"...the life blood of what we do--the arts that we bring to Barts Health--propels me to visit artists’ studio as well as meetings with potential cultural partners. Vital Art tends to work on more than 20 projects at a time, so each day yields a different roster of tasks..."
What have you been doing today?
A recap would go something like this: Arrive at Bloomberg at 8:30 for launch by Sadiq Khan and Nicolas Serota of the new Culture Land Trust initiative, which intends to secure studio space in London (good news for those of us working with culture in London). After launch, walk up to Barts (St. Bartholomew's Hospital) to meet up with cartoonist Tom Gauld for the unveiling of his new commission for Vital Arts in the Cystic Fibrosis Unit. I give short presentation about Tom’s installation to Trustees of The Rahere Association, who funded the project, as well as staff – and get the “thumbs up” from several patients who have been living with the work for a few weeks. (Coincidentally Tom’s latest cover the New Yorker Magazine came out on the Monday).
Quick site visits to other areas of Barts where clinical staff have requested new projects from Vital Arts. Walk to office in Aldgate where I clip through various tasks—e.g. Write statement about the Gauld commission for Communications Department; Look at galley proofs for a chapter I wrote for upcoming book on Art in Hospitals; Research possible artists for upcoming commission opportunities across the Trust; Catch up with my trusted colleague, Jessica Shiel, who helps me keep Vital Arts afloat; Work on a grant application for a project at our Whipps Cross Hospital; Meet architect of new refurb unit at our Newham Hospital to look at plans/elevations to identify areas for site-specific commission, as well as select colours for flooring, doors, IPS panels; Look over curatorial proposals for a major new hospital in Birmingham where I have been asked to serve on the Arts Steering Committee; Finish powerpoint for a session with QMUL Medical Students to help them develop critical reflection about art and culture; Begin work on a lecture about Arts and Health for Architecture Department at Portsmouth University; Meet with procurement colleagues about selecting furniture for a refurb building at the Royal London to ensure the interior design harmonises with the artwork that Vital Arts is commissioning for the space; Discuss re-locating and upgrading Vital Arts storage and workshop with Estates colleagues; Head for home.
Is that a typical day for you?
No; I skipped my usual routine of doing emails from 6:30–8:30 am to clear the decks for the day ahead. Also there are days when I don't get into the office because I have lots of external meetings. These are often with clinical staff who have requested art projects, so I move between our hospitals. I work with staff to gain insight into how an art project could support their clinical goals, and, when appropriate, spend time with (or observing) patients themselves, to get a sense of how they are using spaces and better gauge how a Vital Arts project could improve their hospital experience.
And of course the life blood of what we do--the arts that we bring to Barts Health--propels me to visit artists’ studio as well as meetings with potential cultural partners. Vital Art tends to work on more than 20 projects at a time, so each day yields a different roster of tasks. Driven by my "to-do" list , I do a lot of chasing--follow up emails and phone calls. Passionate about raising the standard of Arts and Health, I readily serve on various Advisory Boards (e.g. Maggie's Art Group; Creative Healthcare Hub) or selection panels, juries, etc so these also have me dashing around a bit.
When did you start working with culture, health and wellbeing, and how?
With Culture, I started in the 1980s when I was a university student in NYC and began working in some of the museums, galleries and non-profit organisations in what was, then, the centre of the contemporary art world. With Culture, Health and Wellbeing, as a single field, I started in 2009 when I joined Vital Arts for a six month maternity cover.…and a decade later, I’m still there.
What was the last project you came across that inspired you?
The Nauman show at the Modern in NYC. For more than half a century Bruce Nauman has offered viewers playful ways to explore fundamental questions around existence, language, meaning, phenomenology. Nauman’s practice, like another artist I admire, Victor Burgin, continues to grow and move into the future, remaining relevant over the decades, and inspirational to younger artists. Their work encourages me to keep on the look out for those artists emerging today whose intelligent, thoughtful work could make a huge difference within a hospital context.
Catsou Roberts is Director of Arts and Health (Vital Arts) at Barts Health NHS Trust, which includes five east London hospitals. Since joining in 2009, she has commissioned many permanent, site-specific projects including works by Hurvin Anderson, Roger Hiorns, Richard Wentworth, Cornelia Baltes, Amalia Pica, Tom Gauld, among many others. (www.vitalarts.org.uk). She advocates widely for raising the standard of art in hospitals--and public art in general--frequently writing and lecturing on the topic. Roberts serves on the Art Advisory Group for Maggie’s Cancer Care Centres, the Advisory Board for the AHRC-funded Creative Economy Healthcare Hub, Dementia Connect, as well as the Tate Exchange Think Tank. In 2015, she was Guest Curator for L'Été photographique, the city-wide art festival in Lectoure, France and was Senior Curator at Arnolfini from 1999-2004. Previously she curated several freelance exhibitions in Denmark, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Canada, Sweden, and the USA. Roberts was a Helena Rubinstein Fellow in Museum Studies at the Whitney Independent Study Program, and later attended the Ecole du Magasin Curating Programme in Grenoble, France. She earned a degree in Art History at Barnard College, Columbia University, before undertaking graduate work in the History and Theory of Modern and Contemporary Art at State University of New York, Stony Brook. She has written extensively about art and often acts as a visiting lecturer and conference speaker. A long standing member of AICA (Association Internationale des Critiques d'Arts) and IKT (International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art), Roberts has lived and worked in the USA, France, Germany and Japan as well as the UK.