Image shown: Pop Up Picnic visits a family home in Kildare in 2017 with performer Niamh Lawlor and musician Thomas Johnston. Photo credit: Brian Cregan.

Helium Arts’ Pop Up Picnic is a multi-sensory performance experience created for families with young children who have complex needs. Developed in 2016 in partnership with the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation, the project supports families in absorbing creative and play skills to be used in everyday life in the home, providing parents with new ways of bonding with their very young child using sound, light, music, movement, smell and touch.

The performances are tailored for each child by performer Niamh Lawlor, musician Thomas Johnston and director Joanna Williams. In 2017, Helium Arts brought the Pop Up Picnic on tour to four families in Kildare who took part in the research and development phase and to new families in Tipperary.

Mags Naughton, Liaison Nurse with Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation, introduced families in Tipperary to the home-based project: ‘Both children and parents alike were captivated and entertained by the multi-sensory performance, which seemed to resonate with, and engage children with complex needs. I loved the pared-back performance using musical instruments, singing and puppetry, sprinkled with fun and laughter which have given families precious memories and diverted them from the daily grind of caring for a sick child in the home.’ 

The Pop Up Picnic was seen by families as a chance for them to participate in a fun experience as a whole family, which one expressed as being a ‘rare’ experience when living with illness, and that the performance provided ‘new ways to entertain’ their child and new ways for the child’s siblings to interact and play together. Parents enjoyed learning how to use the different senses for stimulation and saw the performance as ‘a welcome break’ from medical routines. Other parents were surprised at how easy the multi-sensory techniques were: ‘simple ideas to try at home’.

Symposium: Spring 2018
Helium Arts in partnership with Kildare Arts Service will host a symposium in spring 2018 for artists and healthcare professionals based on the outcomes and learning of the Pop Up Picnic. The symposium will include a workshop for artists exploring how they can engage multiple senses when developing early years work. Details will be added to the Helium website ( in early spring.

Further information on the project can be found here:

A short film of the project with families in Kildare can be viewed here:

The Pop Up Picnic in Kildare was co-produced with Kildare County Council Arts and Wellbeing Programme & Arts Service. The project was approved by Government with support from the Dormant Accounts Fund. The Pop Up Picnic was further supported by the Arts Council, the JP McManus Charitable Foundation, Allianz Ireland, The Ireland Funds, Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Civil Service Credit Union. Helium Arts’ Pop Up Picnic in Tipperary was supported by the Arts Council and The Tony Ryan Fund.


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