We spoke to Tammi Bello about the power of art, the importance of diversity and the over 200 years’ worth of art in the hospitals’ collection 

Here at Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals Charity we are constantly looking for ways to improve a patient’s visit to hospital. This can involve providing equipment, from scanners to TVs, or funding innovation. However, one slightly more unusual project we have supported is an audit of the over 1,000 pieces of art in Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals.

Curator Tammi Bello has been hired to conduct the audit. In her work she is assisted by volunteer and former patient Ian Harrison, and is partly funded by the Patients’ Fund; as art is one of the small things that can make a big difference to a stay in the hospitals. We sat down with Tammi to find out more about this audit and the art that is displayed around the hospitals.

“There are some high-profile names in the collection,” Tammi said. “We've got works by Grayson Perry and we've got work by John Opie. There are loads of really brilliant high profile works.” 

She explained that there is art all over both hospitals, if you look for it. “It’s everywhere. All over the walls in the diagnostic centre. If you walk into the main entrance and you look at the pillars, you'll see artworks there. You'll see artworks throughout the staircases. There’s art pretty much everywhere around the hospitals,” Tammi said. “A lot of it is paintings and sculpture, but there are other types of artworks as well. There's quite a bit of photography,” she added.

There are many aspects of this audit, Tammi said. It is partly to establish what is in the collection and who the artists who made these works are. The audit also involves asking how staff and patients receive the artwork and looking at how the art is interpreted. This is all aimed at improving the experience for patients. Tammi explained the difference art can make:

What artworks do for patients is disrupt a very clinical environment. It makes the hospital feel a more comfortable place to be in and it relieves anxiety, because you can look at an artwork rather than think about what you have to do in the hospital.

There are also benefits for staff. Tammi said: “A lot of the time staff are inside the hospital for long periods of time. We have a lot of botanical artworks, a lot of artworks of nature, and these bring the outside into the hospital and give you glimpses into the outside.”

The collection spans more than 200 years of art history and each piece is helping in a different way. Tammi mentioned a piece called Votive in the chapel at Royal Brompton Hospital, which helps with meditation and prayer, as a key part of the collection. Older pieces include the Read Bequest, the private art collection of Cordelia Read who left her estate to Royal Brompton. These paintings include the work of John Opie and now hang in the board room.

Tammi said: “The Read Bequest contains some really important artworks from the 18th and 19th century that were painted by women. They're rare artworks that we’re lucky to have.”

Tammi explained that the audit involves looking at the condition of the art, to see where restoration is needed, but also making sure the collection is diverse and inclusive.

We want to make the collection as beautiful and as accessible as possible, so we want it to be something that everyone can see themselves in. We want it to be something that really stands the test of time and says something about the hospitals.

Tammi stressed the importance of having a diverse art collection. “There are all types of people that walk into the hospital, so it's really important that they can see themselves on the walls. One of the main benefits of the collection is obviously making people feel comfortable and happy in the hospital, and disrupting that clinical environment, and if they can see themselves in the artworks they're more likely to feel that way.”

The audit is also looking at the information provided alongside the artwork that helps with the viewer’s interpretation of the art. Tammi said:

“You go to a gallery or a museum, you'll see a little wall text, and it's called interpretation. It'll have the size, the artist’s name, the artwork’s name, and usually an around 50 word description of the artwork. The process of writing it involves doing research on the artwork and the time period it was made. We’re always trying to keep up to date with what other arts organizations are doing so that our collection can be seen in the best light.”

The audit is an on going project and is working to improve the experience of patients and staff in the hospitals. The funding the Charity put towards Tammi’s work is part of our efforts to make the hospitals better for patients. This work goes beyond helping with medical procedures and involves looking at every aspect of a visit to the hospitals to see how it can be made better.

To support projects that make a big difference to a patient’s visit to the hospitals, like Tammi Bello’s work, then donate to our Patients’ Fund.