RED NOSES International founders Monica Culen, CEO, and Giora Seeliger, Artistic Director, stand next to each other in colourful outfits.

25 years RED NOSES – how everything started

12.November 2019

Monica Culen, CEO, and Giora Seeliger, Artistic Director, founded RED NOSES in 1994 in Vienna.

Both of them were fascinated by the article they read about Michael Christensen in the “Life Magazine”. He was the very first one to visit, as a clown, a hospital in New York at the beginning of the 90s.

As a child Monica Culen spent months in the hospital and even in a sanatorium for lung diseases, closed up without parents, care providers or friends. She experienced that long time there as being very scary and lonely. Together with the clownery expert and acting teacher Giora Seeliger, who knew the strength and vitality of humour due to his many years of stage experience all over Europe, they decided to found a healthcare clown organisation in Austria. Finding suitable artists in Austria for clown performances was extremely difficult at that time. Nevertheless, in November 1994, 6 professionally trained RED NOSES clowns entered a hospital for the first time. The first visits at the bedside of sick children in Vienna, Austria laid the foundation for a humorous "revolution" in the healthcare system.

"The doctors and the nursing staff were very sceptical at that time and feared that we would turn the daily routine of the hospital upside down," says Monica Culen, referring to the beginnings. "We had to be very diplomatic and convincing, but we also had to roll up our sleeves and ask for donations everywhere, because the finances were always tight."

"Today we are accepted and even involved in difficult treatments, because we can create a positive atmosphere. The medical staff and the families give feedback and say that the clowns reduce stress and anxiety during treatments, not only for the sick children, but also for the medical staff and the care providers, because all of them had a good laugh, "says Giora Seeliger, who is responsible for the high artistic quality of RED NOSES clowns.

Nowadays, it has become common practice that a paediatric ward also gets regular visits from clowns.

 

Giora Seeliger is teaching on stage at the Healthcare Clowning International Meeting Vienna 2018

What RED NOSES does in the field

Today, the RED NOSES Group is the largest internationally operating healthcare clown organisation worldwide with a professional training programme under a common brand. After the start in Austria, the following RED NOSES organisations in Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia, Poland, Palestine and Lithuania have been very successfully established as well. It all started with six clowns in Austria in 1994. Today, about 400 clowns visit regularly 700 medical and social institutions in 10 countries. More than 6.5 million people have been reached during approximately 150,000 visits by the clowndoctors since RED NOSES has been founded.

Children

The clown visits have an important impact on the psychosocial wellbeing and the recovery process of sick children. Professional clowns know how to create a positive and supportive atmosphere in the hospital room, which can uplift the emotional state, promoting the healing process and the acceptance of medical treatments. RED NOSES clowns have become more and more integrated into treatments and therapies that are scary for children. Their presence inspires a calm atmosphere, giving young patients the much needed impetus for self-confidence and courage and diverting the focus away from the medical procedure. Long-term patients (for example in oncology or orthopaedic wards) are mostly reduced to their illnesses. After a RED NOSES clowns intervention, this changes significantly. These interactions bring back their confidence and fill their emotional tank with laughter and playfulness. RED NOSES also visit multiple disabled children and youth, offering a special musical theatre programme. The young patients are involved gently in the performance. The beautiful songs and the colourful requisites, designed carefully for their special needs, give them the opportunity to express their feelings at their own pace and in their own way. Thus, their disability fades into the background.

The Elderly

RED NOSES senior programmes aim at contributing to the development of compassionate, respectful and person-centred care. We recognize the need to provide the highest standards of healthcare and wellbeing at all ages. Demographic changes and an ageing population are great challenges for modern societies. Although the proportion of older persons is constantly growing globally, their rights and the acknowledgement of their needs are often not sufficiently addressed. The goal should not only be to prolong life through scientific advances, but it should also be to secure good quality of life, including participation in and access to arts and cultural activities for the elderly.

People in Crisis

With the Emergency Smile program, RED NOSES can respond to the immense need for psychosocial support in crisis and disaster areas. In close collaboration with other aid organisations, clowns provide sensitive visits and humorous workshops to help children and their families cope with their challenging situation. Laughter is, therefore, perceived as a precious gift for the soul and it sets the scene for a more positive future.

Monica Culen, RED NOSES International founder, stands next to an IOM male staff member.