Handwell: Diary entry from the Graz learner week

By December 2, 2016 Features No Comments

Erasmus+ Handmade Wellbeing Learner Week

Monday 10 October to Friday 14 October 2016 in Graz, Austria




Day 1 – Sunday 9th October

Tony arrived in his taxi early in the morning to collect Ruth, Mary and I from our homes and we had much to discuss as we headed for Southampton Airport. We arrived in good time to board a flight to Munich, our stopover, where we hopped aboard a speedy Lufthansa flight to Graz. It was almost midnight when we landed, and a taxi ride took us directly to the Hotel Feichtinger where we settled down for some much-needed sleep, anticipating the week ahead of us.



Day 2  Monday 10th October

A nutritious hotel breakfast prepared us for the day ahead. We met up with the Finnish Project Managers Sirpe and Mari and headed off together to meet our Austrian Hosts Kunstlabor and the team from Estonia.

A warm welcome awaited me as I renewed friendships from when our European partners came over to our Exeter based learner week. Good to see them again.

We were taken by car to a Catholic Care Home run by the Caritas Group in a suburb of Graz called St. Peter.  We were welcomed by Director Franz Pechmann and learnt that  the Kunstlabor Team had been running collaborative arts projects here for 10 years. After a guided tour of the building and gardens we enjoyed a hearty three course traditional Austrian lunch, prepared by the home’s cook.

In the early afternoon we settled down at tables in the communal coffee lounge to participate in an art activity with some of the Residents.

We meet Klaus who loves all things American and he was pleased to practice his English with us. The chosen activity was intriguing. A large ball of clay was placed on our table and we are asked to take it in turns to mould the clay with our hands. The only requirement was that we had keep our eyes closed as we worked. We passed it on to our neighbour to continue.

It was universally agreed that Somerset Potter and Ceramicist Mary should start us off. As you can see from the photo Mary worked the clay to excavate a cavern, then passed it on to Klaus to work on. Then it was the turn of Wellington Artist Ruth and finally me.

Once we had all had a turn we were asked to conduct a brainstorming session to name our creation.  This was then grouped together with those from the other tables for a mini exhibition. The local press arrived unexpectedly, which caused a flurry of activity.

We were told that the reason for keeping our eyes closed was to eliminate the distraction of background noise and light, so that the creative process could flow from within.

We returned to the Theater Am Lend where the Kunstlabor team have their HQ. It was time for reflection and to hear about the events planned for the week ahead.

A quiet evening followed for Mary, Ruth and me. We were all looking forward to Tuesday’s planned visit to an Austrian village.


Day 3 – Tuesday 11th October – Kumberg Village

We headed out by car into the beautiful Austrian countryside and arrived at a picture postcard village with snow capping the surrounding mountains.

We received a warm welcome at Betreutes Wohnung Kumberg, a sheltered accommodation facility.  As we introduced ourselves to Residents the Mayor suddenly arrived in full uniform to give us a formal welcome and talk. It is evident how well supported this setting is within its community.

Afterwards we mingled with Residents, introducing ourselves. I had a lovely conversation with Frau Erika who talked about the inspiration for her artwork. The Residents had been consulted about our visit and they decided to set up a display of their craft and art work and to talk to us about what they had made.

I continued my conversation with Frau Erica who is in her 70s. I asked her reasons for choosing this type of assisted living care setting. She told  me that she had been given the option to live with her family as per Austrian tradition but wanted to remain independent.

The topic of ‘generational conflict’ came up a few times during our visit. Things are changing in Austria similar to the UK, with younger family members having less time to care for their parents because of work commitments. Frau Erika said that she has the privacy of her own flat but also enjoys her friendships. The Residents meet regularly for art activities and once a week they cook together.

Manager Heide Kager is the Manager/Activities Coordinator who works closely with the Kunst Labor Artists. She believes that everything is possible in terms of artistic activities. Heide gave us a guided tour of the facility and gardens, designed by the Residents.

Afterwards we headed for lunch at Buschenschrank Ragnitz, which is a traditional farmhouse eating hostelry. At the wooden table I was seated with our partners from Estonia, Finland and Austria and we talked about our visit and the similarities and differences from our home countries.

We headed off for a reflective walk into the hills but our stroll was interrupted by a squally downpour referred to by all as ‘British rain’. This caused much amusement.

We returned to Graz and Ruth, Mary and I spent the afternoon in the modern Kunsthaus Museum soaking in Austrian and International Art.

Later that evening we rejoined the group to watch a film called ‘Heim ist nicht Daheim’. This explored the idea that moving into a care setting is not the same as living in one’s own home. We met the Director Julia Laggner and asked questions about her motivation.

Day 4 – Wednesday 12th October 

Today we set off by modern tram to another suburb of Graz and arrive at Eggenberg. We entered a large building called Seniorenresidenz Eggenberg. Mary and I thought that it had the look of a hospital and we learnt that this was in fact  the case.

The home is on the site of a former hospital and operates on four independent floors. It is privately owned.

We were shown into an artistically decorated activities room. It was like walking into another world. We were greeted by residents who are waiting for us to arrive so that they could start their art class. I found a seat opposite two delightful ladies Frau Josephina and Frau Erika who are the best of friends. We were given a blank linen canvas each and two paint colours, together with rollers and a set of stamps. Frau Josephina grumbled at the lack of colour choice but set to work quickly and efficiently. Frau Regina dabbled but preferred to watch her friend work. She is a good observer.

I asked Frau Josephina how long she had lived at Eggenberg and was completely unprepared for her emotional response. It turns out that a few years earlier she had been seriously ill and hospitalized. She had been expected to die but survived, only to discover that her flat had been sold. After a few moves she ended up in Eggenberg where she has clearly thrived. I admired her resilience and honesty, as demonstrated by her determination to cover the whole white canvas with images, leaving nothing untouched.

We waved goodbye to our new friends and listened to Daniela Leitmayer, Activities Coordinator as she talked about her role and motivation. Daniela works 40 hour a week. She is supported by an army of volunteers from the local library and churches. I asked about DBS checks but these are not required for elderly support.

The Kunstlabor team needed time to prepare for the exhibition launch so we were given a few hours to explore the architectural wonders of the city. It was a sunny, clear day so Ruth, Mary and I ascended in a funicular to the castle with far reaching views over the city of Graz and the hills beyond.


Exhibition Launch – ‘Kunst ist Schokolade fürs Hirn’ – Art is chocolate for the brain

We arrived in plenty of time to enjoy the start of the exhibition, which was taking place in a ‘pop up’ shop in Graz City Centre.

Mary, Ruth and I had been anticipating this as we knew that some of the Residents whom we had met earlier in the week would be there.

We also know that Superact CEO Ali Smith was flying in to join us and we had much to share with her.

As artists, residents and guests started to arrive, Ruth, Mary and I mingled, admiring the artwork and enjoying good conversations.

Ali arrived in time for the opening speeches. A local politician arrived to launch the event and there followed a series of talks by artists and community leaders.

I was astonished at just how many Residents had travelled in from their care homes, especially as it was a cold, dark evening. Many stood during the speeches.

Ali, Ruth, Mary and I spent an enjoyable evening at the exhibition and it has given us all much to think about for our own launch on 22 March 2017.


Day 5 – Thursday 13th October

Conference Multiplier Event

‘Kunst ist Schokolade fürs Hirn’ – Art is chocolate for the brain

We arrived early for the conference day. We gathered together in the Theater am Lend to listen to academics and artists. It was a day of learning to reinforce the impressions from our visits and participation in care home settings.

The conference was in Austrian and English and headphones were provided with simultaneous translation.

The welcome address was given by Birgit Strimitzer-Riedler Ph.D. Head of Styrian Department of Healthcare and Science. Birgit spoke about the County perspective.

The keynote speaker was Kai Lehikoinen PhD, University of the Arts Helsinki. Kai talked about his research into the contribution of art in the social field.

Kunstlabor Graz gave presentations about their work experience in care settings.

We listened to an interesting talk by Daniela Leitmeyer, whom we had met at   Eggenberg Care Home. Daniela spoke about the commonalities between occupational therapy and participatory art projects.

The conference continued with a variety of guest speakers and we listened to local artists explain their motivation for working in the care settings we had visited. It was interesting to hear how their initial fears had evolved into a confident approach to their work. They all agreed that working in care settings as artists had been a live-changing experience.

Key themes from the conference:

  • Is Art capable of anything?
  • What is art capable of in the social field?
  • In what way does continuous cooperation with artists influence work and life in a residential and nursing home?

At the end of the conference we were all asked to join our hosts on the stage and the microphone was handed around so that we could share our reflections.

A thought-provoking day.


Day 6 – Friday 12th October

Our last day sadly, and we met together at the Theater to reflect on the learner week and to work together on the framework document.

It was also time for Ali and I to join the final project meeting of the week.

Time also to plan for our next Learner week which will be in Estonia in early February 2017.

After many emotional goodbyes and promises to keep in touch we climbed aboard a coach and head for Vienna airport to catch a direct flight home to Bristol.

If you would like to find out more about this learner week please get in contact with me.

kunst-ist-schokolade-furs-hirn-webversion-1       white-deer-form-exhibition      window-dispay-from-exhibition



Janine Stedman

Project Leader

Erasmus + Handmade Wellbeing


The Erasmus Plus Handmade Wellbeing Team are delighted to announce that we will be hosting an Exhibition and Conference at Tonedale, Wellington from 22nd to 31st March 2017.

We are working closely with local care settings in Somerset and Devon. For more information about this event and how to get involved please contact Janine Stedman, Project Leader mob: 07966027676