In 2023, Creative Ireland Westmeath supported over 20 creative projects in communities across the county. Here, Lucy Tormey talks about her experience running 'Inside Out', a collaborative project with photographer Emma O'Brien and the residents of Cluain Lir Community Nursing Unit and its associated Day Care facility.
The project aims to tell a story about individual lives and gives an insight into the experience of ageing in Ireland in 2023
Inside Out is a project that reflects the ins and outs of life in a Community Nursing Unit. The project is based at Cluain Lir Community Nursing Unit and its associated Day Care facility in Mullingar. Residents of Cluain Lir are in long term care and many have diagnoses of dementia. People attending the Day Care Service generally live at home and require some supports especially a service that promotes participation, socialisation and cognitive stimulation. Inside Out is a collaborative photographic project with myself and lens based artist Emma O’Brien. The project aims to tell a story about individual lives and gives an insight into the experience of ageing in Ireland in 2023.
Inside Out will be exhibited on the grounds of Cluain Lir Nursing Unit, the exhibition will launch on Thursday 3 November at 2.30pm. Future plans will involve exploring the potential to take the exhibition further afield into the heart of the community and into other hospital and gallery settings.
In 2021 I was redeployed by the HSE to work for 18 hours per week as a resident artist in Cluain Lir Nursing Unit. There were many triggers for initiating the project but essentially the idea came about through a conversation with a group of Day Care Service users. Over a cup of coffee one day, I discovered I was sitting with a woman who was a morse code operator for CIE, the man who made the processional cross for the Popes visit to Ireland in 1979 and a champion boxer. There was a strong sense of a need to tell the stories, or at least to capture something of these extraordinary people and the lives they have lived.
Within the Residential Unit, many of the residents were familiar faces, some of the towns characters, old friends and business people. It struck me that people from the town were still here, still living… except that due to circumstances their lives were now relatively contained to a particular place. Emma O’Brien and I had worked together in a previous existence in Adult Education and I felt there was a real opportunity to collaborate and to see if we could work with the men and women to create a sensitive but strong visual art statement about their lives.
There have been times during the project when we have felt overwhelmed by the potential scale of what could be done alongside navigating the
need to be completely sensitive and respectful to the people we worked with. There is a duty of care required when working with people who have dementia and we have tried incredibly hard to produce a show that is respectful of that. There is an enormous amount of trust building required when working with people and that takes time. This not the kind of work that can be forced. It has been a lesson in patience, in trusting the process and in allowing the goalposts to change slightly as the project evolved.
Residents and artists have produced 36 photographs that will be exhibited in our show which will be launched at the start of November. The work speaks of their lives and reflects their interests and stories through activity, artefacts and personal belongings.
There have been many studies on the benefits of Creative Activity in Care Settings. A key finding of a study commissioned by Creative Ireland from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin, is that Creative Activity in Older years, promotes health and well-being, reduces loneliness, depression and stress. That being a given, we believe the next step is to use the arts as a way of maintaining a connection with the community at large either by exhibition or by developing practices and projects that ensure that the voices of our ageing community can be heard and remain at the heart of our community.
During our conversations, Residents and Day Care users speak passionately about a wish to be heard, for the voices of older people to be considered, for the wider community to take their ideas into account and for their stories not to go untold. This is just the beginning, our first attempt to make that happen through the visual arts and we would like to build on this into the future.