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As the National Health Service celebrates its 70th birthday on 5th July 2018, at Arts for Health in Milton Keynes, we explore the story of our own NHS hospital through our diverse art collection.

The new town of Milton Keynes celebrated its 50th birthday in 2017, but had to wait a long time for its own hospital.

Local artists played a central role in the campaign 'Milton Keynes is Dying for a Hospital' in the 1970s. They created what became iconic protest sculptures – such as a giant question mark placed on the empty building site and a much larger than life Florence Nightingale puppet – an early sign that art was always going to be at the heart of the hospital when it arrived. When the hospital was finally opened in 1984, a group of artists had the vision to form the Voluntary Hospital Arts Committee, which later became the charity Arts for Health.

Milton Keynes University Hospital

Milton Keynes University Hospital

Milton Keynes University Hospital is now home to the largest permanent public art collection in Milton Keynes, consisting of nearly 400 artworks. The collection ranges from paintings, prints and drawings to sculptural pieces, photography and commissioned works, which are on public display in the corridors, waiting rooms, courtyards and wards.

The architecture of the hospital reflects the original ethos of the new town, in that no building should be taller than the tallest tree, and with great value placed on green spaces and natural light. This means our hospital is full of courtyard gardens. Four of the courtyards are looked after by Arts for Health, and feature engaging sculptures within creative garden designs.

Over the past 70 years since the creation of the NHS, and the 34 years since the birth of our hospital, evidence has built to prove that artwork on display can and does have a positive impact on the health and well-being of patients, visitors and staff in healthcare settings. The collection is looked after with this in mind, and careful thought is given to what artworks are placed where.

As well as improving the clinical environment, many of the artworks in the collection link the hospital to the local community by telling stories about the birth and development of the new town. Some pieces were commissioned to mark special anniversaries of the hospital. Other artworks were donated by artists or individuals to thank the NHS for caring for their family.

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve

Diana Winkfield (b.1945)

Diana Winkfield’s painting Adam and Eve uses the imagery of the biblical creation story to mirror the creation of the new town. Diana lived in Milton Keynes before the town was even built and remembers the excitement surrounding the building work – with the countryside turning into sparkling grids of new roads and houses.

Fast Lines

Fast Lines 1982

Stephen Gregory (b.1951)

The painting Fast Lines by early Milton Keynes artist-in-residence Stephen Gregory shows the central station being constructed in the 1970s, even as trains raced through.

Symphony No.6 by Dmitri Shostakovitch

Symphony No.6 by Dmitri Shostakovitch

Aubrey Williams (1926–1990)

The Aubrey Williams painting Symphony No.6 by Dmitri Shostakovitch was donated by Lord Jock Campbell, Chair of Milton Keynes Development Corporation from 1967 to 1983, as a thank you to the hospital for the care his wife received.

Sculpture is also well represented in the collection, and the hospital is lucky to have work by well-known sculptors including Jon Buck, Anthony Abrahams and Peter Randall-Page. Monumental Family by Jon Buck is a particularly well-loved sculpture which has watched over many changes at the hospital – it was originally sited outside the old Main Entrance which is now the new A&E. More recent additions to the varied collection include the 'PaperCare' series by Stacey Allan, commissioned to celebrate the hospital’s 30th anniversary. Stacey used intricate paper cutting and illustration to depict the uniforms and roles of the NHS hospital staff. The latest commission was for the Mental Health Assessment Room in A&E. Artist Kelly Briggs ran creative workshops for adults living with mental health challenges to ensure that her final design for the room gave them the safe, calm space that was needed.

The entrance to Milton Keynes University Hospital

The entrance to Milton Keynes University Hospital

The hospital also hosts temporary exhibitions from many different artists and local groups, ensuring that there is always something new to see for staff and regular visitors.

As a collection, we are lucky to reach a wide audience, many of whom may not usually visit art galleries. Last year Heritage Lottery Funding allowed Arts for Health to focus on researching and sharing the collection, and now staff, patients and visitors can explore the artwork through art trails, an app and volunteer-led tours. The art trail can be enjoyed on a staff lunch break, used as a distraction from the pain and stress of treatment, or simply give visitors something stimulating to do as they wait for family and friends.

Arts for Health – Milton Keynes and Art UK invited hospital staff and their families to get involved

Arts for Health – Milton Keynes and Art UK invited hospital staff and their families to get involved

The diverse art collection at Milton Keynes University Hospital continues to grow, reach new people, mark new milestones and share new stories. This year, Arts for Health is celebrating the NHS’s 70th birthday by working with Art UK to offer free creative workshops to hospital staff and their families, inspired by artworks in the collection.

Sarah Hunt, Project Manager of the ‘Look Around You’ Heritage Lottery Funded project for Arts for Health – Milton Keynes