Our Relationship & Development Manager Dominic Harbour tells us about his belief in the transformative potential of art and his passion for engagement for everyone

How long have you been at Paintings in Hospitals? What is your role in your own words?

I joined the team in 2018, but I had been aware of the charity for at least twenty years prior to that. I was completing a multidisciplinary fine arts degree in visual arts and music, and was researching synaesthesia. I was exploring how different artists and musicians use art and creativity for the benefit of their mental health. I was very aware of Paintings in Hospitals then.

As Relationship & Development Manager, I help to make lasting connections between our healthcare partners – patients, staff, carers – and our art collection. My role is about opening up discussions around art and finding out what kind of visual art will be most helpful to different clients. It is a very interesting and often surprising role as we work with such a diverse range of partners: care home residents, young people, mental health services, special education needs (SEN) schools, patients and staff in palliative care, people using specific neurological services. The role of art for each person can be very different. It is my job to collaborate with our clients to find out about specific needs and to find out which pieces of art will be of greatest benefit, it is always a road of discovery. It is an exploratory role to engage people with art, to encourage them to find ways of looking at and talking about art and develop strong relationships with specific pieces.

How would you describe what the charity does?

The charity offers meaningful and substantial opportunities to engage with a world-class artwork collection in a very personal way. It is a very democratic approach. Anybody should be able to have access to this collection, think about art, explore art ideas, and look at making art themselves.

In your opinion, what is the charity’s most important principle?

That art makes a measurable and sustainable difference to people’s lives, health and wellbeing – particularly when they need it the most.

Why do you work at Paintings in Hospitals? What do you like most about it?

I have a deep love of art and believe in the transformative potential that it can have on people’s lives. It is beneficial to me in my daily life, and I have seen it become equally important to other people, often those who have had no previous experience of the visual arts. Many people think art is ‘not for them’ - either that they have no experience of museums or galleries or have not taken part in making art since their school days. I am quite evangelical about connecting art with people who have not had painting or drawing in their lives before. I like engaging with people practically, encouraging them to think creatively. The physical, personal act of being creative is something I enjoy supporting in others. Before Covid this was a very hands-on role: interpersonal and direct. Covid has been a gamechanger in participatory arts and health and something we have certainly embraced, developing digital and remote art engagement techniques for people in isolation during a really challenging time. This is something that has stayed with us and while our art engagement is still very personal, we can use new interactive technologies to reach even more people, such as our work with large care home groups and digital artwork programmes such as our Beautiful Planet project. Engagement for everyone is really important to me.

What is it you think the charity can ultimately achieve as we work together?

To reach more and more people and work with more diverse communities.

What is your favourite piece in the collection?

Every loan that I work on is a voyage of discovery! Whilst we have an amazing and significant collection I am constantly fascinated by the different readings (and meanings) that develop around different artworks, according to who is looking at and talking about them. Each different group of people open my eyes to a new way of looking at and appreciating our collection. My favourite artwork can change when I see a familiar work through a new pair of eyes. Seeing the collection afresh, every time is a wonderful experience. I am currently working on a selection of artworks for a Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) which will help connect the young people with the natural environment around them. Through this process, I have reconnected with the work of Chris Drury and his series of photographs depicting remote enclosures, each built by him as a camera obscura with a lens projecting images of the natural world around them: silhouettes, wave patterns and cloud shapes.

Chris Drury, Star Chamber, 1995

Chris Drury, Star Chamber, 1998Part of the Paintings in Hospitals collection.

The participants saw these small cabins as a protective space, each one as a safe haven, a small home or a sanctuary. It has become a very significant collection of artworks and a magical journey for them (and me), opening our eyes to the patterns, rhythms, and the soothing effect of the natural environment around us. Chris Drury’s Chamber Series is currently my new favourite artwork.

Chris Drury, Coppice Cloud Chamber, 1998

Chris Drury, Coppice Cloud Chamber, 1998Part of the Paintings in Hospitals collection.