The Artist in Residence Programme at Imperial: Polychromy Plays

Key contacts

Dr Caroline Scott-Lang, Consultant Paediatrician, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust

Kate Pleydell, Imperial Health Charity Arts Team

Louise Shelley, Collaborative Projects Curator, The Showroom

Tina Halton, lead Play Specialist, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Artist


The Artist in Residence programme was a collaboration between Imperial College Healthcare, Imperial Health Charity and The Showroom Arts Studio. 

Over six months in 2018, artist Navine G. Khan-Dossos held workshops with patients in the Grand Union and Great Western wards, the Allergy and Outpatients departments at the St Mary’s Hospital, as well as at The Showroom.  Together, they made a series of collages looking at the relationship between colours, and thought about what colours they would like to see in the hospital’s walls, the ceilings, the doors, and the furniture.

POLYCHROMY PLAYS is a functional colour palette generated from these discussions, collages, and paintings.  It was made by giving the patients agency in their environment, and allowing them to imagine ways to improve the spaces in which they found themselves for short, long, or intermittent stays. They, better than anyone else, know what it is like to spend time in these spaces and should be part of the dialogue about how to improve the way they feel during their treatment.  Colour has an important role to play in this discussion.

The POLYCHROMY PLAYS palette comprises both the colours and names given to each shade. These include a wide range of inspirations, from inside and outside the hospital, feelings, foods, politics, and bodily functions. They are sometimes light and playful and sometimes transgressive and troubling, showing that it is important to involve the light and the dark sides of hospital experience as a more holistic way to consider the reality of the environment. The colours use the NCS reference system so that future designers, architects, and artists working in the hospital can work with the exact shades picked by the patients. 

The finished piece is displayed outside Children’s Outpatients at St Mary’s with a feature wall painted in “Banana” and was available as a limited edition 500 print run on newsprint, designed to be taken away by visitors to the department.

SMART objectives

We aimed to deliver a series of art workshops over a 6 month period, both on and off site, with young people accessing our services, with a celebration to share the finished artwork at the end of the programme.

Progress made: What have you learned from doing this?

There was good engagement from the young people involved in the project with more than 30 collages produced.  They enjoyed the opportunity to work alongside a renowned artist and to create pieces together. 

We also learned that if you ask young people to name colours to expect the unexpected – some (“Urine yellow”, “Trump orange” and “Fly poop”) have raised an eyebrow or two!

Based on the success of this programme, we hope to host another residency in the future.

What’s your take home message?

Art is often utilised in hospital to help distract, relax and entertain young people during their stay, but the finished results are usually transient.  This programme took this a step further, engaging young people who use our services to create a lasting artwork that could potentially shape our environment in the future.  Young people have strong opinions about what our hospital should look like and this helped us to be more creative in how we engage with their feedback.



This project was a collaboration between Imperial Health Charity and The Showroom Arts Studio as part of their Communal Knowledge programme (generously supported by John Lyon’s charity).

Practical resources included art materials but most valuable resource was Navine’s expertise and the energy and enthusiasm of the young people who contributed.




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