Monday 30 July 2012

Two Sunflowers and a Rainbow, Watching TV Together Outside

Auckland Art Gallery staff member and artist Vivien Masters discusses her latest project, making art with critically ill children in a New York Hospital

It’s 38 degrees outside, the sun is beating down, and I’m covered in paint. I write to you from New York, where I’m collaborating with a Hospital in Brooklyn for a special art project. Earlier this year I founded the Dreamscape Project, a non-profit collaborative art project that engages critically ill and disabled young people in art. The project has brought me to NY for June and July of 2012, to create art with paediatric patients at Brookdale Hospital.

Together with Brookdale’s Child Life Department I’m creating three large-scale artworks with the children, all of which will be donated to Brookdale Hospital upon completion. Two of the works will be auctioned off, with 100% of the proceeds going towards the Child Life Dpt. of the Hospital, who survive on grants.

One of the Brookdale artworks, before the children started painting! Waterproof ink on canvas.
Detail of the squirrel Doctors and patients in the 'Tree Hospital'
To create the three artworks I took a collaborative approach. Earlier in the year I asked Child Life Specialist Janis Atty to start gathering ideas from her patients. What would they like to see in the artworks? Suggestions flooded in, some sweet, some funny, some bizarre. ‘Balloons’, ‘a princess’, ‘a tiger that thinks it’s a dog and barks at cats’, ‘no clowns’, ‘a dragon’ and my favourite: ‘two sunflowers and a rainbow watching TV together outside’. I collected their ideas and transformed them into three large-scale ink drawings on canvas. I’m now working with the children to paint the works.

The children involved in this project are receiving long-term treatment for life-threatening illnesses. In the context of a Hospital, art-making takes on a new importance. Opportunities for young patients to experiment, play with and manipulate materials are crucial. Art becomes an outlet of expression that aids coping and healing. It can open a unique channel of non-verbal communication in younger patients, who may struggle to verbalise their thoughts and feelings. It lowers stress and anxiety, and can distract from pain. Positive arts experiences have the power to transform the hospital experience for a child, which can be confusing, frightening and lonely.

To raise the funds needed to make this project a success, I turned to crowd-funding website Indiegogo. I would like to thank all of the Gallery staff members who contributed to the project and helped it to not only reach but surpass its funding goal.

In September I’ll return to NZ (and the Gallery!) to continue work on the project with CanTeen and Ronald McDonald House Trust, Auckland. For my collaboration with Ronald McDonald House I’ll be teaming up with the fantabulous Auckland Art Gallery art tutor Andrea Gaskin! Andrea works as an art tutor for the children and their families who stay at Ronald McDonald House, as well as delivering the Gallery’s fabulous art programmes for children.

You can follow my progress on, or check out the Dreamscape Project on Facebook.

The CEO of the Hospital suggested that we move from the playroom, to the lobby of the Hospital. Right by the public front entrance. With children. And paint. I think I got my first grey hair.
The fine art of mixing colours!
12News came in and interviewed us on one of the days we were painting in the lobby! That's me with the amazing Janis Atty, Child Life Specialist at Brookdale :)
Me with the three artworks I made for Brookdale, using ideas from patients!


Shonagh Lindsay said...

What a wonderful initiative, such creativity, smarts and empathy coming together!

Anonymous said...

What a gem you are, such a brilliant project and you can see how fully engaged the children are.
Well done,
Mary Kisler

Anonymous said...

Viv you are amazing! These kids must love you, such a wonderful thing you are doing for them.
love selina