A child lies in a hospital bed with a performer stood on either side of them each holding one of their hands up.
Photo by GOSH Arts

Second Hand Dance at Great Ormond Street Hospital

This summer Second Hand Dance worked with GOSH Arts at Great Ormond Street Hospital as part of the Unlimited R&D Awards, exploring how they could bring their show, Touch, into a clinical environment. Arts Manager Caroline Moore shares her thoughts on the collaboration and why GOSH Arts think it’s important to support this area of work.  

What triggered your interest in partnering with Unlimited to support an R&D?

Supporting disabled artists to work across our programme is something we have been doing for some time; so collaborating with Unlimited to offer an R&D Award felt like a great opportunity to underpin our commitment to this area.

There are two main reasons why this is important to us. Firstly, our diverse patient population and secondly, questioning assumptions around quality.

We are committed to making sure our patient population is better represented through the artists we work with. Doing so ensures children, young people and their adults meet positive role models, who may have similar life experiences to them. Being an artist is challenging enough without facing additional barriers, and we know it’s not a career path that disabled young people feel encouraged to follow; but by having inspiring role models breaking down barriers at GOSH it might just be the prompt that a young person needs to realise they can do and be anything they want to.

We also recognise that disabled artists can face significant barriers when it comes to the art world. Within our programme we champion excellence and try to break down assumptions of what is and isn’t creatively possible within a clinical setting. Our experience of doing this can also help us to challenge concepts of quality when programming with disabled artists. So often the work that is made by this group of artists isn’t given the same critical acclaim as that made by artists without additional needs. We know that there are many artists out there that make amazing work (and Unlimited has introduced us to even more!), proving that we need to re-think these social and curatorial assumptions. We hope to model an arts programme that is accessible for both artists and audiences with the highest artistic aspirations.

What were highlights of the project for you?

During their workshops Second Hand Dance created relaxed spaces across both public and private areas of the hospital. Their gentle and subtle approach got so many people dancing, who I would never have anticipated willingly joining in with a contemporary dance session. Families were so positive about the interactions, with one parent telling me she had never seen her child “concentrate on something this well before” and another telling me her child has just finished a hard day in the hospital and this was “just what she needed”.

The ultimate highlight was seeing how Second Hand Dance overcame high adult to child ratios during their sessions. I am often nervous about this during workshops in the hospital as it can feel like you are filling a child’s space with adults which can feel overwhelming. However, the Second Hand Dance team made this feel entirely natural and it was clear that everyone in the room was a collaborator, rather than an adult or child, dancer or patient – the ratio became an essential but invisible part of the work.

Any tips/learning points to share with other organisations from the project…

When we put together our brief for the Unlimited and GOSH Arts R&D Award we were quite prescriptive as to what areas the artist could work in in the hospital and subsequently we got very few applications. I don’t think that we had considered that the pool of artists who would be applying would be smaller than normal due to the fact that it was Unlimited funding; essentially what we were asking for was very niche! If we were to offer an award at GOSH again we would make it much more open, which ironically is the way we normally work, as it allows us to respond to artists’ interests, needs and practice. Perhaps we should also have made it clear that just because we are hospital we don’t necessarily want work focusing on ill/health!

I think there was some trepidation from our side about triple checking how everyone in the team was feeling, emotionally and physically throughout the R&D.  I know I have a habit of saying everything is fine even when I don’t mean it and I am always grateful when people push me and say “but, are you sure?” For me one of the best learning points (and I think this applies to everyone I work with) is that it’s better to ask again, or put together a plan at the start of the project than worry about seeming overbearing or fussy during it. The worst that can happen is they say, “yes, I REALLY am fine!” or “there is nothing you need to be aware of” and the best that can happen is they feel confident to tell you what their needs are or when something is too much so you can prepare for it in advance and manage the situation if it occurs.

How might disabled artists interested in working with you approach you?

We always welcome speculative applications from artists, especially if they have specific ideas for a project. To get in touch please email gosharts@gosh.nhs.uk and one of our team will get back to you if there is a way that we can collaborate.  It might be that there isn’t space in the programme right away, but if we like what you’re proposing and we think your work is interesting then we will definitely create time to chat through your ideas with you!  

What’s next for Touch in hospitals and for GOSH Arts?

We are delighted that the Second Hand Dance team want to take Touch back into a hospital context, and in the first instance we are planning to bring a more formal version of the show back to GOSH next time it tours. In addition to this, and for me one of the most positive outcomes of the project, is that the team are now confident to work in other healthcare  environments, having navigated infection prevention and control, working with unwell children and how to manage all the other sensitivities of a hospital ward whilst at GOSH. This means we can introduce them to our colleagues in other paediatric hospitals and healthcare environments, so they can bring Touch to other settings and their learning from their R&D at GOSH can benefit lots of other families across the UK.

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