Reflections on Leaving Art in Healthcare

DATE POSTED: 13th of June 2016

In September I’ll be leaving Art in Healthcare, a charity with whom I’ve been involved since 2011, firstly as a volunteer for half a day a week then, once I’d muscled my way in as an employee, working for one day per week before gradually progressing to four. I think I was quite a shy thing at the charity in the early days, agreeing to help in the office on ‘whatever tasks needed doing’, stumbling on Art in Healthcare through googling ‘art health volunteer’ while in the lonely phase of job-hunting. I’m now probably rather more outspoken, expressly cautioning my colleagues if they come up with a fundraising idea I think silly (usually the best ones though – let’s be honest), taking control of a complete office clear-out while the CEO is away on holiday and bossing around all the interns and volunteers to use their time most constructively.

Artwork created in one of our first ever art workshops
for Alzheimer Scotland’s Lothian Early Onset Support Service, run by artist Jo Barratt


I’ve seen significant change in the charity since I joined, then a three person team till I became the fourth, then working with a modest pool of volunteers, now with some thirty on our books in any given year. We’ve also established an effective intern programme, taking on up to six different interns in any given academic year, enabling us to greatly increase our capacity. I’ve probably managed some 200 volunteers and 20 interns in all, which sounds pretty significant when considering the processes involved to recruit, supervise and appreciate them!

Our artwork rental service has continued to thrive as has our collection of artworks from Scottish artists and, as a result, we have seen vast improvements to the environments of healthcare settings across Scotland with our art brightening up their walls.

The staff team has invariably changed over the years with new people coming and going, likewise new roles starting and finishing. However, the bedrock has been the location of our office in Out of the Blue’s Drill Hall on Dalmeny Street, affording us the chance to develop and sort through our picture store downstairs while staying settled in our office upstairs. We have made continual use of the variety of spaces in the Drill Hall available for exhibitions, events and meetings and I, for one, have paid particular attention to the tempting array of home baking in the café (definitely more flapjacks consumed than volunteers managed!).

However, my greatest privilege as a team member of Art in Healthcare for these five years has been my role surrounding the Outreach Programme. This began as Audience Development Officer, at a time when the then Director, Margaret Hurcombe, supported by Assistant Director, Trevor Jones, sought to engage the audiences of our rented artwork more with the art itself. We ran series of Art Talks ‘in situ’ at healthcare settings where our artworks were on display, led by volunteer ‘Ambassadors’ for Art in Healthcare. This worked to a certain degree, however, we felt there was still a thirst for more direct engagement in the process of art and Trevor suggested that we hire professional artists to run interactive workshops, again ‘in situ’, that would give people the opportunity to learn and participate in art-making and creativity. We haven’t looked back since!

Tree of Awareness created by artist Heather Lucchesi
based on Art in Healthcare’s Learn & Share Event

Four years later and the basic model of what quickly became the Outreach Programme at Art in Healthcare has remained firmly in place as a cornerstone of our second key service. The model is such that we contract professional artists to run the workshops, directly in healthcare settings, supported by a volunteer from Art in Healthcare and, where possible, taking along several artworks from our art collection to serve as inspiration for participants. The emphasis has always been on ‘process over product’ and the personal approach of the artist to create an atmosphere in workshops that is safe and supportive as well as fun and creative is paramount to this end. The Outreach Programme is evidently about more than just figures but, for interest’s sake and to prove that we far from rest on our laurels at Art in Healthcare, since it began the art workshops have, approximately, engaged 650 participants in participatory art, spanned 410 hours of creativity, taken place in 30 different healthcare and community settings across central Scotland, employed 15 professional artists, involved 40 volunteers and made up 6 exhibitions.

The experience and opportunity to run the Outreach Programme has taught me an overwhelming amount, not just that healthcare managers are notoriously busy and hard to pin down such that you need to be extremely focused and clear if you’re suggesting a new service for them or not just that funding for art projects is highly competitive and hard to come by, and not even just that the third sector often finds itself fighting to survive amidst a hub of large scale public and private organisations who are often too short on time and money to recognise the work we are doing. Much more importantly I’ve come to realise that what we’re doing does matter, that what we are doing can make a significant difference to the lives of individuals and that a focused team of four with a passion for our cause can punch significantly above our weight to deliver both professional and valuable services to the masses! Meanwhile, I like to think I’ve left a bit of an Occupational Therapy footprint as a trained OT myself and kick-started the Outreach Programme enough to sustain over years to come.

Artwork created at St Crispin's Special School in a workshop run by artist Leo du Feu

I will certainly take with me great memories of a wonderful staff team (David, Margaret and Enita – I will miss you and hope to pop in for tea and cake occasionally!), a wide array of fun events and vibrant exhibitions we have run (only made possible with the support of so many volunteers and interns over the years – thank you, all of you), inspirational artists who have been stalwarts of the Outreach Programme (you know who you are) and heart-warming encounters with our workshop participants (many of whose inspirational artworks are engrained in my mind). Above all, I will take with me a deep rooted understanding of how art has the potential to transform health and wellbeing and a lifelong commitment to ‘fly the flag’ for arts and health projects.

In October, I’m off to Nepal for nine weeks on a mini career break/adventure, returning swiftly after a fantastic trek there in the mountains earlier in the year. Who knows what’s in store for me on my return, or even what’s in store for the Nepalese on my arrival there (!), however, I do know that it’s been a memorable five years with Art in Healthcare and I will certainly be keeping up my own creativity for years to come to help me stay healthy and well.

Nepal, here I come!

Nb Images used have been selected from our archive as representative of particularly memorable outputs of the Outreach Programme with great difficulty! So many to choose from… With thanks to all artists and photographers responsible.