Artist in the community

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A jewel coloured boat with silken sails, chunky and funky jewellery, a tea pot which has been smashed, painted and painstakingly glued back together and a poster listing someone’s favourite things make up just some of the artwork around the South Wing of Altnagelvin Hospital.

Every piece tells a story - and every piece has been brought to fruition by the charity Arts Care’s Western Trust Artist in Residence - Bronagh Corr-McNicholl.

Bronagh works two days a week throughout the Trust area - and her remit is as wide as the geographical area she covers.

“Essentially what Arts Care is about is bringing art and creativity into healthcare settings.

“I work hands on with service users- to engage them with the arts and it works on a number of levels.

“We aren’t art therapists, but the work does have a positive impact on our service users, and on the staff and other people who use the Trust facilities.”

Examples of projects Bronagh has completed during her tenure with Arts Care so far include working in the stroke unit, with dementia patients, with residents of Waterside Hospital and in the community - in projects such as Let the Dance Begin 
which operates out of Strabane. At Halloween, she works on the Twilight Project, an arts programme with children in the care in the 
Trust area.

But you never quite know where you might see her. “We operate pop up art studios too. Perhaps we might hold one in waiting areas - and it’s great to see people engage with art.”

While not everyone thinks they can paint or draw, Bronagh said she soon finds people enjoy engaging with art in their own ways.

The projects, while led by Bronagh, are very much in the hands of the service users and they are encouraged to bring their own slant and their own skills to any piece.

“People will tell you they can’t do it, they are not artistic - but then they come in 
and give a go and find that not only can they do it, they 
enjoy it.

“It’s not always about an end project - although it is nice for them to have a positive memento of their time in hospital - it is about the process.

“For some people that means getting them to engage in work for ten minutes, for others it is getting them to engage in a six week project.

“And it works on many levels.”

Bronagh explained how she has seen art work as a unifier of people. When working with older service users in the Waterside Hospital she sees how it can be a great way of breaking the ice and getting patients talking together.

“You watch people start working, then start talking and there could be a sing song in the middle of it. It’s about the whole experience - and it’s brilliant to be able to tap into people’s creativity and use it as a tool for
 wellbeing.”

Bronagh, originally from Coalisland but now living in Derry with her husband and two sons, is a well established artist in her own right. However it is only in recent years that she has returned to working full time in a hands on manner with art and throughout the community.

Having studied for a Masters Degree in Film and Television Production and Management, she worked for eight years as a programmer for the Foyle Film Festival. But she started to feel the urge to get back into the community - and did so working in a volunteer capacity at Melrose House.

“That made me realise this was something I really could enjoy,” she said. Chance connected her to Arts Care - having sat down one night and put all the criteria she wanted in a job into Google - and it 
throwing the Northern Ireland charity up at her - and t
hey just so happened to have a vacancy in the Western Trust area.

The rest is history. “It is hugely rewarding,” Bronagh said, as she set about changing the pieces on exhibition in Altnagelvin’s 
South Wing.