Melanie Wotton, Hearth Gallery Coordinator at the time of the exchange, shares her experience as a delegate of the British Council’s UK-Italy 2020 season trip to Rome. 

In February this year, the British Council selected The Hearth Gallery, University Hospital Llandough, to be part of the British Delegation to Rome as part of the UK – Italy 2020 Season. The delegation of representatives from the Museums and Contemporary Arts Sector in the UK included The British Library, The John Soane’s Museum, Hayward Gallery Touring, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, Manchester Museum, The Lowry and New Contemporaries, to name a few, and I was delighted with the opportunity to be able to meet them all alongside G39 Cardiff as representatives from Wales. The aim of the delegation was to build new cultural connections and relationships with Italian and British partners for the UK/Italy 2020 Season, with a strong focus on creativity, inclusion, innovation, and a new beginning or ‘new renaissance’ for the arts and wellbeing.

The British Council, who were a joy to work with, and obvious experts at organising and facilitating cultural networking, arranged two spectacular official events, the first at Villa Wolkonski, the beautiful British Ambassador’s Residence in Rome, and the second at Palazzo Massimo, hosted by the Italian Ministry of Culture. Ahead of our visit, the British Council circulated each organisations’ profile presentation to our Italian partners, to maximise the opportunity to make meaningful connections, and introductions and meetings were set up in advance.

My aims:

  • Explore a rich cultural exchange with artists, artists groups and collectives, artists and groups who are already working within arts in health, or groups with a focus on wellbeing and health and wellbeing projects.
  • Learn about Italian arts projects which might focus on cohesive communities, working with schools, colleges and younger people, working with memory, identity, heritage and sense of place, sustainability and the environment, global concerns, societies and culture and the vulnerable within our communities, to highlight a few.
  • Meet individuals or organisations which have been involved in arts projects within hospitals, within the community, and the environment with a view to sharing our experiences, learning and collaborating on future projects.
  • Present the Hearth Gallery as a unique space to exhibit existing work from our Italian partners in all media, genre and theme, and also as a creative space for the creation of new projects, participatory workshops and exhibition.
  • Discover a partner gallery in Italy which might be receptive to a cross-sharing of work from our network of artists and collaborators from Wales
  • Build relationships with other members of the UK delegation



  • Gamelli Hospital
  • San Lorenzo area community Graffiti artists
  • Museo Storico Nazionale dell’ Arte Sanitaria
  • Ospedale di Santo Spirito
  • Individual Artist’s studios
  • British Council delegation at Villa Wolkonsky, British Ambassador’s Residence
  • Palazzo Massimo delegation with the Italian Ministry of Culture

Rome’s largest Hospital, Gamelli Hospital is situated on the hill of Monte Mario, is the second largest hospital in Italy and one of the largest private hospitals in Europe. A number of small scale arts-in-health projects are dotted around this vast site including an impressive Caravaggian wall mural by a graffiti artist recreating The Seven Acts of Mercy. In 2015 in collaboration with Medicinema Italy Onlus, the hospital created a 130 seat cinema for patients and their families, the first hospital in Italy to set aside dedicated space for ‘cinematherapy’. Italian company, Ospedali Dipinti, has created extraordinary full room murals for various hospitals in Italy including Gamelli Polytechnic of Rome, painting Villa Adriana in scanning rooms and the oncology unit. The emphasis appeared to be in creating relaxing, immersive, engaging and distracting environments.

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Villa Wolkonsky, British Ambassador’s Residence:

A networking event hosted by The British Ambassador to Italy, Gill Morris CMG, and the British Council with Italian Arts Organisations, Artists Studios, Italian Arts Projects, British School at Rome and other British representatives in Rome and the British Delegation from the Museums and Contemporary Arts Sector.

Palazzo Massimo Presentations and Discussion:

A welcome address was given by Dott.ssa Binacchi, Director of International Relations, MiBAC, Ministry of Culture, Italy.

Jean Cameron discussed the need to refresh our relationships and reimagine how we are going to work with our partners across Europe considering the possible forthcoming changes in other suspects of the economy.

Presentations by Dott.ssa Galloni, Head of Contemporary Art Department, Italian Ministry of Culture and Emma Dexter, Director of Visual Arts, British Council, enabled comparisons between UK and the Italian arts sector:

In the UK as a general picture, community arts projects and exhibitions in smaller grass-roots galleries inform the larger organisations through an informal network of artists and independent galleries and projects. The description of our community arts model by Emma Dexter, for example, of artists and community groups utilising old buildings and unique spaces, setting up creative sessions in schools and churches for the community – film nights, dance, art groups which provide social interaction, involvement of artists, artist-led projects which energise communities, is relevant to Wales’ arts community.

A similar development of community arts in Italy was shared, for example, the use of schools as creative spaces or community centres was also described, but generally it is the well established artists rather than grassroots projects which are supported by the Italian Arts Council.

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It was exciting to hear these large and influential organisations expressing a desire for openness and inclusivity and the need to engage at a grassroots level through the creative arts, giving as many people as possible, from all walks of life opportunities to engage with the arts. This has been imbedded within the strategy of the health board for a number of years, and we are proud of our initiatives in CAVUHB and those across Wales. However, a social model of wellbeing and arts-in health through the increasing work of health boards and third sector organisations was not represented in this UK model, and this is increasingly an important sector in Wales.

Kathryn Simpson presented interesting information with regard to projects in the UK looking at longstanding, complex economic relationships with other areas of the world. A focus on decolonising the Museum, diasporic communities created as a result of trade, industry and empire, and art projects in collaboration with migrant communities, all of which are an interesting subject for our heritage projects across Wales.

CAVUHB is particularly interested in projects which increase community cohesion, foster strong, relationships, and add to the richness of our society, culture and heritage.

The Hearth Gallery opened in September 2015, and is unique in being the first purpose-built contemporary art gallery in Wales to be sited within the heart of a clinical setting. Our original aim of a gallery that was open to all, inclusive and accessible, chimed completely with the delegations’ emphasis on how the arts and sciences can enable social cohesion leading to greater cultural diversity, inclusion and wellbeing. It was an opportunity both to seek out meaningful contacts with potential future partners, and to also showcase the pioneering work we have been engaged in to our colleagues and friends on a European, international stage.

The visit was a fantastic learning opportunity and was successful on a number of levels. Several strong possibilities for possible future collaboration were also identified, and many connections and relationships were born.

Melanie Wotton


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