Vital Arts



Artist Peter McDonald, alongside his installation ‘Constellation for The Royal London Hospital’ 2017
Matt c-type print reverse mounted on aluminium, Acute Critical Care Unit corridor, Floor 4, Royal London Hospital

Summer of Colour

Vital Arts recently unveiled a stunning installation of works by Peter McDonald commissioned for the Adult Critical Care Unit at the Royal London Hospital. McDonald conceived of the works as a constellation of images that draw on everyday life. The cluster of paintings tell a collective story that highlights the joy of human experience. His images are populated by quirky characters engaged in various activities—at the hairdressers, in the classroom, on the football pitch, around a boardroom table, in a stretch limo—that reflect the contemporary world of work and leisure. McDonald’s signature figures, with their enlarged, irregularly-shaped heads, represent the psychological space—a zone of dreams, ideas, concerns and desires—that each of us, especially in a hospital setting, carries with us.

Other recently completed commissioned artworks include a project by Gaia Persico, in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, at the newly refurbished Hostel for oncology outpatients at Barts. Persico spent several weeks as an artist-in-residence at Kew making digital paintings showing views from the Palm House and the Princess of Wales Conservatory. These are installed along with dozens of sinuous drawings of various plants observed by the artist, which are scattered throughout the Hostel’s corridor, forming unexpected outcrops of foliage and flowers.


Gaia Persico’s Kew Garden Botanical Drawings 2017
Vinyl applied to walls, Oncology Hostel, Barts Hospital

Vegetation also looms large in Julia Vogl’s latest commission for the newly refurbished Bereavement Suite at Whipps Cross. Working closely with the Trust’s Bereavement Coordinator and multi-faith Chaplaincy Team, Vogl transformed the area where grieving families gather, into a sanctuary of peace and reflection. Drawing on Islamic tile patterns, historic designs by William Morris (whose family home is located nearby in Walthamstow), as well as trees found on the hospital site itself, her installation includes prints, a frieze that wraps around the room, an illuminated sculpture and cushion covers. Her design even extends to paper property bags, which serve to collect possessions of the deceased for families to carry home, thereby replacing the ordinary plastic bags previously used.

In March, Alwen Williams, Barts Health NHS Trust Chief Executive, unveiled our newly refurbished paediatric unit Rainbow Unit at Newham University Hospital, which included an integrated design by Morag Myerscough—her fifth major project for Vital Arts. Working early on with the architects, Morag developed a layered project across various surfaces with a range of materials throughout the Unit. These include designs on glazed walls leading to the outdoor area, hand-painted wood panels, interactive magnetic surfaces, and bespoke wallpaper and privacy screens. Along the corridors Morag employed a graduating colour scheme that transitions from warmer orange and red to cooler blue and green. All elements sport her characteristic bright, bold, geometric patterns that dazzle and delight.

Interactive magnetic world map in outpatients

Morag Myerscough, Rainbow Unit at Newham University Hospital 2017

South Asian Dance, LSO Early Years and Creativity + Wellbeing week

We are thrilled to announce a new programme for our older adults at the Royal London HospitalDance Well by Akademi. A programme created by dancer Claire Farmer (MSc Dance Science) and working closely with our Occupational Therapy team, Dance Well provides patients with the opportunity to attend dance and movement sessions inspired by Kathak, the South Asian dance form.The project focuses on several key areas: patients living with dementia, older adults with little physical activity who may be isolated in the community, and those living with poor long term heart and lung health. We welcome Akademi and look forward to bringing their programme to our cardiac patients at Barts later this year.

BBC report on Akademi’s Dance Well project at previous sessions at Harefield Hospital.

Quotes from participants:“We all tried hard- we all learnt- and we all made friends and had a good social afternoon”

“The dancing absolutely makes a difference, it’s very good for you! I’ve really committed to it”

“Once I got the bee mudra (hand gesture) I felt I wanted to do it all the time!”

We are pleased to be extending our Early Years singing programme with the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) to our new paediatrics unit at Newham University Hospital. This new programme has been developed with LSO Discovery and early years music specialist, Vanessa King and Senior Speech and Language Therapist for Barts Health, Melanie Peck. Created with the aim of improving recovery by reading communication cues, and practicing strategies to support feeding with music and singing, these group sessions have been taking place on the neonatal ward with prematurely-born babies, hospital nurses, and their carers.

My speciality is young children and babies. Hospitals are stressful environments–full stop; the psychological vulnerability that accompanies childhood only compounds a difficult situation. Our sessions are gentle, private and spontaneous – we take our cue from the children, each of whom is totally unique. We witness so many positive results: escapism from a frightening environment of noisy machines and adult conversations. Access to important, unrealised emotions. Catharsis. It’s about expressing yourself without words, having a troubled mind nursed without medicine.”

Vanessa King, LSO Discovery and early years music specialist

June saw the sixth annual Creativity and Wellbeing week, organised by London Arts in Health Forum. More than 300 events took place over the week across a variety of spaces throughout London, and beyond. Building on our previous collaboration with the The London Brain Project when Vital Arts invited them to the Tate Exchange in Marchwe brought the Bead My Brain workshop to patients and staff at The Royal London. Our Artist-in-Residence, Julia Vogland Developmental Cognitive Neuroscientist Georgia Pitts, showed participants how to create their own necklaces and keyrings using colour-coded beads and a map of the brain. Over the week we visited patients of all ages, from 4 – 83 years old within the childrens wards, school rooms, the Neurology Department and our Older Adult wards.

“What a brilliant idea. Introducing very complex science in a really creative way that allowed all students to progress at their own pace.

Really inclusive sessions appropriate for all school ages, and adults, and definitely accessible for young people with learning difficulties. Four and sixteen year olds, and all ages in-between, happily worked alongside each other.”

Andrew Weiland, School Teacher at the Royal London Hospital

Can Art Change Society?

Can art influence the way we think and act as individuals, and as a society?
How do artists make and create change in the world today?The Tate put these questions to artists and Tate Exchange Associates who took part in Year 1 of the Tate Exchange Programme. See what they have to say in the film below which also features Vital Arts and a glimpse at some of our commissions throughout The Royal London.

Join in the conversation and click on the link to take part in the survey Can art change society?

Tate Exchange film on ‘Can art change society?’
Artwork by Morag Myerscough for the Women and Children’s entrance at The Royal London Hospital

Lord Mayor’s Appeal

“Educate, Support, Inspire” is the motto for this year’s annual Lord Mayor Appeal. The appeal supports three charities: LSO Discovery programme, St Paul’s Cathedral Music Outreach and Music in Hospitals. This year Vital Arts partnered with Music in Hospitals to bring a ‘World Music’ programme to patients across Barts Health. In July the Lord Mayor, Dr Andrew Parmley, and the Lady Mayoress, visited Barts, where they spoke to some patients in Radiotherapy, met some of the musicians, and viewed a few of the site-specific artworks at the hospital–including our magnificent Hogarth paintings in the 18th c. North Wing, designed by James Gibbs.

Musician Tony White playing the Didgeridoo, whilst the Lord Mayor speaks to patients at Barts Hospital

Vital Arts; Out and About

Earlier this year Vital Arts were chosen by Havas Lynx to feature in a publication entitled, Healthcare Heroes – The Passion Project. This book is dedicated to the people working with passion, purpose and determination to improve peoples’ lives all over the world, and we are honoured to have been included. If you would like to read the chapter about Vital Arts, along other the stories, please click here.

Image taken from “Healthcare Heroes’: Neesha Gobin and Catsou Roberts from Vital Arts beside Tatty Devine commission, ‘Kaleidoscopic Reflections’ for Children’s Imaging at The Royal London Hospital.

Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing

A great week for Arts in Health with the launch of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing (APPGAHW) report in the Houses of Parliament. Vital Arts are proud to be cited in the inquiry as an organsiation that delivers cutting edge contemporary art in clinical environments. The report has received widespread attention in press and media, and contains 10 recommendations for policy changes to improve the access of everyone to the arts for health and wellbeing. Supported by a comprehensive review of research and practice examples, the report offers a range of resources for everyone working in this area. You can see the inquiry report here.

The arts are like glue

Illustration by David Shrigley for the APPGAHW short report Inquiry

In other news, Vital Arts are participating in an exhibition exploring Arts and Health at KØS Museum of Art in Public Spaces in Denmark, entitled, What Does Art Do at Hospitals?. Included will be work by Roger Hiorns which Vital Arts commissioned in 2012 for the new Royal London Hospital building, and examples of the bespoke furniture, prints and privacy curtains designed by Ella Doran for the children services.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication on the topic, to which Vital Arts Director, Catsou Roberts, has contributed a text entitled, Raising the Bar: Advocating New Approaches to Commissioning Art in Healthcare. Catsou has also been invited to present a paper about commissioning innovative and ambitious art projects at an major international symposium at the museum in November.

Earlier this month, for one night, east London was transformed by performances and art installations by some of the world’s most exciting artists for a free contemporary arts festival. Art Night aimed at encouraging the public to experience art and their city through entirely fresh eyes. A collaboration with the Whitechapel Gallery and curated by independent curator and writer Fatoş Üstek, the festival included a project by Charles Avery at the Royal London Hospital.

For the second year, we have been nominated for the international Corporate Art Awards, which is under the patronage of the Italian Ministry of Culture and in collaboration with LUISS Business School, Confindustria, Museimpresa, the Italian Banking Association and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The winners will be announced later this year.

Art Advisory Roles

A few months ago, Vital Arts’ Catsou Roberts was invited to serve on MAG, the Art Advisory Board for Maggie’s, the Cancer Caring Trust. She joins Sandy Nairne, Charles Jencks, Richard Cork, Edwin Heathcote, MaryAnne Stevens and Maggie’s Chief Executive Laura Lee to develop art strategies for the Maggie Centres which offer support to people with cancer, their families and friends. She was also recently asked to serve as an Advisor to the AHRC – funded Creative Economy Healthcare Hub.

And last but not least…

Vital Arts would like to extend warm congratulations to Hurvin Anderson on his 2017 Turner Prize nomination.  Five years ago, we commissioned Hurvin to create site-specific work for theRenal Department at the Royal London Hospital. His triptych of large paintings, which is his first permanent public art commission, has brought immeasurable delight to Renal patients  who regularly use the Dialysis Unit. Good luck Hurvin!