Mary Bracken

‘This is what dreams are made of’ Cloudlands participant Mary Bracken and artist Rachel Tynan with Mary’s book, 'Colours of Life'

The collaboration between BNP Paribas and Helium Arts is addressing the social exclusion experienced by chronically ill teenagers. The innovative arts and technology project, ‘Cloudlands’, encompasses elements of performance and interactive film-making, allows children to share their work with their peers in other healthcare settings, and is demonstrating important psycho-social outcomes.

Helium were the 2016 Allianz Community Arts Award winner

Being a teenager is tough at the best of times, but being a teen with a chronic illness can be life altering. Very often, they spend long periods of time in hospital, with younger children and little creative stimulation.

In 2012, Westmeath-based arts organisation Helium Arts wanted to give these teenagers something to call their own and to shift the focus away from their illness. So, Helium created Cloudlands, a performance and arts programme, which extended their work of bringing the arts into healthcare settings.

In November 2012, Helium received a huge boost when BNP Paribas Foundation came on board as sponsors of Cloudlands in Dublin, after being introduced to the arts organisation by Business to Arts.

So impressed was BNP Paribas with what it saw, it decided to fund the project through Start Smart, its European-wide programme which promotes social integration and education through the practice of the arts. Cloudlands was one of eight projects across Europe chosen for funding.

The Dublin arm of Cloudlands is carried out at Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street, and the funding from BNP Paribas will facilitate it for three years.

The first phase of the project took place over 30 weeks, and saw professional artist Rachel Tynan work with the teens in various art forms, including film-making, story-telling, animation and performance.

Avril Carr, Cloudlands project manager, says that teens are the most under-served in terms of activities for young people in hospitals.

“Due to their conditions they can miss out on things that are happening in school and the community. We wanted to counter the isolation, and to give them a chance to work collaboratively with professional artists on something that has nothing to do with illness.”

Throughout phase-one a number of art projects were carried out, including film and tapestry making, dance performances, sculpting an ice palace in the dialysis unit, and a project which saw teens write stories and place them in Russian dolls around the hospital.

In the first phase of the project Tynan had 578 interactions with teenagers, their parents, siblings and staff. Carr says Helium has anecdotal evidence that Cloudlands helped the teens to be “more confident, less alienated and less withdrawn”.

The funding provided by BNP Paribas made all that happen, she adds.

“The funding has been absolutely incredible. Within the arts multiannual funding is very rare but it allows us to scale and grow the organisation, while the support from a company like BNP Paribas validates the project.”

Gilles de Decker, country head for BNP Paribas in Ireland, says it is important for companies to “not only be involved in day-to-day banking but to be part of the larger community here in Ireland”.

“We are in banking but are also part of a larger environment, which includes not only our relationship with our clients, but also relationships with the people around us. BNP Paribas has a corporate social responsibility to ensure we go beyond our business and see how we can help and support any projects of interest in the country where the bank is acting.

“We have a target of trying to get children access to art, to culture and to travel. [Cloudlands] fit perfectly with that goal,” says de Decker.

BNP Paribas’ staff has voluntarily photographed Cloudlands on-site, attended artist talks and the project’s public exhibition.

“Helium came to the bank to show [our staff] the evolution of the project, and to show what the children were able to do. We still have a tapestry from the project hanging on the wall in the bank,” says de Decker.

“It’s important to ensure the staff is aware of what is behind the project we have supported,” he adds.

Design by New Graphic.