From the motivation of a young person on day one of a project to the ongoing encouragement necessary to ensure active participation; Helium discusses the importance of the recruitment process and finding the right artists for the job.
‘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.
Helium: Helene Hugel & Emma Eager
Helium is an arts and health organisation fostering a culture of creativity within Irish healthcare for children and young people, through the development of participatory arts programmes in community, primary, and acute healthcare environments.Helene Hugel is CEO and Artistic Director of Helium. Emma Eager works in the field of youth arts as the Communications Officer for Helium Arts and Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership. Helium's mission is to create positive experiences of hospital and healthcare settings for young people, to support a child-centred model of healthcare through the arts, and to innovate models of arts practice which give a creative voice to young people living with illness.
BiographiesHelene Hugel began her professional career as a puppeteer in 1997, as co-founder and partner of the award winning Púca Puppets. She became freelance at the end of 2002 to specialise in the dynamic field of arts and health and commit her work practice to exploring the untapped potential of applying the art of puppetry to the unique needs of healthcare communities and their environments. She gained a qualification in Hospital Play Specialism and worked part-time as a member of Clown Doctors Northern Ireland for five years. In 2009, Helene founded Helium in order to overcome the limitations of her own practice, to provide a structure for collaborating with other artists, and to extend the work to more chidren and young people. Emma Eager is the co-ordinator of Helium’s Two Suitcases film project for teenagers living with chronic illness and of OAK a creative website developed by Helium for teenagers with health conditions. She has managed youth film projects for other organisations, most recently collaborating with young people from Marino School in Dublin who have intellectual disabilities. In 2012-13, she was acting editor of artsandhealth.ie, the national website for arts and health in Ireland.