‘It was fun, let me use my imagination and it was worth doing all the work. It made me feel a lot better for being sick when I was in the hospital.‘ – 12 year old boy on Helium’s Cloudlands Project at University Hospital Galway
There are very few children who do not at some point in their childhood find themselves in a hospital bed and there are even fewer children who would say this was a positive memory. Spending time in hospital can be a very lonely and alienating experience for a child. Children express themselves, explore, and make sense of the world through play, creativity and their own imagination. Finding themselves in surroundings which are far removed from their natural way of engaging with the world, it is not surprising that the anxiety they already feel about being in this strange place is magnified by a lack of things to do.
I was working as an artist with children in hospital for about 5 years, developing my practice through a variety of residencies around the country. It became clear that there was a dearth of opportunities for children in hospital to engage with professional artists on collaborative art projects. As my practice grew and I engaged with hospital staff and their communities, my understanding of ‘what could be’ both for artists and the children reached a peak. I could no longer continue the journey on my own and so formed Helium in 2009 as a way of professionalising and replicating the work.- Helene Hugel, CEO/Artistic Director, Helium
Collaboration is the cornerstone of Helium’s work because being an active participant helps young people in healthcare settings to regain a sense of control over their own lives. For example, the Puppet Portal Project (2009-2010), an artist in residence programme that took place in seven hospitals across Ireland, looked at ways of making hospital a less scary place for children. Discarded hospital instruments and unused materials such as stethoscopes, syringes and gloves were re-fashioned as puppets by participants. By enabling young people to share their puppet performances with children in participating hospitals through an online video-link facility, the project also led to increased peer interaction and facilitated relationship-building.
Since 2011, one of our main areas of focus has been creatively engaging teenagers in healthcare settings. Adolescents often find themselves in limbo in hospital, either relegated to children’s wards where they have little interest in attending the playroom or, on transitioning into adultcare, finding themselves on wards where there is even less in the way of creative stimulation. Cloudlands was developed by Helium to provide creative support for adolescents who have to endure long hospital stays, with artists in residence working with young people once a week or once every two weeks over a nine-month period on projects that are guided by the passions and interests of participants.
The use of technology is an integral aspect of our programming to reach young people who have limited interaction with their peers or who would otherwise be excluded from our projects. An online creative platform has been developed for Cloudlands to involve teenagers in isolation units who are unable to interact with their peers due to the risk of infection. Our community film project, Two Suitcases, was designed for teenagers living with chronic illness and takes place on-site and online, with virtual participants taking on the roles of online actors and voice-over artists and contributing ideas via the OAK website which was specially designed for the project.
At the heart of our work is the belief that every young person should have opportunities to develop creative skills to express themselves and explore their culture regardless of the setting or the state of their health.
In August 2012, Two Suitcases won Best Film in the Under 18s category at the Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival in Waterville, Co. Kerry and in October 2012 won Best Film at First Cut! Youth Film Festival in Cobh.
View the ‘Two Suitcases’ short film at the link below:
Content and views expressed by our guest bloggers in residence does not necessarily reflect the views of NYCI
In their next blog Helium discusses the importance of the recruitment process within their youth arts context and how to ensure that they find the right artist for the job in hand!