Orchestras Live Chief Executive, Sarah Derbyshire, reports back on a cross-sector event bringing together directors, producers and programmers from hospitals and orchestras...
It was just a year ago that I published Orchestras in Healthcare, in collaboration with Fiona Harvey (Association of British Orchestras) and Matthew Swann (then CEO of City of London Sinfonia). That was quite a milestone, as it was the first comprehensive report on the contribution orchestras make to health and wellbeing in the UK. As well as initial findings that demonstrated the extent of this work undertaken by orchestras, the significant funding they raise to finance the work and geographical inequalities, the report set out a number of recommendations that we have continued to follow up during the year.
One of those recommendations was to create better known and more navigable networks for orchestras and healthcare partners to work together.
So I’m delighted that last month we held the first cross-sector event bringing together directors, producers and programmers from hospitals and orchestras. My co-hosts for the event were my two co-authors, together with Laura Waters, Head of Arts at the University Hospitals of Derby and Burton and Chair of the NHS NPAG arts managers network and Natalie Ellis, Head of Arts at Cambridge University Hospitals and a trustee of Orchestras Live.
Over 90 representatives from orchestras and hospital settings signed up for this virtual event, demonstrating both the level of interest in this work and the need for a new network to develop sustainable collaboration between UK hospitals and orchestras, as we rethink our priorities post-pandemic.
Attendees ranged from those with extensive experience, to those who are in the early stages of embarking on work in this field.
We designed the event around three pillars: myth-busting followed by break-out groups for topical discussions and geographical groupings.
Laura Waters gave an introduction to NPAG - the National performance advisory group for arts, heritage and design in hospitals. With around 80 arts managers across the UK, this network is a fantastic asset for any orchestra wanting to explore collaborative work in hospital settings. The group has formed in recognition of the rapid developments in this field and the advantages of establishing a national approach through regional sub-group to help scale up activities.
I was struck by Laura’s description of how arts activities in hospitals have moved on from being considered a ‘nice thing for patients’ to being essential to holistic care. Post-pandemic, as many staff have also turned to arts and culture to cope with their own experiences, her view is that there is a huge opportunity for orchestras to support arts programmes in hospitals.
Natalie Ellis busted a few myths around delivery. She reminded us that hospitals can be very creative and joyful places, with arts expertise of their own. They’re a brilliant reflection of society, a great leveller and offering the most diverse audience anywhere, many of whom may never have experienced live orchestral music before.
And finally Matthew Swann reset some assumptions about orchestras. He stressed the flexibility of an orchestra, as a body of musicians who play together but are also individual artists and engage with communities in a huge range of settings. Orchestras are not all about standard performances. The focus in healthcare settings is on participatory experience, one of co-creation that involves staff as well as patients, that focuses on everyone’s wellbeing and also develop staff’s creative skills and supports their wellbeing.
The discussion groups that followed these presentations were lively and productive. Many new connections were made in the geographical groups, and through topical discussion representatives from hospitals and orchestras found that their approaches to this work had more in common than otherwise.
We surveyed attendees before embarking on future plans, and have a clear steer from 98% of respondents who said they’d be interested in attending another event organised by Orchestras Live/ABO/NPAG.
Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Hospital arts managers said they learned that orchestras have more to offer than they had thought. Orchestra managers said that, whilst being complex settings, hospitals’ growing commitment to arts activities offers more potential for partnership than they’d realised.
Perhaps most importantly, this event broke through some of the misperceptions that each professional group had of the other. A shared desire to deliver high quality live music in hospitals, for the benefits of all involved, was very evident. In our next event, we intend to continue to provide some practical solutions that can fast-track strategic relationships across the country.
I’ll leave the last word to a survey respondent, who said: “I am hopeful for the network to be really useful going forward and that we can create a collective voice and a place to share professional development.”.