Waterford Healing Arts Trust (WHAT) is established following a proposal by local GP Dr Abdul Bulbulia to introduce the arts into the daily life of University Hospital Waterford. The work of this programme was to evolve into a model for arts and health practice in Ireland and WHAT is now recognised as a national arts and health resource organisation.

The Practice of Arts in Healthcare

Since the late 1990s, the Arts Council of Ireland has sought to advocate the value of the arts within healthcare and to support arts and health practice. In response to a growing number of proposals for arts and health projects, the Arts Council instituted a programme of work including the establishment of a Joint Steering Committee with the former Eastern Health Board in 1998 to examine how policy could be developed and formulated. This committee oversaw and evaluated five pilot arts projects throughout the Eastern Regional Health Authority, the findings of which were published in The Practice of Arts in Healthcare.


The Arts Council commissions a study to map the levels of artistic activity taking place within healthcare settings. Mapping the Arts in Healthcare Contexts in the Republic of Ireland by Ruairi Ó Cuív and Leargas Consulting mapped 150 arts and health projects in existence in Ireland at that time. The research demonstrated that the level of activity was much higher than was generally perceived. The report also acknowledged that Local Authority Arts Officers were active in the field and almost one third of all projects were supported by a Local Authority.


Arts and Health Coordinators Ireland (AHCI), an all-Ireland support network of professionals who manage arts and health initiatives, is formed to build capacity in the sector and raise public awareness of arts and health.

The Arts and Health Handbook is published by the Arts Council, a practical guide for setting up and managing arts projects within health and social care settings in Ireland. The Handbook was officially launched during the Arts Council’s international Arts and Health Conference at Dublin Castle in 2004.


The Picture of Health: A framework for the practice of arts in health settings is published by the Eastern Regional Health Authority Arts Committee, following recommendations from The Practice of Arts in Healthcare report. The framework was designed with the potential to be carried forward by the Health Service Executive (HSE), which came into existence in 2005.

An important development for arts and health in Ireland was the publication of Public Art: Per Cent for Art Scheme, General National Guidelines. The Guidelines provide a common national approach to implementation of the Per Cent for Art Scheme for public bodies delivering capital construction projects. The Scheme has led to significant environmental enhancement commissions in health and social care settings across Ireland and provided scope for artists to engage directly with staff, patients and visitors. In 2020, new limits and bands increased the funding available under the scheme.


An innovative partnership is developed between the HSE Southern Area and Cork 2005 during the celebration of Cork as European Capital of Culture. Thirty-two projects were delivered in diverse community and health settings as part of the Cork 2005 Culture + Health Strand. Subsequently, HSE South established the Cork Arts and Health Programme (CAHP) and appointed an Arts and Health Co-ordinator, the first post of its kind to be created within the HSE.


Age & Opportunity, the national resource organisation promoting greater participation by older people in society, produce Guidelines for Working with Older People in the Arts. The following year, the first Practical Guide for planning and delivering creative activities with older people in residential, day centre and day hospital settings in Ireland, is published by the Health Promotion Department HSE West.


In the mid 1990s, Local Authority Arts Officers began including aspects of arts and health in their programme of work as a means of addressing greater participation in the arts. In 2007, Kildare County Council Arts Service appointed an Arts in Health Specialist, the first and to date, only appointment of its kind in the Republic of Ireland. In some counties such as Sligo and Mayo, this strategic focus led to long-term collaborative initiatives with the HSE and in 2007, Sligo Arts Service was the first Local Authority to publish a participatory arts and health strategy.


WHAT, in partnership with HSE South, commissions the development of best practice guidelines for participatory arts projects in healthcare contexts.

In 2008, The Arts Council appoints a Specialist Adviser on arts and health to assist with the development of an arts and health policy and strategy. This was followed by a period of consultation and research, leading to Vital Signs (2009), a series of strategic events including a conference, exhibition and commissioned opinion pieces.


Waterford Healing Arts Trust (WHAT) opens the first Arts and Health Centre in Ireland at University Hospital Waterford.


The Arts Council’s first Arts and Health Policy and Strategy is published outlining the values that underpin its approach to arts and health practice.


The national website for arts and health is established, providing an online resource for the sector. The Arts Council identified the need for an independent resource to meet the current and evolving needs of practitioners in its Arts and Health Policy and Strategy (2010). The site was jointly developed by Waterford Healing Arts Trust and Create, the national development agency for collaborative arts, with funding from the Arts Council.


Beyond Diagnosis: the transformative potential of the arts in mental health recovery is the first major study of an arts and mental health programme in Ireland. Lydia Sapouna (UCC) evaluated the Arts + Minds Action Research Project, a HSE mental health staff led initiative.

Cultural venues began incorporating arts and health initiatives as part of their programming in the early 2000s. The Arts for Health Partnership Programme in West Cork, managed by Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre and established in 2006, is a leading example, with a year round arts programme for older people in healthcare settings. In 2012, the Azure model was piloted, exploring greater inclusion of people with dementia in museums and galleries in Ireland. Initially a partnership between Age & Opportunity, The Alzheimer Society of Ireland, Butler Gallery, and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Azure has since expanded to include numerous arts venues nationwide.


The HSE and the Arts Council establish a working partnership to explore the potential for a formal framework to support the development of arts and health practice in Ireland. A research team led by Dr Catherine McCabe of Trinity College Dublin is tasked with identifying the extent and nature of the work that is happening, the outcomes of which are published in 2020 in Public Health Panorama, Journal of the WHO Regional Office for Europe.


A group of Arts and Health Co-ordinators from AHCI who work across a range of healthcare settings create a Manifesto for Arts and Health Practice in Ireland ‘embracing the place for imagination and the arts in healthcare.’


49 North Street opens its doors in Skibbereen, the first dedicated creativity and wellbeing hub in Ireland. An initiative of Cork Mental Health Services, the service is founded on an ethos of co-production, delivered in partnership with health professionals, artists, people in recovery and local communities in West Cork.


The first-ever report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the evidence base for arts and health interventions is produced. The report maps the global academic literature, referencing over 900 publications, including 200 reviews covering over 3000 further studies. As such, it is the most comprehensive evidence review of arts and health to date.


A Memorandum of Understanding is signed by Government departments ‘concerning the use of creative programming to deliver national health and wellbeing policies and strategies’ with a programme of work agreed over a two-year period (2021-2022).


The cross-government Healthy Ireland Strategic Action Plan 2021–2025 is launched. For the first time since the implementation of the Healthy Ireland Framework in 2013, the Action Plan includes priority focus areas for arts and culture.

Mapping Arts and Health Activity in Ireland, commissioned by Arts and Health Co-ordinators Ireland (AHCI), measures the level and nature of Arts and Health activity in the Republic of Ireland in 2019. The report reveals a six-fold growth in this field of work over the past 20 twenty years.


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