barber institute of fine arts
university of birmingham


Barber Health

Barber Health: Our Collection – Your Wellbeing

Major health and art project set for central role at the Barber.

The Barber is hosting its own nurse in residence as part of Barber Health, a pioneering scheme placing health and wellbeing at the heart of our engagement work.

Using the gallery and its collection to address the health and social issues foregrounded by the Covid-19 pandemic, Barber Health will see us roll out a programme of innovative arts activity delivered in, and with, the communities on the museum’s doorstep and with health and wellbeing as the aim and outcome. The ambitious project, supported by a £40,000 Art Fund Respond and Reimagine grant, comprises a nurse in residence, Death and Dying Community Conversations, care-home outreach and a social prescribing pilot.

Our Head of Public Engagement, Jen Ridding, said, “We asked ourselves: what is the role of a gallery in a pandemic? How can we contribute to processes of reconnecting and recovery in our local communities?  Could we use our collection and our engagement programme to address some of the big issues Covid has created and make a positive difference?”

Registered nurse Jane Nicol, senior lecturer in the University’s School of Nursing, this January commences a 12-month residency with the museum. Devoting one day a week to Barber Health, Jane will work with students from the University’s College of Medical and Dental Sciencesintroducing them to using art in a healthcare setting. She will forge partnerships across the health and care disciplines, developing ways of using the Barber’s collection to contribute to community healthcare and enrich medical training

Jane’s residency comes after almost three years’ collaboration with the Barber.  During this time she and Jen devised and delivered nurse-training and public workshops using our collection as a focus for discussion around death and bereavement, and worked with student nurses to audit the gallery’s visitor experience for those affected by dementia.

The project’s Death and Dying Community Conversations will use our collection as a starting point for digital and pop-up community conversations and will explore creative responses, working with charities, University Hospitals Birmingham and GP practices across the city, and student volunteers.

The outreach programme to local care homes will deliver specially designed virtual gallery tours, live-streamed art workshops and Covid-safe tactile sharing boxes

A fourth strand of the project will use research to scope out and develop a social prescribing pilot for 2021. This will investigate how and where the Barber might help fill the gap left by shrinking provision previously offered by the charitable sector, which has been hard hit by Covid.

Our Director, Nicola Kalinsky, said:Barber Health is our major organisational endeavour in response to Covid-19 for the year ahead. It builds on our long-standing commitment to exploring the relevance of our collections for our audiences and using this outstanding resource to bring benefit where we can to communities. This has never, in all my career as a museum professional, been more pressing as a need.”