Art and design for the sake of wellbeing

Dr Jaana Erkkilä, research and development manager at Novia University of Applied Sciences in Finland, explores the therapeutic effects of art and design in a healthcare setting

4 min read

If we look back at the history of mankind, we can see that the arts of drama, music, painting and architecture had no specific connection with theatres, galleries and museums. They were part of everyday life in an organised community.

Novia University of Applied Sciences has art, health and wellbeing as one of the focus areas of its Research and Development Unit. We emphasise the meaning of art and design as a promoter for everybody’s wellbeing, and underline that the wellbeing of an artist and designer requires working opportunities and activity in business.

The possibility to choose what kind of art you want to look at is an important part of creating a sense of belonging and having something to say about your environment

Emma Westerlund, a lecturer in photography in Novia UAS, has initiated two projects where students have been working together with young professional artists and designers to create an aesthetic nursing environment with holistic interior design and a series of commissioned art works planned for special environments and people using the space as staff or clients.

She has consciously moved on from a traditional view of designing healthcare environments where functionality always comes before a more psychologically friendly approach. She believes combinations of aesthetic and functional solutions are possible, and that these promote wellbeing of all users of the environment.

In Art as Experience, John Dewey claims that inner harmony is attained only when, by some means, a person can come to terms with their environment. People in hospital are often very vulnerable and, whether they are there as patients, visitors or staff, they are facing stressful situations.

The aim of Westerlund’s projects has been to increase communication, release stress and create a space where interaction can take place with the help of art and design. Professor Britt-Maj Wikström’s research shows that art-related discussions can help us to forget pain for a moment and can be a way of increasing a sense of security.

The art works presented on hospital and care-home walls in these projects, at Malmska Sjukhus and Solänge, are double-sided. They are hung in specially designed frames that make it possible to turn the work over and view a different image on the other side. The possibility to choose what kind of art you want to look at is an important part of creating a sense of belonging and having something to say about your environment.

Minna Östman and Andreas Haals hanging art works in a double-sided frame at Malmska Sjukhus and Solänge

Minna Östman and Andreas Haals hanging art works in a double-sided frame at Malmska Sjukhus and Solänge

Altogether 80 double-sided art works – photos, graphics and paintings – were commissioned for the Solänge care home, which is in Oravais, Ostrobothnia. Interior designer Minna Östman was employed, and some of the furniture was specially designed and made by local carpenters. A showcase for old objects was designed to help clients to remember and talk about their past. New work clothing was designed for staff.

Before commissioning any art work there was a survey among clients, patients and staff asking what kind of motifs they liked, how they would like to see their environment, and what would be important to them in terms of aesthetics.

Display case for memory objects by Jessica Hästbacka and Mia Wahlberg

Display case for memory objects by Jessica Hästbacka and Mia Wahlberg

One of the challenges in the projects has been the question of “good taste” and what is art? Westerlund has been aware of diversity in aesthetic approaches, and how it depends on people’s cultural background and education.

The aim of the project in Solänge was to connect people, art and design in a way that would enable an experience of belonging. Art and design were not meant to be in isolation, created by and for the chosen few who could “understand” it in a realm of their own. The goal was to make art and design a part of everyday life, in a care-home environment, enriching the lives of all people who use it, clients, patients, staff and visitors.

The project has been a living laboratory for the students involved to experience what it means to work according to the wishes of a client and remain true to yourself as an artist. We hope that projects like these can create work for artists and designers as well as a sense of wellbeing for all those who spend time in a health-care environment.

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