Pernilla Gallagher

“Artists are our real healthcare professionals”

Art and artists are vital for our health. While doctors and nurses fight to keep us alive, art practitioners are our true healthcare professionals. They don’t know how to operate ventilators, but they are our breath of fresh air when we feel empty, confused, disconnected or just bored out of our senses. They make our hearts pound faster and our thoughts travel in new circuits. In the midst of chaos, they give us perspective and help us see things more clearly. They hold space for us and fill it with unimaginable beauty. And not only do they nurture our souls but inspire us to use our voices and move our bodies, often in new and empowering ways. In a fast paced world of uncertainty they also help ground us and connect us with our own history.  I know this to be true because I work in both fields.

My name is Pernilla and I’m a paediatric nurse and a writer. I believe my purpose in life is to touch and listen to the people I care for and to stay present, focused and calm whatever happens, but when my own life gets rough, I turn to music and art to make sense of what I feel, charge my batteries and regain a sense of peace. Writing portraits and stories has always been a big part of my life and for the past two years I have been interviewing the community artists from Exchanges For All, but also many of the children they have worked for.

My motivation for doing this comes from seeing the growth in the many of the teenagers that had the chance to experience the power of Exchanges. This made me wonder what we school nurses, counsellors and teachers could learn from these artists and the process that happens in Exchanges for All. 

I soon learnt that Exchanges for All is indeed an organisation made up of extraordinary artists, but they are all people like us. They all went to school and they all had their own challenges and vulnerabilities…the only difference being that they did not seem to lose touch with that part of their teenage self. Every year these artists connect with hundreds of new teenagers…many with whom they stay in touch with and become role models for, for many, many years to come and they are all driven by a strong wish to empower kids and strengthen their voices. 

This drive makes these artists not just highly trained and experienced in their own art. Many of them have also spent decades connecting with and empowering teenagers. They listen to them and give their undivided attention and maybe most importantly; they see them not just for who they are but also for who they could be…what they dream to be…and they offer these young people a safe space where they feel brave and adventurous while having fun and exploring new sides of themselves. This ability, I believe, is another form of art, and just like most arts it can seem almost easy when you look at it from the outside. We can watch dancers or someone playing the piano and it looks like their bodies and hands are flying through the air, it appears to be almost effortless. But most of us still recognize the many years of dedication, training, discipline and grit behind this flawless flow. This unique combination of the genuine love and respect for art and the young people they work with is what makes these exchanges life changing experiences which make these young people from all across Europe return home and say “this was the best week of my life”.  But that’s not all they say. Over the years I can’t count the number of times that I’ve heard kids, artists and teachers sigh and say that when they arrive back it’s impossible to tell others about what really happened at the exchange. “If you have not been to an exchange, there’s no way you’d understand,” they say. “It’s kind of like magic. No one gets it”.  So these portraits and stories are my way of trying to share this magic with everyone who has never been, to show all that happens. And it turns out, no matter how magical these exchanges may seem, it’s really no hocus pocus…but instead evidence-based practises brought to these progressive schools by highly educated, skilled and experienced art practitioners. Enjoy!

Photography: Pernila Gallagher

Facts about Pernilla Gallagher

I have a Master of Medical Science and a Postgraduate Diploma in Specialist Paediatric Nursing from the University of Umeå, Sweden and have also spent ten years working as a writer, reporter and researcher, mostly in Swedish Televisions, TV4, SVT and ZTV but also as a local reporter in a small town in the Canadian Rockies. Today I spend my time working as a School Nurse in Sweden, a Neonatal Intensive care Nurse in Oslo as well as studying Photography and Podcasting at the University of Gothenburg. I’m a part of the Arttrain Communication Team and the Host And Content Editor of the Arttrain Podcast.   

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