Exclusive interview with Rosie Stolarski, Chief Executive of RNOH Charity, on art’s important role in hospitals.

Think hospital environments and the first images that usually spring to mind are clinical green walls illuminated by neon lighting rather than vibrant, uplifting art. However, a 33ft, hanging installation at London’s Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (RNOH) by Studio Roso titled Tribe is certainly bucking that trend, as Rosie Stolarski, chief executive of the RNOH NHS Trust charity explains. Here, she talks to The Net Gallery about the pioneering project and the vital part she believes art can play in lifting spirits among patients, visitors and staff


Can you tell us a little about how the Tribe art installation came to be created for the RNOH and the idea for the ‘profiles’ featured in the work?

Tribe is a 33ft-long art installation which hangs in the atrium of the new Stanmore Building. Designed and fabricated by art collective Studio Roso, the piece is modelled on a diverse range of RNOH staff and patients.

Studio Roso’s proposal centred on the idea of the Tribe, and how we are all part of a tribe. Tribes mark events, status, emotions and intention through war-paint, markings, uniform to create structure and hierarchy, but also belonging. Studio Roso’s preface is that we are all part of the NHS and therefore one tribe. Photographic portraits, including that of HRH Princess Eugenie, were taken.  These portraits were then turned into moulds and cast and shaped into heads, which have been suspended within the atrium. This stunning artwork brings the new Stanmore Building to life.


What has been the reaction to the installation in the early weeks?

There is no doubt that Tribe is contributing to the wow factor of the new Stanmore Building. It is so unusual compared to what people normally see when they first walk into a hospital that it immediately challenges their perceptions and makes them realise that this hospital is different. The human side (the faces) probably doesn’t hit the casual observer straightaway, but it certainly adds another dimension to the story and those in the know very much enjoy trying to spot Princess Eugenie’s profile and other familiar faces. The installation gives the building’s atrium space colour and vibrancy; as such, it provides patients and staff with an uplifting environment and a welcome distraction from the clinical setting.


What part do you think art can play in making stays in hospital easier for patients and their visitors?

There is a wealth of evidence that shows the benefit of art in hospitals. Art can encourage patients to focus on something external, which in turn reduces their anxiety and even their need for pain relief. It improves communication between patients and carers, and even patients and visitors, by giving them an easy topic to talk about. Studies have shown that art can significantly aid recovery and thus shorten the patient’s length of stay. It can also help improve staff morale. Since December, when the hospital building opened, many patients and staff members have commented positively on the unique patient environment and the careful consideration given to creating the best patient experience.


Princess Eugenie said on her social media page around the time that Tribe was launched: “Art can have a very positive impact on the healing of patients, reducing stress and anxiety, pain and improving mental health.” Are these sentiments you share and how helpful is it in reinforcing these ideas when high-profile personalities lend support to such initiatives?

We share all of these sentiments and it is enormously helpful to have them reinforced by high profile personalities, such as our Appeal Patron, HRH Princess Eugenie. Almost everyone will spend considerable time in a hospital at some stage in their lives, either as a patient or a visitor, but very little thought is given to the actual experience of being in a hospital until they get there. High-profile case studies raise awareness of the issues and resonate particularly well among certain audiences who are otherwise difficult to engage.


Funding for projects is evidently an issue, especially in challenging times like these. How do you decide what to allocate to art projects and is it difficult to justify channelling funds towards art projects over other initiatives?

The RNOH Charity’s role is to strengthen the vital work carried out by the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and we work closely with the hospital senior management team to jointly agree priorities. Because of its recognised contribution to wellbeing, we see art as an essential element of the site’s overall strategy – it is not an either/or situation, but an integral part of any ward development plan, alongside medical equipment, communications systems and other facilities which can greatly enhance the in-patient experience.


Do you have any other initiatives in the pipeline involving art?

We have an ambitious arts programme which includes further installations, musical and dramatic performances, and patient and visitor engagement. Watch this space…


Author: Miriam Dunn