Teenage patients explore their creativity in hospital art project

Teenage patients at University College Hospital are being offered a respite from their illness courtesy of a new art project called Cloudlands.

Under the project, the teenagers, many of whom have to spend long periods in hospital with acute illness, work with artist-in-residence Emma Fisher to create art based on their interests and experiences.

Obviously Cloudlands is designed to be fun, but the idea is also to encourage self expression while improving teenagers’ social interaction and helping them regain a sense of control over their lives, explains Emma, who spends every second Wednesday working in UHG.

Limerick based Emma is a puppeteer, theatre designer and installation artist, who has been devising shows and running puppetry workshops with children and adults since 2005.

She is ideal for a project like Cloudlands as her skills base is a broad one. After qualifying from the University of Wales with a Fine Arts degree Emma did a post-graduate course in set and costume design.

Then she travelled to America in 2006, doing an apprenticeship at Bread and Puppet Theatre in Vermont before training at the London school of puppetry. Emma’s work as a set designer for the Limerick Hub and Belltable Arts Centre saw her shortlisted for an Irish Times Theatre Award in 2010.

That same year she started working as resident puppeteer in Limerick Regional hospital under the auspices of the not-for-profit arts group, Helium which nurtures creativity among children and families in Ireland’s health system.

Now Emma is artist-in-residence at UHG while two other artists have the same role in Cork University Hospital and Dublin’s Temple Street, also as part of Cloudlands.

“In Galway I usually work with one or two patients a day and we create all kinds of different projects,” she explains. With Emma’s guidance, the teenagers use a variety of methods – storytelling, puppetry, photography, film-making and animation – to make their work, which can range from books to sculptures and paintings.

You might think that a teenager who is sick in hospital wouldn’t have much interest in creative arts, but that’s not so.

“I am always amazed by how they are always open to me,” observes Emma.

Many of the patients she works with are one-off, but others are more regular.

“There are recurring patients so you get a chance to make a lot of things with them,” she explains.

Seventeen-year-old Kayleigh, who has Cystic Fibrosis, worked with Emma during a recent stay at UHG and enjoyed the experience.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.