Art as a human right – by Tim A Shaw

Art as a human right – by Tim A Shaw
23rd August 2022

Art as a human right

"Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits" (Article 27, United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

Hospital Rooms is an arts and mental health charity that commissions contemporary art and leads workshops in NHS mental health hospitals in the UK. I founded the charity with my partner Niamh White and it has been running for 6 years now. Up until now, the work we do has mostly taken place behind the double airlock doors of inpatient mental health units. Many mental health units are unfit for purpose, are cold and sterile and are causing harm to the people who are inpatients within them. Earlier this year, one service user told us ‘I felt as though I was being kept in a holding space until I was safe to leave rather than an environment in which I could heal. I am still treated for PTSD because of this.’ There is an urgent need to bring colour, life and humanity into these buildings, and to give service users the opportunity to express themselves creatively every day if they want to.

Over these past 6 years, we have also shared the stories of our individual projects and our collaborations with artists, mental health service users, carers, staff and families on social media, press, conferences and in exhibitions. More recently we have partnered with organisations and institutions including the Norwich University of the Arts and the World Health Organisation to develop and share our evaluation processes. Opportunities have arisen from the sharing of this work, and excitingly there is now a not-for-profit set up in Lagos run by artist Nengi Omuku, the art consultant Hana Omilani and cultural strategist Ebisan Akisanya that uses our framework, with a project in a mental health unit in the city is already underway, and future projects are lined up in Nigeria and beyond.

A few months ago, we received an email from Neil Wenman who is a partner at Hauser & Wirth and a long-time supporter of the charity, saying that the gallery wanted to partner with Hospital Rooms, to give support, and collaborate on three major exhibitions and fundraisers over the next three years. This significant opportunity has allowed us to create a space where people can come together and share ideas, inform our future work and influence policy change.

Among the major installations, we have commissioned for the exhibition (including works by Harold Offeh and Michelle Williams Gamaker made in collaboration with mental health service users) is one by Mark Titchner, who has made a 15m long mural filling the largest wall in the gallery on Savile Row, ‘Like there is hope and I can dream of another world'. We were lucky enough to have the help of around 30 Colart employees who all spent a day volunteering and helping to paint the mural. The work is inspired by an interview with Julia Foxon, who has lived experience with mental health services, in response to the question “How should an artwork in a mental health hospital make you feel?”. We hope that those visiting the exhibition over the next month will make art with us, explore challenging questions, share ideas and have the freedom to ‘dream of another world’.

Hospital Rooms - Like there is hope and I can dream of another world is on from 19th August - 14th September at Hauser & Wirth, 23 Savile Row, London.

Free entry. For gallery opening times and to sign up for workshops and updates, visit their website:

Hospital Rooms - Like there is hope and I can dream of another world

Tim A Shaw, artist and co-founder of Hospital Rooms

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