On the 6th of June, I stepped into the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary to begin a short-term summer placement, though not as a medical student, but as part of my Museum studies course. I began working several days a week with the Grampian Hospital Arts Trust (known as GHAT for short), shadowing the collections and exhibitions team on a variety of projects, and helping them carry out different tasks both inside and outside the hospital.
As a component of my master’s degree at the University of Aberdeen, the twenty-day placement gave me the opportunity to gain relevant knowledge and skills in an authentic workplace environment, and acted as a gateway into the ever dynamic and fascinating world of working in the arts and heritage sector.
Artwork is exhibited in various hospitals throughout the Grampian area, in public hallways, private offices and outdoor spaces. They take the form of paintings, prints, sketches, textiles and sculptures. GHAT’s job is to acquire, store, conserve, manage, and install this artwork.
While many of their collections are displayed throughout the hospital, within the Royal Infirmary, there are two exhibition spaces. Here, artists collaborate with the GHAT team to create dynamic and exciting displays, in which visitors can peruse at their leisure and can share in the joys of experiencing art. GHAT also frequently spotlights local artists, having had recent exhibitions which incorporate artwork from recent graduates of Scottish art schools. Much of the work exhibited in the hospitals is distinctly Aberdonian in style, depicting both serene coastal landscapes alongside industrial and urban scenes, thus often being familiar and recognisable to onlookers.
My work with GHAT was incredibly varied, which is part of what made it so valuable. Deep within the hospital is housed a storage facility holding almost 1000 pieces of artwork. The collections, having been gathered through a combination of donation, purchasing and commissions, are varied in style and subject matter.
I became increasingly familiar with the collections, as I edited the online catalogue, in which information about each individual piece is stored, and learned about conservation practices, acquisitions, and accessioning. As well as this, I assisted with installing various pieces of art, both in an exhibition space, and within hospital rooms. This practical experience, which involved manual handling, safely transporting large objects for install, and helping organise and retrieve artwork in the vast stores, helped me understand the everyday nitty-gritty of working with art collections.
For me, one of the most valuable aspects of the placement is gaining a real understanding of how impactful art and its display can be, especially within an unusual exhibition setting: a hospital. As hospitals are so often associated with anxiety, art can have a real positive impact on the health and well-being of visitors, by easing stress, sparking creativity or communication, and creating even a temporary distraction from their worries.
The GHAT team have a significant role to play in making this happen, and constantly engage with staff and visitors, which gives the display spaces a collaborative feel. In this setting, remaining aware of the audience of your art displays, and how they will think or feel about what they see, is of the utmost importance.
In this way, exhibiting varied and interesting artwork within a hospital setting invites the public into the world of art, showing that anyone, regardless of background or knowledge, can appreciate art, thus making it a shared, inclusive experience.
Working with GHAT has really helped me appreciate how art and heritage organisations can reach out to the public through their collections and exhibitions, encouraging others to experience, enjoy, ponder, question, and discuss their displays. Art itself can create connections and channels of communication, whether between the object and the visitor, from one visitor to another, or within oneself, creating meaning and evoking emotions.
Written by Amy Hart, University of Aberdeen Museums Studies MLitt Placement – 2023