How Water­ford uses the arts to heal minds as well as hearts

Water­ford Heal­ing Arts Trust brought artists to­gether to work with pa­tients and staff

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health | Arts - Sylvia Thomp­son

Ire­land’s long­est run­ning arts and health or­gan­i­sa­tion, the Water­ford Heal­ing Arts Trust (WHAT) cel­e­brates 25 years with the pre­miere of a com­mis­sioned choral works,

Hos­pi­tal Voices, in the chapel at Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal Water­ford (UHW) this Thurs­day.

The per­for­mance by the Madri­gallery Cham­ber Choir is the cul­mi­na­tion of a six-month res­i­dence at the hos­pi­tal by com­poser Eric Sweeney and poet Ed­ward Den­nis­ton. This was the first time that the Water­ford Heal­ing Arts Trust brought artists from dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines to­gether to work with pa­tients and staff in the hos­pi­tal.

“We set out to ex­plore pa­tients’ stored mem­o­ries. Some­times, pa­tients with de­men­tia can’t rec­og­nize a fam­ily mem­ber or re­mem­ber their own names but they can sing a song or re­mem­ber a poem from their child­hood,” ex­plains Sweeney.

With the per­mis­sion of staff and pa­tients them­selves, Sweeney and Den­nis­ton vis­ited pa­tients in med­i­cal and sur­gi­cal wards of UHW and asked them if they would sing a song or re­cite a poem.

“We were very clear that we weren’t art ther­a­pists but that we were us­ing art in a pos­i­tive way to en­able pa­tients to ex­press what they had for­got­ten . . . It was a very hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence,” says Sweeney. Den­nis­ton wrote some po­ems in­spired by the en­coun­ters which Sweeney then set to mu­sic for choir and pi­ano.

This is Grief

Re­tired Church of Ire­land rec­tor Henry Keogh (79) who was in the hos­pi­tal dur­ing their res­i­dence, gave great in­spi­ra­tion to the fi­nal works. Not only, did he sing a song from his child­hood that formed the ba­sis of the piece, This is Grief, but he also un­earthed a piece of mu­sic that he com­posed him­self over 40 years ago which will be per­formed for the first time as part of Hos­pi­tal Voices.

Now back at home in Dun­gar­van, Henry Keogh says that the per­for­mance will make him feel im­mensely proud. “It’s a won­der­ful way of cel­e­brat­ing the old com­ing back to the new and the new re­turn­ing to the old,” he says. His daugh­ter, Karen Keogh adds that the en­coun­ters with Eric and Ed­ward lifted his spir­its and made him feel very spe­cial and im­por­tant dur­ing his hos­pi­tal stay.

Den­nis­ton says that dur­ing the res­i­dency, he spent a lot of time in the hos­pi­tal, soak­ing up the at­mos­phere as well as speak­ing to pa­tients and staff. “You no­tice how com­pli­cated it all is and that get­ting peo­ple off trol­leys won’t solve all the is­sues in a hos­pi­tal. I did ask my­self some­times what use is our work? But then, I wit­nessed pa­tients who were usu­ally very quiet, bright­en­ing up by our chat.”

Den­nis­ton also read books in­clud­ing The Lan­guage of Kind­ness: A Nurse’s Story by Christie Wat­son and The Way We Die Now by Cork sur­geon, Sea­mus O’Ma­hony and Do No Harm by brain sur­geon, Henry Marsh dur­ing his res­i­dency.

-“Wat­son talks about the things nurses do which can have an ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­fect – the quiet word, the hand reach­ing out to steady some­one. These are the things we take for granted but which can be enor­mously help­ful. And O’Ma­hony talks about how these un­mea­sur­able [as­pects of care] need to run in par­al­lel to the med­i­cal pro­ce­dures in hospi­tals.”

Den­nis­ton and Sweeney have in­cluded “sound pic­tures” from the hos­pi­tal – the lift go­ing up, ex­cerpt from pa­tients’ singing, staff and vol­un­teer’s com­ment­ing on their work as in­ter­ludes be­tween the choral pieces for Hos­pi­tal Voices.

Clin­i­cal Nurse Man­ager, Lu­cia Bren­nan was in charge of the sur­gi­cal wards while Den­nis­ton and Sweeney were artists in res­i­dence. “I won­dered how it would work on such a busy ward but we barely no­ticed they were there. We picked suit­able pa­tients for them to speak with – long stay pa­tients or those who would love the chat. One very quiet lady lit up when she started talk­ing about her past and sang a song that her mother used to sing to her. Eric knew the song so she talked more vividly. It was lovely for the staff to see pa­tients com­ing out of them­selves. Some­times, ill­ness closes peo­ple down and they don’t want to talk to any­one but this helped them open up and for­get about their trou­bles.” Bright and spa­cious The Water­ford Heal­ing Arts Trust at UHW is housed in one of the orig­i­nal sana­to­rium build­ings con­structed for pa­tients with tu­ber­cu­lo­sis in the 1950s.

An im­pres­sively bright and spa­cious build­ing, it in­cludes an artist’s stu­dio, a work­shop/per­for­mance stu­dio, an arts and health li­brary and an ex­hi­bi­tion space.

Work­shops for staff and pa­tients are held in the build­ing and art pieces are brought to pa­tients on the de­men­tia wards as part of the Open Gallery ini­tia­tive.

A heal­ing gar­den in the grounds of the hos­pi­tal of­fers pa­tients, staff and vis­i­tors a quiet space away from the bus­tle of the hos­pi­tal.

The trust was ini­ti­ated by now re­tired Water­ford GP Dr Ab­dul Bul­bu­lia who be­lieved that bring­ing vis­ual arts and sculpture into hospi­tals was good for staff, vis­i­tors and most im­por­tantly for pa­tients. “Heal­ing was used in the ti­tle in the sense that the arts and pa­tients en­gag­ing with their own cre­ativ­ity can be spir­i­tu­ally up­lift­ing when you are feel­ing un­well,” says Maeve But­ler from the Water­ford Heal­ing Arts Trust.

Since it started 25 years ago, ex­hi­bi­tions of paint­ings by staff and pa­tients – as well as sculp­tures, ta­pes­tries and paint­ings from the WHAT’s ex­ten­sive art col­lec­tion – grace the hos­pi­tal cor­ri­dors and artists-in-res­i­dence reg­u­larly work di­rectly with pa­tients. The trust re­lies on fund­ing from the Arts Coun­cil, the HSE, part-time staff em­ployed on Com­mu­nity Em­ploy­ment schemes and other funds for spe­cific projects.

In the sum­mer of 2019, the Dun­more Wing with a new pal­lia­tive care unit, and three floors of med­i­cal and sur­gi­cal wards is due to open at Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal Water­ford.

How art works can bring life to the cor­ri­dors of this new space and what pa­tient/artist in­ter­ac­tions emerge will be the new cre­ative chal­lenges for the Water­ford Heal­ing Arts Trust.

From top: Mem­bers of Madri­gallery Cham­ber Choir re­hears­ing; Poet Ed­ward Den­nis­ton and com­poser Eric Sweeney; Maeve But­ler, act­ing as­sis­tant arts di­rec­tor and Claire Meaney act­ing arts di­rec­tor. Pho­to­graphs: Patrick Browne

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