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Bringing art and health together

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Published on 24 May 2022

Video and Digital Imaging students have had their work installed at Helen McArdle
Video and Digital Imaging students have had their work installed at Helen McArdle

A group of talented photography students are using social prescribing as a key theme in their work, which is now on display at the University of Sunderland’s Helen McArdle Nursing and Care Research Institute

Social prescribing involves helping people to improve their health, wellbeing and social welfare by connecting them to community services which might be run by the council, link workers or a local charity. Examples include volunteering, arts activities, group learning, gardening, befriending, cookery, healthy eating advice and a range of sport.

The six Photography, Video and Digital Imaging students whose work has been installed at Helen McArdle are:

  • Max Hawley (exploring his own experience of living with type 1 diabetes)

  • Jaimie Draper (the reciprocal care between dogs and their owners)

  • Leah Corkin (the wellbeing gained by local day-trip vacations) 

  • Phoebe Wymes-Arthur (the mindful capture if nature through camera-less printing photography)

  • James Rutherford (exploring the wellbeing effect of nature through hyper-real photography)

  • Lisa Smith (reflecting on the menopause through the experience of nature)

The project is part of a second-year module entitled ‘The Image’ – where photography students initiate, research and develop a photographic project for display in an appropriate space at the University. 

This involved exploring how images communicate meaning to the viewing public in a meaningful and ethical way that can shift how audiences interact with the space.

Helen McGhie, Senior Lecturer in Photography at the University of Sunderland, added: “Through a range of thought-provoking projects, the photography students have produced work to inspire and creatively engage audiences at the Helen McArdle Nursing and Care Research Institute. 

“Together, their images extend the holistic approach to care that social prescribing offers, by helping to shape how a people-centred environment might can operate. 

“This fantastic cross-faculty collaboration offers a great example of how photographers can work within health and care contexts. The team at the Northern Centre of Photography are really proud of the work that these students have achieved.”

Dr Yitka Graham, Head of the Helen McArdle Nursing and Care Research Institute and Professor in Health Services Research at the University of Sunderland, said: "The World Health Organisation has published evidence of the positive impact that arts and creative practice has on health and wellbeing. I am delighted that through our strong interdisciplinary collaboration between the Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries and Health Sciences and Wellbeing has extended to involve our talented students as we grow our social prescribing research and knowledge exchange activity. 

"I have received such positive comments from external partners, patients, staff and students about the work, and how interacting with the installation has made them pause and reflect, and much joy this has brought to them.  The students’ work has truly captured the ethos of the Institute, who we are and what we do , creating a warm and nurturing space, which is vital when working with patients and the public in health and care research. 

"It was a pleasure to work with the students and I am so grateful for what they have done for the Institute."

Alongside Helen McArdle, student projects have been installed all over the University, including in the Digital Incubator’s immersive ‘Igloo’ projection space, City Space, St Peter’s library and the Priestman Building.

Professor Arabella Plouviez, Dean of Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries at the University, said: “This project provides an opportunity for our students to think about different audiences and test out how their work may engage and impact on different people. 

“These students have really had to think about who may be looking at their work, how much time they may have to look at it, and how their work is operating within this space. 

“Hopefully different people will engage with and enjoy the different ideas that the students have come up with – certainly I found the works surprising, challenging, informative and inspiring."