Edition columnist Ruthie Collins looks at the arty goings on at our city’s hospital
Addenbrooke’s, one of the UK’s most famous hospitals, celebrates its 250th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, this month sees the unveiling of The Earring, a painting created especially for the hospital by Anita Klein – one of the UK’s most recognisable artists.
A moving celebration of nurturing and healing, the piece “was a huge honour” to create, says Klein, whose work, often celebrating caring, family and joy, can be found in the likes of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum and Arts Council England’s public collections.
Her work also inspired the colours of Addenbrooke’s Arts’ logo. “We all have far more in common than we think. And that is a truth that is often only really apparent when we get ill and need care.” Klein’s family-inspired, vibrant work was initially dismissed as ‘women’s art’, but is now heralded. The grandmother, mother and child in The Earring, though inspired by the birth of her first grandchild, could be any family.
The painting is a celebration of the qualities of caring that are fostered throughout the hospital. “I used the simple interest of a young child in earrings to create a circular composition of mother, grandmother and child, which can also be read as a depiction of caring by nursing or medical staff. Because I don’t use any visual reference, no models or photographs, the faces in my pictures often seem mask-like. They are not really individuals, but everybody’, she tells me.
There are two more pieces of Klein’s work at Addenbrooke’s in the art walk corridor off the main concourse – Maia Makes Us Watch Eastenders and Gathering Leaves. Addenbrooke’s may be a flagship hospital, but its in-house arts team, Addenbrooke’s Arts, is also one of the country’s leading hospital arts projects too.
“I like the simple things – the personal moments”
Grown out of a successful volunteer-led initiative to start a collection of art and prints for the hospital 25 years go, Addenbrooke’s Arts is now funded by Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust and has been bringing arts interventions throughout Cambridge University hospitals for 15 years – achieving extraordinary reach. You may have glimpsed inspirational text and arts emblazoned on the corridor walls while trying to track down the right ward or navigate the sometimes labyrinthine interiors of the hospital: this art is more than aesthetically pretty, it has scientifically proven benefits to patients.
This month, as well as the unveiling of The Earring, sees the return of a Wall of Happiness, to Addenbrooke’s as part of Taking Note, spearheaded by local arts organisation Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination. The interactive project invites hospital patients, visitors and staff to comment on experiences that bring them happiness, with moving work that first transformed the hospital’s main corridor in spring 2015, into an exhibition of positive experiences: a source of huge inspiration and comfort to many.
“I like the simple things – the personal moments – like the picture of the hug and the mother watching her daughter go off to school. It’s just so human. You feel you are in their personal moments,” commented Diane, a specialist nurse at the hospital.
National charity Action For Happiness claims that looking for what’s good is one of ten keys to happier living, with positive emotions improving physical health. “What struck me powerfully is the choice we all have to reframe our experience, however difficult, and notice the positives,” remarked Alisdair, a Taking Note participant. “That’s why we need exhibitions like these.”
The British Medical Association says that arts and humanities have a positive effect on inpatients that “extends beyond the realm of alleviating boredom” – from decreased hospital stays and drug use consumption to improved doctor-patient relationships and mental health.