Living in a time when healthcare cuts are impacting on frontline services, one of the most difficult challenges for an arts and health organisation can be convincing healthcare providers that the arts have a complementary role to play in healthcare provision in the first place. There may be concerns around issues of intentionality, ethics, quality control and training, and the lack of an evidence base to support the benefits of the work has meant that creativity as a resource to enhance well-being has not become embedded within the healthcare system. For healthcare staff already stretched to their limits, the start of an artist residency on a children’s ward may very well invite the questions: ‘Who is this “artist”?’ and ‘Will she disrupt the work I’m doing?’
A partnership approach with a healthcare provider from the outset is fundamental in building trust, understanding and an ongoing dialogue in the facilitation of a hospital-based arts project. Depending on the system in place in participating hospitals and the nature of the project, artists will work closely with the play specialist team, hospital school or nursing staff. Some hospitals have a dedicated Arts and Health Co-ordinator who will act as a liaison between the artist and healthcare staff. On Cloudlands, Helium’s current artist-in-residence programme for teenagers in hospital, the artists and healthcare workers participate in ‘Creative Exchange’ days and project partner meetings are organised throughout the residency to discuss progress and any underlying concerns that healthcare staff may have. The Cloudlands artists themselves were chosen by a selection panel which included a play specialist from one of the participating hospitals.
Artists must adhere to high standards of practice in terms of monitoring, ethically documenting and evaluating the work, honouring the confidentiality of participants and being sensitive to their needs, as well as bringing a high quality artistic engagement to the healthcare setting. We have found hospital staff to be very supportive of Cloudlands and this is helped by the code of practice we have in place and the project duration means that staff see at first hand creative work with teenagers unfolding over weeks or months. Staff often comment on how working with professional artists has helped bring teenagers out of themselves and play specialists have welcomed the skills exchange the project has engendered. A big challenge remains how to develop an evidence base that supports the impact of this work when the aim of the work is creative rather than clinical but the accepted evidence base is predicated on clinical outcomes.
Challenges in delivering specific projects depend very much on the healthcare context. On a community-based project like Two Suitcases, where teenagers living with chronic illness make their own films, there is no on-site clinical support. A great deal of attention needs to be paid to health and safety procedures to ensure the well-being of participants and maintaining an open dialogue with parents is crucial. A youth worker remains on-site during film week and collaborates on all the filmmaking activities; this active engagement with the artistic process is important in building relationships with the teenagers. Where the participant’s condition is not stable, a parent will remain on-site but off-set so as not to inhibit the young people’s creativity. Freedom to explore themes and ideas, or putting filmmaking not illness at the heart of Two Suitcases, has been fundamental to the project’s growth. Some of the participants have been with the project since the beginning because they see Two Suitcases first and foremost as a community of people passionate about film rather than one in which they share health challenges.
Content and views expressed by our guest bloggers does not necessarily reflect the views of NYCI.
In their fourth and final Blog Helium will discuss the ways in which they have implemented the learning from previous work with young people and how this has impacted on the organisation’s development.