Westmead ICU goes full circle in artistic team approach

Westmead Hospital ICU nurse Rebeca Soria and director Dr Dani Goh with ‘Beads 1’, one of two geometric-themed mandalas in the refurbished Intensive Care Unit staff room.

The inspiration for great art ultimately comes from within. But the triggers to paint the initial picture seem endless.

Enter the team at Intensive Care Services, Westmead Hospital.

Inspired by mandalas created for the newborn care wards at Blacktown Redevelopment by artist Martha Jabour, Westmead’s team drew on its own creativity.

“We decided the input of our medical and nursing staff would make for a great project,” said director of Intensive Care Services at Westmead Hospital, Dr Dani Goh. “This linked with our thinking around well-being and staff engagement.

“So for three weeks last year we dedicated a room in the unit as a drop-in space for all staff, filled it with art materials and linked it to sessions with our wonderful workplace psychologist Natalie Harman.”

Social worker Christine Vo and staff specialist Dr Ashima Sharma admire the nature-themed `Water’ mandala in the ICU administration area.

This inventive approach resulted in a series of pastel and watercolour swatches, photos and images. Martha then met with staff to workshop these concepts, thus continuing the circle of inspiration.

Dani said two themes emerged: nature (sky/earth/water), and colourful abstract patterns that referenced the diverse cultural backgrounds of staff and the “community we serve”.

“When Martha brought the final range of worked images to us, we loved so many of them we extended the project to other areas of the service,” she said.

So what began in the new Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit (ICU) waiting area now stretches to the ICU ward space, staff tearoom and administration area thanks to six additional commissioned mandala artworks.

The art provides a colourful backdrop to a group chat between ICU team members Pauline Osborne, Karl Valdez and Carolyn Kim in the administration area.

“They bring colour, light, freshness and peace,” Dani said. “We all love them.

“There is even one that looks a little bit like coronavirus that makes us laugh at the moment too.”

Such is the team feedback, which in part describes the artworks as “bringing light in dark times”, a further four pieces are planned to be commissioned by the artist.

Martha was engaged as an artist in residence for the ArtsLab @Connectivity Centre program made possible through the CreateNSW Grant. 

Her works also form part of the Westmead Redevelopment Arts and Culture Strategy, which includes the delivery of artworks for the Central Acute Services Building (CASB) and refurbished spaces in Westmead Hospital.

Westmead Redevelopment director Carla Edwards described the art process adopted by the Intensive Care Services as a triumph of ingenuity and teamwork.

She said patients and carers were also surveyed around theme and colour preferences.

“These works stand as powerful visual symbols of how art supports patients, carers and staff through the health journey,” Carla said.

“What they don’t show is the creativity and abstract thinking behind the pieces – by both the artist and our health staff.”