Image shown: Recipients of 2020 bursary: Sylvia Cullen

Image shown: Recipients of 2020 bursary: Sylvia Cullen

The 2020 bursary award was offered to artists working in arts and health contexts to reflect on their practice. The bursary, funded by the HSE and the Arts Council, was open to individual professional artists working in any artform within the field of arts and health in the Republic of Ireland.

We are delighted to announce the recipients of this year’s bursary: visual artist Emma Finucane, dance artist Helga Deasy and writer Sylvia Cullen. The artists will share learning arising from the bursary with the wider arts and health community via in early 2021.

Emma Finucane

Featured image: Illuminating Childbirth, cross-disciplinary research project with UCD School of Nursing and Midwifery and Domino Midwifes.

Emma Finucane has been researching and making work in visual art and health contexts for 10 years. Her work is created through dialogue, process-based, participatory and collaborative practice. She is interested in the way we connect and communicate with places and each other which has informed her recent residencies in the UCD School of Nursing and Midwifery (2015) and Usher’s Island (2019), a community day centre for service users of the National Forensic Mental Health Service.

Emma’s enquiry and reflections will focus on her latest project with St. Louise’s Unit in CHI Crumlin, a collaboration with CHI Arts in Health. St. Louise’s Unit is due to move to a new building in late 2020. The project, now on hold because of Covid-19 restrictions, originally aimed to collectively mark the transition from one space (Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin) to another (Tallaght Hospital) by co-creating a visual art work with teen service users. Emma now finds herself working in ways that are new to her arts and health practice, connecting online with the staff of St. Louise’s to investigate what it means to exist in an unexpected space working remotely, a move before ‘the move’: ‘This is still a time of transition and an opportunity for staff to make their mark. It is also an opportunity to record the moment we find ourselves in.’

Emma is using the online environment to offer staff the opportunity to develop a new language to come together and reflect on their practice. This includes one-to-one engagement responding to online conversations with a prescription of curated references to visual art, literature and practical demos, and suggestions of how to start making work around certain themes. Emma also sends ideas and materials by post and hosts a weekly group meeting to reflect on the group’s individual progress. In developing new methodologies to work with staff, she will consider her role as an artist in this context as well as critically reflecting on this work in the context of her practice to date. Her reflective methods will include text, visual representation and a collation of process work.

Helga Deasy  

Image shown: Fuse Arts & Health Programme at Ballyphehane Day Care Centre. Photo credit: Clare Keogh.
Featured image: Helga Deasy and participants of the Fuse Arts & Health Programme led by MusicAlive. Photo credit: Clare Keogh.

Helga Deasy is a dance artist and choreographer. Since completing a PgDip in Community Dance (Trinity Laban) and specialist training in facilitating creative movement work in dementia and end of life care settings with Rosetta Life (2010/2012), Helga has led projects and workshops in a range of healthcare settings including day care centres, nursing homes and hospitals. Her arts and health projects include a one-year residency with Marymount University Hospital and Hospice and ‘Creative Enquiry – Arts and Older People’ (Arts Council’s Invitation to Collaboration Scheme) with MusicAlive.

Helga works with movement as a medium of expression, communication and connection. She focuses on awakening sensory awareness and creating a communicative space where meeting and exchange takes place through the moving body. She aims to provide a platform for people to express themselves and be recognized for who they are. Her person-centred approach encourages creative dialogue and exchange, playfulness and spontaneity, and supports participants in finding personal movement responses. Meeting people where they are in the here and now and facilitating meaningful, creative engagement is at the heart of her practice.

Helga will reflect on and examine how her model for an empowering dance practice (which she originally researched for her MA in Creative Practice in 2012) specifically applies to her experience of working as a dancer in hospitals and care homes: What does it take for a dance practice to have the potential to empower and transform peoples’ lives in the context of healthcare settings? What are the factors and conditions that support an empowering dance practice in healthcare settings and how can these be achieved (from the artist’s perspective and organisational/structural perspective)?

The belief that the arts are empowering is prevalent and lies at the heart of Helga’s passion for working as a dancer in healthcare settings. However, she considers it a necessity to critically examine this claim. She does not believe that the arts are empowering per se but that it takes a critical and continuous questioning of one’s practice to ensure that artists live up to this claim. Her period of reflection will focus on this critical enquiry.

Sylvia Cullen

Featured image: Climbing Mountains in Our Minds, a collection of poetry, prose and photographs about life in St. Senan’s Hospital. 

Sylvia Cullen is a writer. The main focus of her arts and health practice has been facilitating a 14-year creative writing residency (2006-2019) at Killagoley Training & Activation Centre (KTAC) in Enniscorthy, attached to the former psychiatric hospital, St Senan’s. Participants came from Wexford Mental Health Adult Services and were part of the Arts Ability programme, funded by the HSE, the Arts Council and Wexford County Council.

The creative writing residency took place during extraordinary changes in the mental health system including the closure of the hospital. Sylvia was able to develop her artistic relationship with participants over many years leading to a deeper and more innovative level of engagement. Guided by a participant-led ethos, she facilitated bespoke projects in collaboration with nursing staff. Outcomes have included publications, a newspaper series, flash fiction, a CD, exhibitions and public readings.

Sylvia has not yet had the opportunity to undertake a substantial examination of her process and outcomes. In particular, she is keen to explore two challenging aspects of her practice: publications and public readings. She will focus on the poetry collection As Ever by poet John Yates, a once reticent participant of Sylvia’s workshops when she first met him in 2006, and the publications From the Hill of the Wild Berries, an anthology of new writing, and Climbing Mountains in Our Minds, published to coincide with the closure of St Senan’s Hospital.

Sylvia will also reflect on her experience of guiding a number of beginner writers, who were nervous at the prospect of reading in public. These writers held their nerve, despite mental health challenges, and supported one another in reading their work in a variety of public and private settings: the day centre, Wexford Opera House, local radio, conferences, barracks,  castles and museums. Poems from Beyond the Red Brick (exhibition curated by Catherine Marshall) and Crocodile Sky (exhibition curated by Dominic Thorpe) will be Sylvia’s focus here.

Sylvia views this bursary as an opportunity to relay the untold story of how creativity has flourished in the shadow of the old asylum, despite the pressures of mental illness.


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