Art therapy gives patients a brush with creativity

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 November, 2011, 12:00am


Brightening hospital patients' lives with the colours and challenges of art is all in a day's work for Susanna Lee Sze-wai and Chan Sai-lok.

'Art programmes in hospitals bring joy to patients, helping them to build confidence and stimulate their brain and muscle co-ordination,' Chan explained. A painter and writer, he is a veteran teacher of programmes set up by Art in Hospital.

The charity was established in 1994 to organise workshops and oversee galleries for patients. The projects add beauty to hospitals with murals, creating soothing environments for patients and staff. Over the years, the charity has produced 150 murals, run more than 800 art workshops and staged 70 exhibitions.

The charity is one of the beneficiaries of this year's Operation Santa Claus (OSC), the annual fund-raising appeal jointly organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK. OSC this year will support 16 Hong Kong-based charities whose work will bring direct benefit to the needy in Hong Kong and the mainland.

OSC's support will allow the charity to run 48 workshops for elderly patients in Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital and Grantham Hospital, in which an estimated 380 people will take part. Their paintings and other art works will be displayed at the hospitals' galleries for two months.

'Painting workshops bring tremendous help to the elderly,' said Lee, the charity's programme officer and specialist on elderly welfare. 'The most straightforward benefit is they have fun when they are learning how to paint. Another is that the activities stimulate their brain - because they have to imagine and think about how to compose a painting, and how to paint.'

Chan encourages patients to work with bright, cheerful colours to get the most benefit from art workshops, 'Cheerful colours bring joy, and when medical staff walk past they are usually amazed, and call the paintings very beautiful. That further helps the patients' confidence,' Chan said.

Lee says that the experience of drawing and painting is often new to elderly patients.

'In the olden days, when our elderly were young, most of them could not attend school,' she said. 'So most of them haven't painted before. As a result, most of them believe they can't paint. When we go to hospitals, we tell them that everyone can do it; as long as they can draw a circle or a cross, they can draw and paint.'

She recalled one elderly patient who died a few days after joining their workshop.

'Because we don't know what will happen to the patients, we assume they will only come once. At the end of each lesson they can take home a painting. I was told by one family that their father painted a picture shortly before he died, and that it became one of their most valuable memories of him,' Lee said.

The two teachers run the workshops together - Lee helping students as Chan teaches, keeping the sessions warm and friendly. The two prepare all the materials like paints and paper beforehand, and hospital employees provide assistance.

Established in 1988, Operation Santa Claus has supported more than 100 different charities.

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