Art Helps

At the National Galleries of Scotland we want to make art work for everyone. We know that art can distract, entertain, provoke reactions, stimulate our senses, help us to process our thoughts and emotions… art can help.

We’ve teamed up with Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity to see how art can help at the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People.

Over the last four years we have:

  • Provided art trolleys packed full of fun ideas and high-quality materials
  • Given the parents and carers of children at the hospital a coffee, on us
  • Created Art Helps packs – based on the ‘5 ways for wellbeing’ - for areas of the hospital that couldn’t be accessed by Play Teams during the pandemic
  • Cycled the Art in the Open bike to the outdoor spaces for summer workshops
  • Organised monthly Artist-led Creative Clinic sessions in the outpatient’s unit

The latest programme, inspired by the Art Helps packs, is a monthly wellbeing session for staff at the hospital. These sessions provide an opportunity, through the process of making art, to slow down, take notice, tickle our creative brains, explore something different and temporarily take us out of our ‘workplace heads’.

These ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’ sessions are artist-led, no-pressure, forty-minute lunchtime Zooms. We Zoom into their hospital hub. We’ve found that even though Zooms aren’t in person they still have the power to turn someone’s day around.

For us to work with children, young people and staff in a hospital is a privilege. The Creative Clinics and interventions have done all sorts of brilliant things that we didn’t necessarily know they would do when we started. They've eased growing tension felt by children and families when waiting times have been long. Often the people we work with are actually the siblings of the children because this frees up the nursing staff and parents to focus on the sick child knowing that the sibling is okay and is being catered for.

Sun-catchers created in the CAMHS Unit (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services)
Open-ended cardboard constructions in the Outpatients Unit

At times we’ve even helped the clinical process – there was a child who wouldn’t let the doctor see their eye keeping it closed but as they became absorbed in the art activity their eye opened allowing the doctor to see. We have countless stories like this one. We also find doctors will use what the child’s made as an ice breaker at the start of the appointment and it can help create a positive mood.

Baby's first painting - created in the family support hub

One particular image and story came through during Lockdown which we’d like to share.

This image is a baby’s first ever painting created in the family support hub. At this point the baby and their parent hadn’t been home since the child’s birth. The parent shared that they had never had the opportunity to explore paint.  An ink pad was included in one of the Art Helps packs. Baby loved the ink pad and was completely engrossed in the feeling of squishing their hand down onto the pad, being surprised every time they lifted their hand and it was a different colour! The parent was nearly in tears when staff put some paper down and let them print all over it creating their first painting.  

And this is the benefit of working in partnership, we hadn’t created this pack specifically for that area of the hospital – or with babies in mind - but because we’ve developed resources with the people in the hospital, who are plugged into an existing system, there’s a real understanding of what they are and what they can do, and they can be directed to wherever they are needed.

'Child first, patient second' - the Edinburgh Children's Hospital Charity ethos
NHS staff receiving, and giving out, Art Helps packs during the COVID-19 pandemic

Hopefully we’ve given some insight into our evolving work in this area and perhaps given some clarity and confidence in how visual art can help to support good health and wellbeing – not just the participants who we have initially in mind – but with their siblings, parents/carers, clinical staff – and ourselves as workers in the gallery.  

Discover, create and be inspired

Discover, create and be inspired

Take part in an activity, read an artist blog, listen to a music concert recorded in the gallery or find resources to help you make the most from a visit to the gallery...

Learning & Engagement contact details

If you're looking for more information on our learning programmes, please get in touch with our team who will be happy to advise and help plan your group visit.

+44 (0)131 624 6410

[email protected]

By Anna Murray, 25 April 2022