Sep 1, 2019 | ArtSpeak, News

As General Manager of Hummingbird House, and a Director on the Board for Metro Arts, it is my privilege to talk about the relationship I have developed over the years with Metro Arts and Jo Thomas. Jo and I met through The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust – we are fellow Fellows! Jo’s work, life experience and skills are a world away from mine and I greatly admire the creativity, passion and spontaneity of Jo and the entire MA team.

Around 7 years ago, I and Associate Professor Sarah Winch had a cunning plan. We wanted to do ‘something’ arts-based to increase death literacy within the community. We are both very passionate about living and dying well. It was then that I invited Jo to have dinner and chat about this slightly off-centre idea. Jo embraced it and wrote copious notes with a pink-feathered pen into the world’s smallest notepad. From this, Deathfest was born. This was followed by its sibling Deathfest 2.0: A duel with death in 2018. I’d also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Jo on the success of Deathfest. She has curated two festivals which contain challenging, fascinating and beautiful programs dealing with one of the most difficult of subjects.

2016 was a busy year for me. Not only did I witness the creation of Deathfest, I also took on the role of General Manager for Hummingbird House. Hummingbird House, Queensland’s only children’s hospice is a joint initiative of Wesley Mission Queensland and Hummingbird House Foundation. We specialise in caring for children who are likely to die within hours, days, weeks, months, or years. We support families who live with and love a child with a life-limiting condition. Hummingbird House is a place where kids can be kids, families can reconnect, and precious memories can be made. Hummingbird House is a place where parents and carers can be just mum or dad; not their child’s nurse, doctor, pharmacist, or physio. Just mum or dad. It’s a place filled with moments. It’s a place where moments become memories.

Jo has stood beside me as Hummingbird House developed, and was always interested and appreciating what we do. It was a natural next step for her to see the creative opportunities. Her work with We Live Here shows the extraordinary depth of her talent. We Live Here is an important milestone for us at HH, Metro Arts and Flipside Circus. Flipside Circus is dedicated to pushing youth arts and circus arts practice. Circus is multi-modal and thrives on collaboration, experimentation, and risk taking; the perfect vehicle to engage and empower young artists and to blur the lines between participation, collaboration, creation, and presentation.

We Live Here is about sharing stories and moments. Flipside Circus were invited into Hummingbird House and entrusted with stories from guests, families, the community, and staff. Making We Live Here was a collaborative process with young artists from Flipside Circus’ performance troupe and professional artists working together to find ways to translate some of these stories and moments onto the stage.

We Live Here started through a conversation of how the arts could contribute to the great work done at the House, and perhaps how peer to peer (child to child) training could reach children at end of life or their siblings. Flipside Circus were the natural choice to collaborate with in this way. The show honours the families, the staff and of course the children but it has been the process that has offered so much more to all of us involved. I am grateful to everyone who took a leap of faith and agreed to work on this project. There have been tears but also much joy.

This 3 way collaboration between us all has meant that HH has been able to stay true to its heart as that of a community health care facility specialising in caring for children who are likely to die within hours, days, weeks, or years; Metro Arts has stepped bravely into the realm of not just palliative care, but children’s palliative care; and Flipside Circus has taken our lives, our memories and the work we have done and turned it into something beautiful. By bringing circus into a children’s hospice, We Live Here shines a light on what we do and shows that HH is not a place where kids go to die, rather it is a place where kids can be kids, families can reconnect and precious memories can be made. Jo was the initiator of this work.

Robert Kronk, Dramaturg and collaborator and Executive Producer of Flipside Circus; Natano Fa’anana and Bridget Boyle, Directors and collaborators; performers: Mia Hughes, Amy Stuart, Skip Walker-Milne, Luke Whitefield, and Indra Garvey; and all the Metro Arts team have created We Live Here.

In developing this work, Robert, Natano, and Bridget have listened with their ears and their hearts to what Hummingbird House does. They stepped gently and respectfully into Hummingbird House and the lives of families who use our service. This has meant what they have created has an authenticity and a reverence that I, as General Manager, could not have dreamed of. Thank you for showing courage to stand beside and with families whose child is at end of life, for engaging warmly with children who have a life-limiting illness and bringing joy into how they live. For truly seeing that they are living. I for one am deeply grateful.

Dr Fiona Hawthorne
September 2019

Interested in seeing We Live Here? Book tickets to see it as part of Brisbane Festival HERE


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