Museum brings care for the dying to life

10 December 2010
Leading commentators launched an exclusive performance at the British Museum to raise awareness of death and dying, with a discussion on the arts in end of life care.

Baroness Julia Neuberger joined a panel discussion chaired by Sir John Tusa, with dementia and end of life care experts, for the launch of Let’s Talk About It, at St Thomas’ Hospital last month (25 November). The innovative arts project from the Modernisation Initiative End of Life Care Programme, has been developed with arts charity Rosetta Life and people in Lambeth and Southwark. It puts the patient voice at the heart of live performance, raising awareness about death, dying and exceptional end of life care. The project reflects work by the Dying Matters Coalition and its members to help people find ways to talk about these important issues with those closest to them.

Dr Jayne Chidgey-Clark, Director of the Modernisation Initiative End of Life Care Programme said: “To achieve a ‘good death’ we need to be able to talk about end of life. The creative arts can inspire and instil the confidence to talk about these issues and support service improvements. We wanted to launch the project with a discussion involving health and social care leaders, where they could hear more about the impact of the arts, for patients, carers and staff.”

The exclusive performance at the British Museum, (November 27) was staged to coincide with major new exhibition Journey through the afterlife: ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. Patients, carers and care home residents, including people with dementia, appeared alongside professional actors, while live music, song and dance, was used to recreate their stories.

The content for the performance was collected during workshops run by Rosetta Life. The charity is made up of artists who have spent more than a decade finding ways to enable people who are living at the end of life to perform with the support of professional actors and theatre practitioners. During the workshops, people were invited to share stories and with their consent, some were scripted into short performances by the National Theatre Studio. Musicians and actors joined rehearsals, which relatives and care home staff were also invited to attend.

The final performance opened in the Great Court at the British Museum, where the actors introduced themselves as guides and welcomed the audience. The cast moved into surrounding galleries before finishing in the Asia Gallery, where they waltzed past cases of East Asian artefacts.

One carer who took part in the performance with her husband said: “I never imagined my family would be coming to see me perform at the British Museum as part of an exhibition on the afterlife. I have loved having the chance to talk about my life, performing stories with actors and thinking about what end of life care, death and dying means to me and other people.”

A film of the performance is being developed for a training pack, with advice on using the creative arts to support high quality end of life care. The Modernisation Initiative End of Life Care Programme is committed to improving services in Lambeth and Southwark so more people have a ‘good death’. For details visit www.gsttcharity.org.uk/projects/eolc.html  

Journey through the afterlife: ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, supported by BP, is at the British Museum, London, WC1, until 6 March, for details visit www.britishmuseum.org

More information
Jessica Mangold, Communications and Engagement Manager, 020 7188 7888 ext 51727 or email Jessica.mangold@gstt.nhs.uk

Photographs by benedictjohnson.com  

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