Case Study: Hospitalfield

Hospitalfield's Radical Care project was a residency that was open to contemporary artists who are full-time carers living in Scotland.


Situated just to the south of the rural coastal town of Arbroath, Hospitalfield is an artists’ house; a place of ideas combining the conventions of the museum and the academy and interpreting these models for this moment in time. It has an international reputation in the visual arts for artist development programmes through residencies and commissioning.

Its residencies give time and space to artists to develop new work at a pivotal time in the development of their careers. The Radical Care residency took place during a period of capital development which included the studios and accommodation at Hospitalfield.

The Radical Care project

The residency was open to contemporary artists who are full-time carers living in Scotland. They were invited to take part in a Hospitalfield residency that was tailored to their needs. The residency was designed to be up to 21 days split into shorter visits (depending on the artist’s requirements) over a period July 2022 to March 2023. Carers were defined as people that look after someone who cannot manage on their own without help because of being frail, having an illness or disability; it was identified that there are many different kinds of caring roles and people being cared for can be any age.

The residency was for practicing artists working in visual arts, dance, literature, music or theatre. The residency included a fee, travel costs and funds towards respite care. The residency programme was developed with Anna McLauchlan who also acted as a mentor. Anna negotiated an informal flexible residency at Hospitalfield in 2021 to meet her requirements as a carer. Hospitalfield was supported by Angus Carers Network particularly in the development stage.

It was expected that the programme would be designed collaboratively with the selected artists to tailor a programme to support their development of practice. Peer support between the selected artists was one of the intended elements of the residency with the outcome that the artists would share learning which would extend beyond the timescale of the residency. There were intended learning outcomes for Hospitalfield about how to financially support artists with caring responsibilities including the provision of respite care.

The open call out was initially for two artists. Owing to an underspend in specific budgets, there was additional resource which allowed a third residency to be supported. The residency was advertised through carers networks including Angus Carers Network which increased the number of applications particularly from people living in Angus and Tayside.

Twenty-five expressions of interest were received where applicants submitted a CV, images of work, and outline of how their caring responsibilities impacted their day-to-day practice. Five people were invited to submit a proposal and each was offered a £60 access bursary to enable them to make their submission. The proposal was for the artistic work that the practitioners would develop while in residence, an outline for how they proposed to structure their time in terms of coming to Hospitalfield and an indication of whether they receive other funds or respite from the Council/Government to support their care work. The proposals were assessed by a panel which included a Hospitalfield representative, Anna McLauchlan and Angus Carers. The selection criteria were:

  • quality of practice
  • timing for the individual (applicants who were unable to participate in the 2-4 week residencies that Hospitalfield normally offers were prioritised)
  • impact on their practice (this was a key factor in the assessment)
  • geographic location.

Impact of care and disability prior to Radical Care

Each of the participants described how their practice had been impacted by their caring responsibilities. One participant described this as ‘cutting and pasting’ their practice around their caring role. Participants described periods when it was impossible to practice and having to change and refocus their practice to what was possible.

They described opportunities that they had to turn down and how their practice could be ‘squeezed and narrowed’ by their experience. They also described how being a carer can be isolating and that they can ‘feel that you are outside the conversations’. Participants also reflected on how their care responsibilities had led to an erosion of their identity and their practice had become more limited.

Residencies were not feasible as a result of care responsibilities. This included not being able to plan ahead and anticipate care requirements and being unable to leave the cared for person overnight. This relates to a lack of appropriate care provision and the anxiety involved in leaving the person cared for. The normal residency model of an extensive period of time away would not be possible.

While there remained some concerns about the logistics of the residency, the way the residency was advertised appealed to the participants and communicated that it would be possible for them to participate within their caring responsibilities:

“My god this is tailored for me – in the best possible way it could be – it was possible for me to do it!

“I was looking for something that would fit into my circumstances and – this is it! It really is it!

Impact of Radical Care

There were immediate impacts in terms of practice. The factors were:

  • Having the space to create work
  • Being given permission to create work that did not need to be commercially viable

"It was a really good opportunity for me to reconnect with that – play around – see what works – adapt and change

There were also longer-term impacts in terms of skills development which could start to be put into practice. The work that was done by one artist at the residency informed a funding application and can now continue to the next stage of producing outputs.

There was a purposeful focus on the legacy of the residency in terms of practice. The participants reported looking at their routines and approaches to start to develop new ways of working that could be taken forward beyond the residency.

“People can be having what is a difficult time in their lives – my orientation now is to think about what we can do that will make things work better at this moment – not to take away the problems but to make things work better. …There are ways to make changes so it doesn’t have to overwhelm you

This included identifying the aspects which were challenging (such as having time for deep thought and sustained concentration) and allocating those to time at Hospitalfield and using time between the residency days to progress work materially at home.

“I realised I could make at home around the children – as long as the research and design are done my hands are like a factory – so I could use my home time as part of the residency. Without the residency I would not be able to see this at all – it came to me from the experience.

Hospitalfield identifies that the longer-term impact of sustained practice cannot yet be identified and plans to follow up with the participants next year to explore this further.

The participants talked about how the benefits related both to their artistic practice and their identity as a carer. Conversations with Anna as a mentor explored the idea of self-care and identifying changes to make practice more sustainable. Despite the participants identifying the challenges and the impact on their practice it was important to them not to present care as a burden. The residency allowed the participants to consider their dual identities and explore these:

“It allowed me to find my identify as an artist again but also recognise my identity as a carer – feel so much more confident

“Some people externally might think I am a part time carer and part time artist but no I am a full time carer and full time artist.

What made a positive difference?

The flexibility in the design of the residency made a positive difference and made it possible for the participants.

  • One participant was not able to stay overnight and wanted to do their residency in 28 shorter days. The fact that Hospitalfield was local to them made this possible
  • Two participants arranged their residency at points when their partner was available to meet their care requirements. For one this meant accessing Hospitalfield at weekends and for the other their partner (self-employed) was paid from the access budget to deliver the care that the artist would normally do. This meant the residency was planned around this schedule.

Participants all identified that the level of flexibility offered make the residency achievable. They acknowledged how accommodating Hospitalfield was when plans had to change at short notice.

The fact that a fee was provided was important. The care budget was a factor for one participant who was able to use this to replace the household income lost by their partner taking time off to provide care. One participant used the access budget for the additional travel that was involved in accessing familial care – this relates to a lack of formal care being available.

Having access to a group of peers was important. The artist who visited for 28 days was able to interact with other artists who were on residency including attending dinners. They appreciated being able to share practice and get feedback and reaction to their work. This helped build the habit of thinking about and framing their work. It was perceived that this can be helpful to articulate practice in future applications. Forging the relationship with Hospitalfield and peers was described as being “part of something that I can then build on so [the residency] doesn’t stand in isolation”.

One downside of not engaging in the typical residency model was that there was not a continuous community. One of the residents talked about joining into a formed community which was nearing the end of the residency and that this was overwhelming.

In addition to talking about practice with peers there was discussion between the Radical Care participants about a shared experience as artists who are also carers. One participant talked about this being cathartic and special. They had not had these discussions prior to the residency. This had been a purposeful aspect of the project to bring the residents together to form a peer group and share experiences.

The model was different to a typical residency with gaps in between periods working at Hospitalfield. This was felt to be a positive structure that allowed people to research, apply and reflect. One participant identified an evolution in their work which was different to their previous residency experience.

What learnings are there for Hospitalfield and others considering this model?

Despite the acknowledged flexibility and support provided by Hospitalfield participants remained concerned that they would not be able to make the residency work for them. This included a lack of access to care, a reliance on familial support and the inability to confidently plan for the future when you care for a disabled person.

Situations can change at short notice for carers which mean that people may want to visit sooner (because care becomes available) or cancel at short notice (when carers are not available or there is a change in the health of the person cared for).

One of the participants had a significant change in their care circumstances which meant that the plan that had been agreed for their residency changed. Supporting this change was an aspect of the flexibility that was integral to the model. Anna McLauchlan talked about the experience of change as a carer and how working with change can be positive:

“It requires you to radically rethink your approach to doing things – you are here and we are here as an organisation – how can we make things work for both of us. Sometimes doing things a little differently is not more onerous…It can be an opportunity – when things don’t work out – they can work better. That might not work out – there can be a whole other richness. See where the chaos takes you rather than try and control it too tight and let it debilitate you. It’s about figuring it out on an individual basis.

This requires considerable flexibility for the organisation. For Hospitalfield there was a recognition that through working with commissioned artists on short residencies as well as its activity through its trading arm (catering and running events, running a café) means it has an operational model which supports flexibility.

There is a lack of specialist or trusted reliable care provision which means that despite having a care budget available this was not always utilised as people relied on family members to provide care. If this familial care was not available the budget would not have been sufficient to cover the costs of specialist care – which was were estimated at £550 for an overnight carer. Depending on familial support creates a barrier for people without a supporting network. Both disabled adults and children requiring care may not feel comfortable engaging with new and temporary carers and this would add to the stress for the participants in leaving the person they provide care for.

Some applicants identified that they would not be able to claim money because they would impact their ability to claim carer’s allowance. Angus Carers Network was able to provide up to date advice and anticipate what the issues might be. The range of circumstances of the participants identifies how individualised care can be and this has a significant impact on creating a standardised model.

Hospitalfield chose to monitor the care budget to identify how it was spent in order to learn for the future. The budget was specifically for caregiving but could be reallocated to support care (for example in extra travel) where appropriate. It was identified as an honest and transparent conversation about using the budget effectively.

Many people do not identify as being carers (despite often providing full time care) – this can be true of parents of disabled children where care is part of their role as parent; it can also be the case for people providing care for adults where the identification of the care relationship has an impact on the person receiving care. Naming the residency as a specific care-givers residency can make it more complex to publicise the selected artists and provide ongoing information about the residency. More sensitivity is required in this than a typical residency.

Hospitalfield’s open call residencies are not designed around outcomes which result in exhibitions or events at Hospitalfield and are instead about offering artists time and space to develop their practice. Participants identified the importance of documenting their work and some would have liked to share their work. Hospitalfield was undertaking a capital programme during the residency which impacted on the space available including the original studios not being available for some of the time.

The model of the residency was different to a typical residency. This was part of the learning for Hospitalfield in supporting artists to develop their practice in this different model where the periods at Hospitalfield are shorter but the length of the residency is longer. Hospitalfield identifies the benefits for project development and evolution (of both skills and ideas), it is a model that Hospitalfield is familiar with from its commissioning projects.

One disbenefit of the flexible residency model is that there is not the same development of community within a shared space nor the same transformative aspect of the residency from full immersion over a longer period of time. Community is identified as important by the participants and they identified the benefits they gained from this.

Hospitalfield reflects that the community was wider than the intended three Radical Care residents and included other development groups on site, the staff team at Hospitalfield and the Radical Care mentor. Hospitalfield reflects that the model doesn’t necessarily allow for community as easily as other residency models and that it could in future find more ways of coordinating ways for the flexible residents to be in communication, especially where there is shared experience.

The residency took more staff time than a conventional residency. There were several reasons for this, some of the residencies took place over a longer period of time which meant a different programme of supported development than a typical residency. There was a strong commitment from Hospitalfield which made team members inclined to go the extra mile to support the programme. This meant being more available and more accommodating than might be typical.

This partly reflects the fact that carers have very limited time and therefore conversations are more likely to happen based around their availability than Hospitalfield’s. Knowing the lack of other appropriate residencies made it more important that the residency was a success for the participants.

Having a mentor (Anna McLauchlan) as part of the team made a difference to the conversations. Hospitalfield reflects that residency can be a vulnerable space with artists’ lives coming into the conversation. With experience of being an artist and carer Anna could engage with the participants about the intersection of their care and practice. Anna was also independent from Hospitalfield so was not the institutional voice which opened up a different space.

The application process had an emotional impact on the panel. The application specifically asked for information about people’s care relationship to understand the historic impact on their practice, how the residency might look and how that would work for Hospitalfield. Having the window into the challenges that applicants’ experience in developing their practice heightened the always hard task of selecting and turning down artists.

“We were asking artists to open up about their lives and we were able to see – its really humbling and very clear to see the barriers people have to professional life – to be an artist was clearly unviable at times

It was also harder to make comparisons of stage and progress than a typical selection process for people whose practice have been impacted by care – e.g. an older artist who has been providing care for 35 years. Hospitalfield considers it important that this information was included as part of the application to enable it to learn as an organisation, however going forward it may be more focused in the questions to minimise the emotional impact for both the applicant and panel.

Participants talked about the care provided at Hospitalfield. This was more than the flexibility to accommodate needs; it was described as being ‘parental’. This included cooking meals, listening and giving advice and proactive checking in. While being very flexible itself within the project, Hospitalfield reports that they were met with flexibility and generosity from participants which had a positive reciprocal impact.

Thinking about the sustainability of the residency, Hospitalfield are interested in continuing with the flexible residency model, it is likely that the scope of the residency would be expanded to support people who experience other barriers to residency including disability.