Sanctuary © Lindsay Perth, photo by Rebecca Milling

25 January, 2023

New Tonic Arts commissions see artists and makers play key role in healthcare as Scottish hospitals put art and craft at the heart of wellbeing

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Leading Scottish artists and contemporary makers can now see their work on show in two new hospital projects in Edinburgh and The Lothians thanks to an exciting new project funded and managed by NHS Lothian Charity’s Tonic Arts programme, curated by Round Table Projects, with co-funded support from Craft Scotland and Edinburgh Childrens’ Hospitals Charity.

The project is centred on improving the physical and mental wellbeing of patients, staff and visitors through the incorporation of art and craft. The development of East Lothian Community Hospital near Haddington and the world-leading Edinburgh Haematology Centre at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh will host over 30 art and contemporary craft commissions set to play a key role in the wellbeing of not just patients in care, but visiting family members and friends too.

Co-ordinated and delivered by Arabella Harvey at Round Table Projects, close collaboration with clinical teams and patient representatives at each hospital has resulted in art, craft and design commissions that have a measurable impact and in some cases are integrated directly into patient care. Works created by artists including Kenny Hunter, Alex Allan, Frances Priest, Mary Morrison and Andrew Mackenzie draw inspiration from deep rooted community connections, the social and geographical context of each site underpinned by close clinical collaboration and a desire to craft considered spaces.

Central to East Lothian hospital programme is the stunning installation GLADE, an artwork by NEON, an award-winning design practice who work between art, architecture and design. Responding to a brief requesting an artwork to create a sense of calm and serenity in the hospital atrium, Mark Nixon and Villiina Koivisto worked with nearly 90 local school children to record the sensation of spending time outdoors in the stunning inland and coastal landscapes of East Lothian. GLADE is inspired by the meditative experience of forest bathing – spending time beneath a protective canopy of foliage. This large suspended structure comprises hundreds of white discs, evocatively clustered like leaves to create a therapautic, contemplative focal point for people waiting for their hospital appointments.

As well as permanent commissions, craft has played a key role in supporting patient wellbeing with a series of workshops delivered as part of a unique community project. Supported by Craft Scotland, artist and jeweller Fiona Hermse was commissioned for the project and invited to provide creative workshops for mental health outpatients and for people living with dementia in the inpatient ward at the East Lothian Community Hospital (ELCH).

The main priority for the workshops was to provide a valuable creative and social experience with high quality materials for mental health outpatients and inpatients throughout their transition to the new hospital site.” Fiona explains. “The workshops were intended to calm and soothe the patients as well as provide mental stimulation.”

Outside the hospital, within the grounds of ELCH, another artist – Alex Allan – was commissioned with physical rehabilitation specifically in mind. Alex’s sculptural interventions invite people to navigate a series of colourful structures, encouraging movement and therapeutic use of the outdoor space. Speaking on Alex’s project, Arabella comments;

These participatory works show that art can have a really practical role to play in rehabilitating people mentally and physically. I think Alex’s project is probably quite unique in an arts and health context in providing physical objects to interact with, to support recovery.”

Alex Allan's Ramp structure to support rehabilitation at East Lothian Community Hospital
Ramp (c) Alex Allan, photo by cro+kow

Among the delivered commissions, artist Lindsay Perth was invited to consider the importance of holistic environments by leading on the development of a non-denominational Sanctuary, which would offer patients, visitors and staff a peaceful place to go in challenging moments of. The finished project, influenced greatly by Lindsay’s own personal experiences, provides contemplative internal and external creative focal points, offering a moment of solace in times of emotional intensity. Collaborating with artists, makers and designers Gary Kennedy, Aymeric Renoud, Charlotte Cadzow and Kenny Thomson, Lindsay has created a space that is aesthetically engaging, with soothing features like an undulating wave seat which reflects a gentle rolling landscape in wood, hand-made porcelain tiles and a coloured metal canopy above tall wooden seats in the Courtyard. “What matters to me is that there’s nothing in there that’s manufactured,” Lindsay says. “Everything in there has a uniqueness to it. We use the words ‘positive distraction’ a lot in art and mental health, and I believe in that.”

Sanctuary © Lindsay Perth, photo by Rebecca Milling
Sanctuary © Lindsay Perth, photo by Rebecca Milling

In addition Arabella Harvey at Round Table Projects also managed the arts strategy for the redesigned Edinburgh Haematology Centre, which intend uses uplifting and absorbing works of art to create spaces for respite. The commissioned artists and makers were briefed to draw on the landscape, ecology and cultural heritage of the Firth of Forth and surrounding areas, and the final results include visually striking pieces that are mounted and placed in locations around the hospital to improve the mental and emotional wellbeing of staff as well as people experiencing illness. Ceramic artists Frances Priest, Lorna Fraser and Lorraine Robson are among eight practitioners that have created works that centre on motifs ranging from flowering plants and mussel shells to a Victorian archive of pattern books.

Forth Flora © Lorna Fraser, photo by Shannon Tofts
Forth Flora © Lorna Fraser, photo by Shannon Tofts

Irene Kernan, Director Craft Scotland said:

Craft Scotland have been delighted to work in partnership with Tonic Arts on these commissions. As the national agency for craft, supporting health and wellbeing is an important strand of our work alongside our work in schools with MAKE Learn and working directly with makers in Scotland for international showcases like Collect. The lasting effect of Fiona Hermse’s work is a credit to the commitment and care provided at the workshops working with patients in East Lothian. The feedback from staff and participants at East Lothian Community Hospital illustrate craft’s potential to play a key role in healthcare supporting treatment and recovery.”

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Tonic Arts enhances healthcare environments and enriches the patient experience through a programme of art and design commissions, developed with patient and staff engagement and collaboration.