“Heart?” No, Art - arts planner... People often find it hard to understand
what an arts planner is doing in a hospital. I smile thinking how unusual my
work is and have problems myself to explain what I do.
|A "living book" (facing the
camera talking to Marily (back to the camera).
Since 1967, my work as artist has taken me to many different places, from
creating theatre with young people at a Brazilian Juvenile Justice Centre,
taking residence as sculptor at Mugga Lane Tip, nursing homes, hospices and
In 1992 when I was invited to work in the planning for Canberra Hospital
redevelopment public arts, I paused for a while thinking what should be the
role of the arts in the design of a hospital? Was there any research that
explored the effects of the arts in healing?
Although there was no internet to help with the research, I managed to find
out that a number of studies showed that the arts could play an important
role in environmental design. I managed to contact a researcher in the US
who had studied the connection between environmental design and stress. Dr
Roger Ulrich from TAMU was kind enough to send me, snail mail, copies of his
I also found a book that would be seminal in my work: “Inquiry by Design” by
Dr John Zeisel. The methodology of environmental design research added to
the creative aspects of my work and made planning systematic and replicable.
Later I found that I could compare different places and organizations, and
use it as a basis for evaluating them.
Now, fifteen years later, I am able to compare the arts and cultural
planning I did for twenty health care facilities, involving over 5000 people
in focused interviews, surveys and creative activities. The work shows that
there is a clear trend in what people believe a healing environment should
be like. They invariably talk about the connection to nature and to
locality, although each healthcare facility has its own identity. The data
confirms the growing research in this field, showing that lowering stress
can speed recovery from illnesses, and that contact with nature is a major
factor in stress minimization.
The other area that is equally important in the theory of stress reduction
is connection to social support. That explains why when asked about what
would make a friendly environment people choose contact with the local
community as equally important as to nature.
This is a really multidisciplinary work, bringing together arts and culture,
design, architecture and the many aspects of health. It is the
interdisciplinary aspect of my work that I find so exciting and challenging.
It unveils the complexities and it constantly teaches me new languages and
ways at seeing things from a different perspective.
At the moment I am implementing the arts and cultural plan at Auburn
Hospital in Western Sydney. Auburn has the second most culturally diverse
| Examples of Marily's work
and the ideas that inspire her
population in Australia, and has the highest number of newly arrived
migrants and refugees. My planning team, which includes Arabic, Somali and
Swahili speakers, interviewed and surveyed 265 people.
One of the issues that were raised in the consultation was the need for
shared communication. For example, women in the antenatal clinic believed
that a doctor not a nurse should treat them. This was a misunderstanding of
the role of midwives and once we explained their role, they felt more
confident. The same kind of thing was happening to many different users:
there was a need to understand cultural differences in birthing, death, the
role of extended families and so on.
The way the arts plan addressed these 1issues was to propose a Living
Library in the hospital, with a touch screen kiosk to access the “Living
Books” and translations of Living Books.
The Living Library is a concept started by young people in Denmark, where
you can borrow a person for 30 minutes to learn from that person’s
experience. In Australia, Living Libraries are flourishing after the success
of Lismore Living
Library. The Libraries are often linked to the local libraries, and Auburn
Public Library was, coincidentally planning to start one. We formed a
partnership: Sydney West Area Health Service’s Multicultural Health was able
to provide training for the Living Books and we had a very successful Living
Library Event in Auburn. The Hospital Living Books just received their
training and the first Living Library will happen on the 24th of July. The
catalogue is great and we have now 25 Living Books in Auburn for example:
: The Reality of Emergency
: No it’s not like ER!
: When I tell people I am a registered nurse in
Emergency, their response is often “Is it like ER?” Far from it… Emergency
nursing is a very challenging, stressful but very rewarding career. I want
to share my story of the reality of Emergency nursing minus the background
music and George Clooney.
: Sri Lanka to Sydney: from Ethnic conflict to a
taste of Multiculturalism
: Sri Lankan History, and the origins and
development of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. Suspicion, Politics and
Intolerance. Human rights violations. The Australian Multicultural Mosaic.
Learning from my Australian Experience.
These are but a few of the Living Books we will have available.
Artist seeks Scientist for
|Participants and a volunteer in
one of Marily's groups
This long and exciting journey that has been my work, has given me the
capacity of turning ideas into reality. It has the power to contaminate, in
the positive sense, the other partners with fresh and alternative ideas.
I worked closely with that first mentor I had, Dr Zeisel, whose book helped
me to create a new methodology for arts and cultural planning in health.
Together we started a program for visitation of museums and galleries in
Australia, with a very successful pilot done last year at the National
I have developed creative spaces in nursing homes (because I want it to be
different when I get there!) and created health promoting projects involving
women, children and older people.
Presently we have received a grant for the development of Heart Speaks, a
project to explore positive on-going changes that families have used to
support people in cardiac rehabilitation. The project will use the arts as
non threatening way of documenting, and promoting positive changes in
Vietnamese, Assyrian and Spanish speaking communities in Fairfield, NSW.
I look for scientists who are interested in working collaboratively!
And just as I wrote this article, I was thinking, how good it would be if we
could establish a “Living Library” within WISENET, so that young women who
might be thinking of becoming a scientists could have access to first hand,