hospital staff to improve the physical environment through public art and integrated artworks. Initiated as an Arts Committee in early 2003 to develop an arts programme for University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park University Hospital, Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust was officially established as a company limited by guarantee with charitable status in 2007. Following the creation of Saolta University Health Care Group in 2015, it became the dedicated arts service for the largest geographic hospital group in Ireland and relaunched as Saolta Arts in August 2019. The organisation’s remit encompasses Letterkenny University Hospital, Mayo University Hospital, Merlin Park University Hospital, Portiuncula University Hospital, Roscommon University Hospital, Sligo University Hospital and University Hospital Galway. For more information see: https://saoltaarts.com/