The Barber Institute of Fine Arts is University of Birmingham’s art gallery, principal art collection and original concert hall. It was founded in 1932 “for the study and encouragement of art and music” by Lady Barber. Today it is owned and managed by the Henry Barber Trust and holds more than 160 paintings and 800 works on paper. The Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art, providing support for British museums especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Barber Institute of Fine Arts has posed itself the question of how a museum may contribute to getting through the pandemic and helping society to recover. As so many people are dying of Corona all over the world, some of the major topics of concern are coping with death and grief.
The innovative Barber Health project has four interconnecting strands: a nurse in residence, death and dying community conversations, care-home outreach and a social prescribing pilot.
Central to Barber Health is the innovative nurse-in-residence programme. The project’s inaugural nurse in residence is Jane Nicol, Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham’s School of Nursing and a registered nurse who has specialized in palliative and end-of-life care. Over the next twelve months, Jane will be looking at the Barber’s collection through her unique lens and developing ways of using these major works of art to inform community healthcare and enrich medical training. With the Covid death toll exceeding world-wide, society faces an epidemic of grief, and yet we are ill-equipped to talk about death and dying. The project’s death and dying community conversations will use the Barber’s art collection to facilitate digital and pop-up community conversations and explore creative responses around death, dying and bereavement in collaboration with relevant charities, University Hospitals Birmingham and GP practices across the city and student volunteers from the University of Birmingham’s medical school.
Through outreach to local care homes, Barber Health will also engage with some of the most profoundly affected groups in our communities. Specially designed virtual gallery tours will be delivered to care homes, alongside live-streamed art workshops and Covid-safe tactile boxes for sharing.
The last strand of the project, which will be informed by all the other concurrent elements as well as in-depth sector, academic and community enquiry, is action research to inform a Social Prescribing pilot for 2021. This will investigate how and where the Barber might help fill the gap left by the shrinking of provision previously offered by the hard-hit charitable sector.
Barber Health builds on earlier collaborative work across the university that demonstrated the huge potential inherent in the museum’s academic location. Students from the University of Birmingham’s College of Medical and Dental Sciences will contribute to all the different strands of Barber Health projects through placements and volunteering.