Our Communications and Development Manager Thomas Walshaw discusses the power of art to change people's lives with Nina Klaff.

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

I joined Paintings in Hospitals in April 2013, so a long time! My role has evolved since then. First, I was the manager for the Menier Gallery, and then I took on some of the marketing responsibilities from the main charity. Over time that’s grown to involve fundraising from trusts and foundations, as well as events. I’ve also developed the breadth and scale of the Marketing and Communications we’re able to do. I now handle everything from our website, to the graphic design of our print and digital info, and am responsible for our social media. I do all kinds of things!

How would you describe what Paintings in Hospitals does?

It’s tricky because I’ve heard so many people describe the charity in so many different ways over the years. In my own words, we use art to genuinely impact people’s mental health. Everybody has experienced the effect; they just may not realise. It could be a painting that gives you a window into another world, or a TV show that you watch at night to escape your working day. It can be something as small as that and, in the most extreme case, that little window of peace and escape can save someone’s life.

In your opinion, what is the most important thing the charity does? 

The most important thing we do is that we democratise access to and engagement with art.

So many people, myself included, don’t always understand how off-putting places like museums and galleries can be. At Paintings in Hospitals, we don’t limit our work to art-only spaces: our work is in corridors, it’s in GP surgery waiting rooms, it’s where everybody will go whether they’re interested in art or not. The most important thing we do is that we provide art and make it as accessible as possible for people who would never set foot in a gallery because they don’t think those spaces were made for them.

What do you like most about working at Paintings in Hospitals?

Good question! I really enjoy working with our team – we have a fantastic team. When I joined, I was really intimidated because they all worked at such a high level and were so great at what they do. I didn’t know how I was going to keep up! But everyone is unbelievably lovely and supportive. They all genuinely believe in our mission and what we do. I also really enjoy working with residents and patients on the few activities I’ve had the opportunity to attend and take part in, particularly in care homes. Seeing the difference in care home residents from them potentially not doing much all day to them viewing art or picking up a paintbrush, a pencil, or some clay; it’s night and day. You get to hear stories about their lives, places they used to visit, art they used to love. It makes you realise why we do what we do.

Why do you work for Paintings in Hospitals? What is it you think the charity can ultimately achieve as we work together?

There are many reasons! I believe in the power of art to change people’s lives. Paintings in Hospitals specifically has such potential in its reach and scope that it could affect everyone around the country. We estimate two million people encounter our work now. That is incredibly conservative. I believe we reach many, many more people than that. What I believe we can achieve is based around the fact that when we introduce arts into care we stop treating people as just patients with symptoms and we start treating whole human beings who have other interests and influences outside of their illness or condition. That can only be a good thing in my opinion.

If we could one day integrate art completely with our health and social care services, it would be totally transformative to people’s wellbeing.

What is your favourite piece in the collection?

Again, there’s so many and it’s incredibly difficult to choose! Because she’s one of our Artist Patrons and I’m a big fan of hers (and I like grey), it’s by Bridget Riley and it’s called Nineteen Greys A.

Bridget Riley, Nineteen Greys A, 1968. Part of the Paintings in Hospitals collection.