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The Benefits We’ve Seen Are Huge

2nd November 2020

Dr Jenny Elliott, CEO & Artistic Director, Arts Care

Dr Jenny Elliott

Arts Care is an unique regional Arts & Health organisation founded on the idea of giving patients, families, staff and visitors in healthcare environments a better quality healthcare experience through participation and access to the arts.

Arts Care delivers a weekly programme of art of all kinds, including visual art, dance, music, film-making, creative writing, and even clowndoctor visits across five Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland.

But just three weeks after opening the new Arts Care Arts and Health Centre earlier this year, the centre itself was forced to close its doors due to the Covid -19 Lockdown.

As a result of Lockdown, “Arts Care responded very quickly and created an Arts Care 4U YouTube Channel, delivering our arts services into healthcare online,” Dr Jenny Elliott, Chief Executive Officer and Artistic Director says.

“Our artists and clown doctors, who had never had experience in recording their arts and clowndoctor workshops prior to Covid-19, started to record themselves in their homes and facilitate their weekly workshops which were then uploaded to our new channel.”

“We had never been big on social media and we started off with minimal skills, but in the last six months we have uploaded around 300 arts videos to the channel.”

The group also began providing art boxes for older people in residential care and for children across healthcare services. The Arts Care 4U Art Boxes contain a range of arts activities including visual arts, creative movement, storytelling, singalongs etc, all linked to our online channel workshops and also uploaded onto DvDs.

The artists have also left inspiring art packs on the doorsteps of the service users who would normally attend Day Centres, leaving them tasks and arts activities, which the artists later return to collect and then bring all the individual art works together to create a significant large scale art work that will be installed in the different day centres at a later date.

The Arts Care Artists-in-residence have also responded quickly during the first three weeks of the first Lockdown and created a series of ‘felt heart tokens’ for a Bereavement Services Project at Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. Starting from the initial stages of working with raw wool, the artists committed to producing initially 2500 individually crafted felt hearts, for healthcare staff, families and Covid-19 victims. A further 1000 felt hearts are being currently created.

Dr Elliott, who lives in Belfast, added: “Many of the artists are rising up in the context of healthcare, and showing a terrific strength and flexibility in meeting the creative needs and requirements as requested from the core of the NHS. It’s a very powerful thing and demonstrates the significant role of the artist and the arts during this global pandemic.

“Fundamentally our organisation has changed within the last six or seven months. If someone had said to the Board of Arts Care, to the artists and our staff team that a lot of our services would have to be delivered online during a pandemic, and that it was going to be a main driver for us sustaining the arts, they and I would not have believed it.”

Arts Care receives funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and is just one of the many wonderful causes that benefit from the £30 million raised every week by players of The National Lottery, which has been “the mainstay of not only supporting our programme but supporting the central core of the operations of the organisation,” Dr Elliott said.

“They’ve been tremendous throughout this, and very, very supportive.”

She adds: “I think getting the Arts Care 4U Channel up and running so quickly has been among the proudest moments for me over the last few months.”

“The overall sense is that the patients have told us that the arts matter to them, and they feel that they’re not forgotten whenever we’ve been able to keep providing our Arts Care Services for them.”

“We deal and outreach with our programmes to people who are probably most in need, socially isolated, vulnerable and ill. Many of our Trust areas in Northern Ireland have many older people located rurally and they may be living with serious conditions such as dementia, poor mental health or living with a complex disabilities. They may also not have easy access to other services such as transport. That is why it is imperative that we try and outreach our arts activities into our rural communities to support the mental health and well-being of those who can be experiencing real isolation.”

“We have seen now over almost 30 years at Arts Care the real benefits and the positive impact on the mental health and well-being of adults, children and young people who participate in the arts. Emerging evidence such as that provided by the Creative Health Report (The All Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Well-being Report, 2017) clearly demonstrates the benefits of accessing and participating in the arts are huge and vital.”