Arts for Health at Calvary Mater Newcastle

Calvary Mater Newcastle’s Mercy Hospice, part of the hospital’s Department of Palliative Care, is a place of care and compassion for patients facing serious illness.

The Fig Tree Program is run in the Hospice and provides an opportunity for palliative care patients to participate in a range of creative activities in a supportive group setting. It has been running for over 18 years and the positive impact it has on both patients and their families and carers, cannot be over stated.

Thanks to recent Dry July funding, the program has been able to enhance its creative offering with the skills and fresh ideas of two Novocastrian artists, Dr Annemarie Murland and Marika Osmotherly, to engage in an ‘Arts for Health’ project.

It has long been recognised that art enriches peoples’ lives in many ways, be it in the form of music, visual arts, or performance. Art in the hospital environment fosters the exploration and expression of thoughts and feelings in relation to a person’s illness.

The artists conduct a session each month facilitating new ideas around the theme, memory and leaving your mark in time and place. The art projects have been designed to allow for personal narratives to capture the essence of the art they are creating.

Additionally, once a month, Annemarie and Marika are artists in residence in the Fig Tree Room. The artists are perfectly situated within the Hospice to interact with families and friends of visiting patients, as well as staff. A place where memories and experiences are willingly shared, the artists’ practice and direction is informed by their environment - a cathartic experience for all involved!

Both Annemarie and Marika are no strangers to arts in the health setting with both artists placing a heavy importance on the need for a felt experience to inform the visual.

“When people engage in creativity there is a shift in the person’s presence and a sense of empowerment is created. It allows a sense of contextualising for the participants which is important in a hospital environment,” says Annemarie.

Jo Davis, an Occupational Therapist at Calvary Mater Newcastle and one of the Program Coordinators, says, “Patients attend the program for a variety of reasons. Some have complex care needs but by maintaining this link to the Hospice it means that these patients can carry on living at home. Others attend to give their carers a couple of hours respite per week, while many come for the social interaction and enjoy taking part in new creative experiences.” Whatever the reasons, there is a common thread, the wish to live an everyday meaningful life despite health circumstances.

“The Fig Tree Program, unlike a hospital clinic, is structured to simply bring together people to enjoy every day social connection and creative activity despite serious illness. The program is very much guided by the needs and interests of those who attend. The great thing about art is its non-confrontational; it is accessible to everyone. I think this is what makes the program work so well,” says Jo.

People from all walks of life have participated. “Every person involved in the project has got something out of it. The beautiful thing about art is that it can constantly surprise – artists, facilitators, friends and families of the participants – it just has that potential,” says Annemarie.

Since the Dry July funded ‘Arts for Health’ project has been running, a number of pieces of art have been created that combine the participants’ individual work to create a visually stunning piece. Individual colourful drawings pieced together to create a patchwork rug effect, plaster casts of participants hands individualised and then created into a hanging art installation of bird like sculptures, portraiture, to name but a few.  

All pieces created both in the Fig Tree Program and by the artists in residence sessions will cumulate in an exhibition later in the year for participants, staff, friends and families to enjoy.

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Calvary Mater Newcastle Hospital

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