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New Bethlem Gallery exhibition: Unescorted #5

The Unescorted series of exhibitions has been running annually for 5 years to showcase the talents of patients working within River House medium secure unit at Bethlem Royal Hospital. The art department at River House is very popular among the patient population, it seeks to work with individuals to support and develop their skills and art practice. The exhibition’s title ‘Unescorted’ plays on an official psychiatric term that describes the level of leave given to a patient on section who is nearing the end of their rehabilitation. Here we refer to the freedom that the artwork embodies as a counterpoint to the restrictions experienced by the artists.

At the Bethlem Royal Hospital the role of arts in the therapeutic setting has a long and rich history. Since 1844 when Richard Dadd was admitted the doctors recognised that providing a space for Dadd to continue his work and facilitate his creative interests assisted his well-being and "settled behaviour". It was at Bethlem and Broadmoor where he produced some of his most noted works, for example the Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke, now owned by Tate Britain.

These days, in the 21st Century, the emphasis is on hope and recovery for patients. By equipping people with skills for the future and nurturing their talents, we can help people to reclaim their lives and transform perceptions of themselves and their potential. Every person who uses the facilities has a different set of needs, interests and strengths. The important part of the process starts when you get to know the individual and begin to build a mutual relationship of trust and respect. The role of arts staff is to consistently nurture confidence in the individual. By fostering a supportive, playful environment people can feel a freedom of mind and take on new challenges.

Carlos Card Small

"You have to play it by ear" says River House Art Coordinator Josip Lizatovic, "an experienced facilitator, teacher or pedagogue has a wealth of knowledge so that they can consider the work that people are doing, how it could be applied, and make technical or conceptual suggestions to help to fulfill it's potential if that is what’s required. But for others who are more independently driven you are simply providing the space for people to make."

Josip feels "it is important to measure the quality of time spent by the individual. Joy elevates people and helps them to cope with what they are going through. Creative time can provide an outlet for expression, focus, play and freedom that acts as a valuable counterpoint for the restrictions of the hospital environment. The brain needs that."

Many of the artists in this exhibition are fresh from their success at this year’s Koestler Awards where patients from Bethlem Royal Hospital have won awards in the bronze, silver, gold and platinum categories. The Koestler Trust is a charity encouraging prisoners to lead more positive lives by participating and achieving in the arts. They have been exhibiting art by offenders, secure patients and detainees for the past 50 years. Currently on show at the Royal Festival Hall is their annual exhibition where you can view more work by some of the artists in this show. The Koestler Trust believes in the recuperative power of creativity and state.

“The arts are an especially effective way of engaging with offenders who feel alienated from mainstream education and employment, and there is growing evidence that the arts are effective in changing offenders’ lives.” (www.koestlertrust.org.uk)

Opening 6th November, 3-6pm

Exhibition continues 7th-22nd November, Wednesday - Friday, 11am-6pm