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
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
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.
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.