Arts for Health MK: Twenty for Twenty

Susan Brown FRPS
The Camel by Chris Campbell

Camel [new] steel rod sculpture; from the Milton Keynes University Hospital Collection. Original artwork dates: 1984.

In the next instalment of our Twenty for Twenty series, we ask a founding member of the hospitals’ voluntary Arts Committee Susan Brown to select an artwork from the Milton Keynes University Hospital Art Collection.

Which work in The Collection have you chosen to talk about?

I would like to reminisce about ‘The Camel’ (past and present) by Chris Campbell situated in one of the many courtyards. The original sculpture, made in wood, was funded by ‘English Partnerships’ when the Hospital first opened in 1984.

When and how did you first see it?

I first saw The Camel when my Husband was appointed as an ENT Surgeon when MK Hospital was opened. The sculpture gave a point of interest and distraction walking round what seemed like endless hospital corridors.

What first interested or attracted you to this artwork?

Sadly one day the head fell off the Camel due to wood rotting. At this time I was a volunteer with MK Arts for Health doing their marketing and fundraising and the first I knew of the Camel’s demise was a telephone message from the local radio station as they had received many calls from distressed members of the general public about vandalism in the Hospital.

I was invited to be interviewed by the radio to explain what had happened and tell them more about MK Arts for Health. The poor Camel was not vandalised, just old age. The outcry made me realise how the general public really did notice and appreciate the artworks that surrounded them in the hospital whether a visitor, patient or member of staff. The interview also gave an opportunity to explain to the vocal critics who considered money being spent on artworks should be used for medical equipment, that funding was not from hospital accounts but from generous benefactors, Arts Council etc. and that art is therapeutic.

I approached MK Partnerships (formerly English Partnerships) to see if they would fund a replacement for the damaged camel, they were supportive. MK Arts for Health then approached Chris Campbell who agreed to make a new sculpture, this time in metal for longevity. When the new sculpture was delivered it arrived with a baby, both are still loved by many today.

Sometimes it takes a catastrophe to illustrate the public’s interaction and appreciation of art in healthcare settings.

Do you remember how seeing this work made you feel?

The new Camel was celebrated with joy and having a young one made it even more endearing, I loved watching the children being lifted to view and see the pleasure on their faces whilst doing art tours of the hospital. This sculpture has certainly become a legendary part of the art collection at MK Hospital.

In general, what kind of impact do you think seeing art at MKUH has on your experience of being on the hospital site?

Art at MKUH has without doubt had a huge impact. People who would never visit an art gallery have been introduced to art in many forms. The artworks chosen are selected carefully to give a feeling of wellbeing, not challenging, but a distraction from pain and suffering. Studies have shown that art, in all its forms including music, performance, paintings and sculpture etc. can lower blood pressure, give a sense of calm, thereby shortening length of stays in hospital.

Contributor: Susan Brown FRPS

Susan and her husband Peter Brown were founding members of a Voluntary Arts Committee when the hospital first opened. Together they were instrumental in evolving it into the organisation Arts for Health MK in 2004. 

Susan, an artist and fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, has kindly donated an artwork, Birch Tree by the Lake (2024) a limited-edition photographic print, to the Milton Keynes University Hospital Art Collection to mark Arts for Health MK's 20th anniversary. 

Arts for Health Milton Keynes
Facilities Directorate
Milton Keynes Hospital
Standing Way
Milton Keynes

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Arts for Health Milton Keynes is the working name of MK Arts for Health charity number 1107625  company number 05137693