CW+ Conversations | Arts in Hospitals during COVID-19: Time to Reflect

In January 2021, we launched our new arts in health webinar series, CW+ Conversations. The aim of our inaugural event, Arts in Hospitals during COVID-19: Time to Reflect, was to provide a space to share experiences of how arts programmes in hospitals have changed during the pandemic, and explore how evaluation methods have adapted accordingly.

The event was organised in association with the Arts, Heritage and Design in Healthcare Network (part of the NPAG) with participation from over 65 attendees with expertise and interest in the arts in health field.

Dr Karen Gray, the Chair of the event, was joined by other leaders in the sector: Susie Hall, Joint Head of Arts at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), Oliver Carrington, Impact and Evaluation Manager at Imperial Health Charity, Andrew Hall, Sound and Music Research Consultant at CW+, Hannah Dye, Head of Programmes at Breathe Arts Health Research, and health and wellbeing researcher Dr Greg Windle. Watch the speakers’ individual presentations here.

Each speaker brought a unique perspective to the conversation, and further views were shared in small break-out discussions by all attendees. We found that all participating organisations had rapidly adopted digital formats to deliver elements of their programmes, reacting to social distancing and isolation rules by adapting participatory projects to online platforms. This has included our own Virtual Connections programme, through which our artists continue to digitally engage with patients, family, friends and staff in hospital, or at home in the community. Social media and online community hubs are also now being used to upload and share artworks to wider audiences, encouraging others to participate.

The needs and feelings of hospital communities and the wider public have evolved over the course of the pandemic – as have the responses of arts programmes. Susie Hall’s presentation charted a move in artwork commissioned for GOSH from community celebration of key workers in the early stages, to hopeful themes in summer 2020, and more recent depictions of hugging and togetherness. To understand and appraise the quality and effectiveness of artistic responses, our discussion suggested that we need to reflect on their place within the story of the pandemic as a whole.

The issue of accessibility to new online programmes was addressed, with both positives and negatives discussed. Individuals can now join remotely, removing the need for long travel times and allowing for people to come together regardless of location; sessions can be pre-recorded and accessed conveniently at any time. However, online access also proved to have its downfalls, with some individuals being unable to participate in programmes either due to lack of digital equipment and knowledge, or because they were not comfortable participating virtually.

Presenters and attendees considered the power of storytelling and the role of case study ‘stories’ in evaluation. Arts activities can provide a means to enable and amplify patient, staff and clinician voices, and it was agreed that evaluation can build on this. Hannah Dye shared a new film about one patient’s experience of a dedicated lung health singing group: a powerful visual case study contextualising and demonstrating the positive effects of participation on wellbeing.

We cannot accurately predict the future of the pandemic, or how life post-COVID will be, but it is clear that we may need to change our ways of data collection. Oliver Carrington mentioned working with a group of NHS charities, using a shared theory of change and co-developing surveys for analysis and comparison. Our speakers all agreed that arts in health leaders, and arts practitioners themselves, will continue to grow and develop their programmes organically as different rules emerge throughout and after the pandemic. As we increasingly use a mixture of online and offline methods to engage our audiences, we will also need to focus on understanding what kinds of digital experiences work for who, where and when.

There is so much to explore and so much interest in the field of arts and design in hospitals, and we are excited to be sharing ideas and experiences together through the CW+ Conversations webinar series. Dr Karen Gray will be reflecting on evaluation of arts in hospitals programmes in a further short report soon.

Keep an eye on our website and social media for more details of this and – most importantly – for news of how to join in on our next CW+ Conversations event.