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APPROACHES

Environment - A healthy dose
of inspiration

In Scotland, "the Royal Aberdeen Children's Hospital is leading the way in demonstrating that art can be almost as useful as shorter waiting lists when it comes to curing sick patients." - (Cultural Policy.org - Community 7/7/04)


THINK of artwork in hospitals and it's usually Walt Disney caricatures or children's crayoned drawings pinned on walls that come to mind. Away from the long corridors, the gardens fare little better, with maybe a couple of park benches gathered around a few withered saplings that would be on any tree doctor's critical list.

However, that is all changing at one of Scotland's flagship healthcare centres. The Royal Aberdeen Children's Hospital is leading the way in demonstrating that art can be almost as useful as shorter waiting lists when it comes to curing sick patients.

Though the Royal opened in January with contemporary art literally embedded in its five-floor structure, the official art launch last week should ensure that the work of the 16 commissioned artists - including the award-winning Dalziel and Scullion - is appreciated by more people than just the patients and staff.

Ditching any preconceptions of wards and corridors reeking of disinfectant, the Royal is a beacon of visual stimuli. From the multi-coloured child-friendly play poles at the entrance to the sculpted tree courtyard garden to the pod-like furniture and humorous text graphics running throughout the interior, the hospital is typical of the exciting projects led by Edinburgh-based arts agency Pace - Public Art Commissions and Exhibitions.

Headed by Juliet Dean, Pace began commissioning hospital artists more than three years ago, but the 600,000 part-Lottery funded project was at an immediate advantage given the positive attitude of Grampian Hospital Art Trust.

"GHAT has a history of art in healthcare with a collection of over 4,000 works of art throughout the region's healthcare centres and hospitals, including Aberdeen Royal Infirmary's very successful on-site art gallery," says Dean.

This mutual understanding between the trust, Pace and the hospital's architects meant that everyone agreed on the imperative role art was to play in the new building. "Art is fundamental," says the 38-year-old. "It is not an extravagant add-on to the whole environment. People respond and get better in a positive environment, not an institution. And though we are not forgetting the Royal's place as a hospital, by turning it into someone's living room we do recognise that you can still make artwork that is personal, inclusive and engaging."

This aim is borne out by the impressive range of art both inside and outside the hospital. Art team Dalziel and Scullion have created four six-metre-tall trees from fibreglass, galvanised steel and red snooker balls for their metaphysical courtyard garden. "They wanted to create a quiet, contemplative garden that is overlooked by wards and treatment rooms which are obviously sensitive to noise levels," says Dean. "The trees are neither abstract nor representational but actually inspired by children's computer game graphics."

Another stunning artwork is the wall of shimmering light outside the hospital chapel. To achieve this, artist Jane Watts embedded more than 58,000 mother of pearl buttons into the curved interior wall to reflect the sparkling granite of the building's exterior. Graphics artist Lucy Richards has gone wild with more than 40 text-based fun fact graphics. Popping up in often overlooked areas of the hospital such as behind a door, in a toilet or running round a wall, they include the memorable ambulance noise "nee-naw" outside A&E unit and the fact "Atchoo - when you sneeze it comes out your nose at 100mph".

Educational humour is offset by intimacy and the realisation of how important home becomes when you are in hospital. To this end, Dean highlights Watts' light box postcards taken during a two-week trip round the north-east. "The Royal takes in children from as far away as Orkney and Shetland so Jane wanted to reflect where patients came from by taking photographs from all these places," says Dean. "Now they are mounted in light boxes like beacons of light round the hospital."

A graduate of languages and management studies at Leeds University who left Edinburgh to teach in Paris and Barcelona, Dean was lured back to work at the photographic festival Fotofeis. A stint with arts agency Art in Partnership convinced her that the mix of art, business, arts education and the design field was where her future lay.

Pace was established in 1997 and Dean has since steered a number of high-profile public art projects to completion. Edinburgh's Dental Institute and the new BT headquarters in the capital have both benefited from Pace's involvement, while the new Perth Concert Hall, an Ayrshire wind farm and an Auchterarder primary school playground are in the midst of being transformed by teams of artists.

The Auchterarder and Aberdeen projects have also shown that children have an important role to play in deciding the artwork. With the Royal, a steering group of advisers including the health trust, Pace, hospital staff and children from local schools made their input known to architects and designers.

Dean credits children with an often overlooked artistic awareness. "We had a strong belief that children can read images before books and are visually articulate," she says. "Too often you go into children's hospitals and it can be like visual indigestion because you have a bit of everything. Key to the whole project was to have something appropriate for children yet simultaneously sophisticated and elegant."

One of her proudest achievements is a footpath over a bridge in south Ayrshire. "That project involved a great collaboration between Strathclyde University, the artist and a local engineering firm. To me it epitomised what public art is all about because it causes you to question and look at everyday objects in a very different way."

Dean's obvious passion for the Royal's final design is typical of her fervent belief that "life without public art would be very boring and unimaginative". [Ann Donald - Scotsman.com, Sunday 7/4/2004]




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