Digital for all now

Rachel Even: digital technology and patient well-being

Rachel Even 20 Aug 2014

Digital technology is revolutionising hospitals today. There has been considerable progress in terms of the technical resources for treating patients, and patient rooms are also being revolutionised. This is precisely what Rachel Even, director of Art Dans la Cité, has devoted the past 15 years to: her organisation introduces contemporary visual art into hospitals in order to enhance children patients’ stay, and event gets them involved in creating works of art. We met this woman who is transforming hospital experiences for children.

 

Digital: an immensely positive impact on children’s well-being

So what led Rachel Even to launch this project? It all began back in 1999 when she founded Art Dans la Cité with a group of artists. The aim was to bring art out of museums and galleries and create in situ works of art in hospitals. It’s true that there are few places more depressing than hospital rooms: the machines and the white walls are often a source of fear and mistrust, particularly sterile rooms. So how can they be made more – well, hospitable? How can they be turned into a pleasant, enjoyable space? Art seemed an ideal way to detract from the hospital environment. Rachel Even explains:

“We wanted to take the art out of the museum and picture gallery context. “When we first started organising happenings with sick children, we noticed it had an immensely positive impact on their well-being.”

Rachel Even and her artists began by using “traditional” tools such as paintbrushes for original artworks such as paintings and frescoes. But they soon adopted digital tools in 2010 when they decided to create, model and change healthcare spaces as part of a project called “Fenêtre Sur Chambre”. The idea was to create a sort of virtual window to a world specially designed for children, enabling them to interact and create their own digital artworks. Thus, the children don’t just look at the artworks, they make their own.

 

A tool to personalise the hospital room

So how does it work? In order to get the patients directly involved, Art Dans La Cité set up a prototype of an interactive digital art device, Illumin’Art, the result of an extraordinary collaboration between various digital players. Designed jointly by an engineer, designers and artists, such as Santiago Torres, a Venezuelan living in Paris, the device features a motion sensor, a joystick, a computer and a video-projector.

The tool centralises the various functions so that the patient can create a digital work of art based on a scenario thought up by the artist. Using a video projector and a software program designed especially for the project, the patient can, with just a few movements, edit and even create an artwork that is projected directly onto the wall of his/her room. The result is spectacular. Gone are the spotless hospital walls:  Rachel Even allows the patients to redecorate their room as they choose. Fun and interactive, the device is deal for children and elderly patients alike, thus replacing the more passive occupation of watching television, often favoured by the elderly. Illumin’Art is an immersive, engaging experience that focuses on action.

The hospital staff need to be on board

However appealing the concept is, it’s difficult implementing it in such structurally rigid organisations as hospitals. In order to sell such an innovative project, Rachel Even had to convince the hospitals of its educational value. The first things she and her association did then was to demonstrate the advantages of art for improving patients’ well-being. And in order to do so, what better way than to test it:

“The hospital staff who initially expressed reservations immediately changed their mind and were won over by the interactive aspect of digital technology.”

Once they experimented with it, the hospital staff became aware of the advantages of the device and of digital art:

“Once they had tried it, they realised that it helped children escape and even forget about their illness or the machines they were hooked up to. They saw that it provided an amazing sensory experience – which is important when you’re stuck in a hospital bed.”

Once they tried it, they were convinced:

“There’s a real demand from patients who’s already experienced Art Dans La Cité, but for the project to come about, the hospital needs to be actively involved.”

The future of the revolution?

Using a single console, Art dans la Cité is revolutionising hospitals, with benefits that go far beyond treatment methods. But there remains the issue of how to finance it:

“That’s the real crux of the matter,” says Rachel Even.

Since its inception, Art Dans La Cité has always relied on funding from private companies and patronage. Rachel Even would now like the hospital to contribute to funding the projects:

“The hospital needs to be actively involved. Hospitals today are becoming increasingly digital, that’s part of the revolution, and everyone has to take part. Hospitals have to join the “digital for all” movement.”

The Illumin’Art device will soon be on sale, and Art dans la Cité already has plans to develop it internationally and revolutionise hospital rooms all over the world!

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