Arts and Health project for Galway 2020 transforms the hospital bedsides of young patients into miniature theatre spaces


Saolta Arts and Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture in partnership with Saolta University Health Care Group are pleased to present A bird at my window and other stories by Sarah Fuller and Manuela Corbari as part of The Deepest Shade of Green, an Arts and Health programme for Galway’s European Capital of Culture 2020.

Engaging young patients and their families across the Saolta Group, artists Sarah Fuller and Manuela Corbari share an enchanting collection of tales inspired by the Italian children’s book Nine Stories About Love, where the natural and human worlds intertwine. Plants and humans become friends, animals can talk, and flowers think like philosophers. During a residency at University Hospital Galway, the artists used inventive means to respond to the ever-changing needs of the Paediatric setting, culminating with the design of a bespoke shadow-box theatre to address the specific challenges presented by Covid-19.





The artists’ residency began with participative art workshops where they supported young patients to make stop motion animations. In a subsequent phase, intimate bedside performances incorporated puppetry, storytelling and shadow-play, to create immersive worlds and transform the clinical environment. Reflecting on these, one parent said, “The experience was magical. My little girl forgot where she was, she was so invested in the story”. Another said that the performances “captured her [daughter’s] imagination and took her mind of her operation”.

Speaking about the impact of having artists work in St. Bernadette’s Paediatric Unit at University Hospital Galway, Assistant Director of Nursing Anne Matthews said: “An important aspect of the project was the artists’ ability to continually adapt and respond to any circumstances. This included using the windows of isolation room doors as screens for shadow play so that even the most vulnerable of children were included. When Covid-19 meant that they were no longer able to work in the wards, they translated their experiences into a tabletop version which could be shared safely across the five paediatric units in the Saolta Group”. (University Hospital Galway, Mayo University Hospital, Portiuncula University Hospital, Sligo University Hospital and Letterkenny University Hospital).


The artists were mindful to apply what they had learned from working in the paediatrics unit to the reimagined phase of their project. Sarah Fuller said that, “sound had been an important device in helping the children to imaginatively escape the clinical environment so it is brilliant to be able to use the Saolta Arts website to host our recorded soundscapes, which we made to support their adventures in shadow play from a distance. At the same time, families had really enjoyed the hands-on aspects of our engagements so it felt important that the final outcome shouldn’t just be online”.


The shadowbox theatre addressed this perfectly with Manuela Corbari adding that, “We found that parents would often become very engaged with the interaction, assisting and collaborating with their children and were happy to share and be part of the experience. It was an opportunity to lead a fun family activity that wasn’t anything to do with ill-health. The shadow-box allowed us to recreate that and it’s also an activity that can happen at a time that suits them around doctors’ rounds and treatment.”


The artists designed a tote bag for their shadowbox theatres and each one is accompanied by a seed-paper postcard which can be planted in the ground when the children leave hospital. Together they will form a keepsake and a reminder of the more positive aspects of their hospital experience. This echoes the words of one parent who said of the performance phase of the project: “We’ll bring nice memories from the hard time in hospital”.


A bird at my window and other stories is part of an overall programme of exhibitions and specially commissioned artworks for Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture titled The Deepest Shade of Green, which explores the importance of connecting hospitals with the natural world and of listening to and learning from those who use them.


Speaking about the project Margaret Flannery, Arts Director of Saolta Arts said, “A bird at my window and other stories is an excitingopportunity to share the Galway 2020 cultural experience widely while also helping Saolta Arts make important steps in establishing an Arts and Health programme at each site, creating future opportunities for patients, staff and artists. I envisage it will help our colleagues in recognizing the value of Arts and Health creating long term benefits to the health, wellbeing and cultural access for the whole hospital community”.

A number of the shadowbox theatres are also being gifted to children in other paediatric units across Ireland. The artists have also made a template available alongside their audio stories on the Saolta Arts website so that the wider public can cut out characters from their stories and create their own shadowbox theatres at home.

Speaking about the Saolta Arts and Galway 2020 partnership, Galway 2020 Producer Kate Howard said, “Ireland is a leader in understanding the benefits of art in healthcare settings. The work of Saolta Arts and artists commissioned for The Deepest Shade of Green as part of the programme for Galway 2020 reflects this and the importance of supporting high quality arts experiences for people who might otherwise not have access to them and who perhaps stand to gain the most by transforming their experience of hospital”.

The limited edition shadowbox theatre is accompanied by a suite of recorded stories which can be accessed from the Saolta Arts website here from Thursday 8th April.