Gallery appoints ‘nurse in residence’ in Covid art switch

The Barber Institute has a long record of working with artists in residence in healthcare situations, but to chime with the Covid environment it has given the concept a new twist – by appointing a nurse in residence.

Birmingham’s pre-eminent art gallery is using a £40,000 grant from the Art Fund Respond & Reimagine scheme to set up a health and well-being initiative for 2021.

Central to it as the first nurse in residence will be Jane Nicol, senior lecturer at the University of Birmingham’s School of Nursing, who will be delving the institute’s collection to find ways of using works of art to inform community healthcare and enrich medical training.

“This unique and exciting residency provides an opportunity to rethink the role the arts have in the education of our future healthcare professionals and in promoting the sustainable health and wellbeing of our wider community” said Mrs Nicol (above, and in the main image with students in the Barber Institute's galleries), a specialist in palliative and end of life care. “Utilising the Barber’s world class art collection we’ll be developing tools which will be practically applied in a healthcare and community settings to address some of the pressing issues facing our communities in the midst of the pandemic.” 

The project, thought to be the first of its kind, has four interconnecting strands: a nurse in residence, death and dying community conversations, care home outreach and a social prescribing pilot. The aim is to use visual stimulation to help as communities face an epidemic of grief and fund ways of talking about death and dying, working with charities, University Hospitals Birmingham, Practices across the city and volunteers from the University of Birmingham’s medical school.

“We asked ourselves ‘what is the role of a museum or gallery in a pandemic?’” said Jen Ridding, the institute’s head of public engagement. “How can we contribute, even on a small scale, to processes of reconnecting and recovery in our local communities?  We felt we had a responsibility - could we use our collection and our engagement programme to address some of the big issues Covid has created and ultimately make a positive difference to people's lives? 

“Many of us will be aware of an artist in residence in a medical setting, so we thought ‘what if we switch this. “A nurse in residence at a museum offers a novel and powerful way for cultural organisations to work with medical sector colleagues.If we think about the museum of the future, then we absolutely need to be collaborating with colleagues from across sectors and disciplines.”


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