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For many people, adults and children alike, Hospitals are often frightening places full of sterile equipment, strange smells and lots of strangers. When I look back on my time in hospital as a child I remember white squeaky lino floor, pastel walls and the odd vase of artificial flowers in waiting rooms. So when I met Cat Powell, Artfelt’s manager, I was really interested in how she interacts with these often intimidating spaces and how Artfelt can help young patients when they are waiting or being treated in hospital.

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Cat describes to me lots of exciting on-going projects funded by The Children’s Hospital Charity that are happening in The Children’s Hospital, Sheffield – where a £40 million extension is currently being built. Cat’s aim for Artfelt is to continue bringing new types of art into the hospital. She wishes to bring innovative forms of art that don’t fulfil the stereotypical ‘teddy bear and balloons’ trope that may first spring to mind; rather create dynamic and truly engaging spaces that provoke discussion and give patients a chance to think of something other than their treatment. For example, Artfelt have just finished ‘Showtime!’ as part of their exhibition programme in The Children’s Hospital’s dedicated exhibition space, The Long Gallery. This collaboration with The National Fairground Archive displays posters spanning 200 years of circus and fairground history in a bright and bold way.  Professor Vanessa Toulmin, director of the National Fairground Archive, said: “The pieces were chosen to appeal to the patients and visitors to the hospital, and to give them a moment of enjoyment in a time of need.”

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Cat advocates that high quality art is reflective of the space in which patients find themselves and the care they can expect to receive. If a space is pleasing to the eye then the children themselves and their parents can acknowledge that the medical service they will receive will be equally thought out and carried out with the upmost care.

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Cat works with local, young and up and coming artists, as well as those who are internationally recognised, to create new spaces in the hospital that are full of energy and vision. For many artists whose work has never been displayed in hospitals it can be a really fulfilling and creative experience. Cat explains to me that because art is such a subjective thing, it can be really difficult to quantify its effect on an individual’s wellbeing because people’s taste is naturally going to vary. However, whether or not the art on display is aesthetically pleasing to everyone, one of the main aims of Artfelt is to provide vital distractions from potentially anxious moments and help children and adults alike through a stressful period. Whether that is in the form of creating age appropriate spaces for infants right up to 18-years-old, soothing spaces for parents or distracting corridor spaces that encourage the journey to treatment (whether an operation or a simple injection) Cat aims to make the experience less sterile, less intimidating and more diverting.

Cat tells me that it is really interesting when the art in The Children’s Hospital can be used for a secondary medical function along with it being aesthetic. For example, in the eye department Cat has been able to source art that, due to its use of contrast, can be used in the examination of the eye, but also serves as a distraction.

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On top of this work on the physical spaces within the hospital, Artfelt runs workshop sessions twice a week which include both in-patients and out-patients and once a month brings in an external artist or performer to show the children something new and engaging. Cat tells me that the workshops are wonderfully varied, from bunting making on a sewing machine, to funny monster masks, plant pot decorating to digital art and photography. Cat tells me, that despite all the technology of television and iPads, the workshops are hugely popular as they create a brilliant opportunity for the children to socialise and express themselves. Cat explains that although the children’s work is often displayed in public spaces (such as the Starbucks we were meeting in) the emphasis of the workshops isn’t about the finished product of the art, rather encouraging the creative process and the wellbeing benefits that result from children being creative.

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When I ask Cat what some of the long term goals for Artfelt are she explains how she would love one day to be able to conduct some research into the benefits of not only innovative use of space in hospitals but also research into why children specifically benefit from Art Workshops. Cat explains that there is lots of research into why it is beneficial for an adult’s wellbeing, but she would really love to see a spotlight of research into why children benefit too.

I ask Cat to tell me a little about what working for Artfelt means to her and what she personally values:

She tells me that working for Artfelt is a constant reminder of the strength of good art. Cat really values that she can bring a much needed distraction and interaction through quality art work. The reward is in the everyday interaction with art, and also in the aesthetic achievement of working with artists to create an innovative and thought out environment that has children and service-users at its heart.

If you would like to find out more about Artfelt or The Children’s Hospital Charity these links may be of interest:

Artfelt: www.tchc.org.uk/what-we-do/artfelt.html

The Children’s Hospital Charity: www.tchc.org.uk/

R.M