‘I’m no good at doing art!’ is a common refrain that artists in residence on Helium’s Cloudlands project hear when first approaching teenagers in hospital. By initiating conversations and finding out where young people’s interests lie, creative work often unfolds that can be far removed from the teenager’s original concept of ‘doing art’. Suddenly the teenager is excited because he’s crazy about technology and finds himself designing a handheld console with geo-mapping or a shy girl starts to come out of herself when developing an animation about her seven puppies at home jumping around her room. The work unfolds because the ideas have come from the participant but instilling this leap of imagination in the participant in the first place requires a particular artist skill set.
For Cloudlands, Helium undertook a rigorous recruitment process which included a practical workshop. Though it was not a necessity for artists to have worked in healthcare contexts beforehand, it was a prerequisite that artists had a strong track record of working collaboratively with teenagers and that they understood the sensitive environment of the hospital and the practical implications of working in this environment. Artists working in clinical settings are accessing young people who might never otherwise engage with the arts. Therefore, it is very important that they do not approach young people with pre-conceived ideas of what the art process is going to be but respond to and illuminate the ideas put forward by participants, drawing on their own arts practice. For this reason, artists who can work across artistic disciplines are best suited to our hospital residencies because on any given day they might be working with a young person on a story about a blue phoenix or making a silent film about Rapunzel trapped in her tower or mapping the children’s ward as a city to name some examples from the Cloudlands project. Sometimes a teenager just wants someone to talk to and recognizing that moment and taking the time to connect with that person is more important than striving to make something creative happen.
Artists must also be able to adapt to particular constraints imposed by a young person’s illness. If a teenager is undergoing dialysis or can only collaborate while lying flat on her back, do you find yourself drawing a blank about what you’ll do together or are you conjuring up lots of potential avenues for creative exploration? The artist who is able to adapt to any given situation is the artist for us.
‘Your two ears are the most important asset you have! Listening is a vital skill you need to work in this area; taking the time to hear about how a teenager’s day has been or to chat about a favourite film is the way you build trust. Once that trust is built then anything is possible. There is no point in planning hours of intricate projects that you want to do because that is not what Cloudlands is about. Each teenager has their own individual story to tell and once they voice it the artist can begin to visualise a unique project for each person. So you must be flexible and sensitive at all times to the changing ideas and environment of the hospital. Finally, you have to dream big and be willing to push the boundaries to make the impossible happen.’ – Rachel Tynan, Cloudlands Artist in Residence, Temple Street Children’s University Hospital.
Content and views expressed by our guest bloggers in residence does not necessarily reflect the views of NYCI.
In their next blog, Helium outline their approach to developing successful working relationships with partner organisations and the challenges involved in convincing all parties of the valuable role that the arts can play in the lives of young people.