Saolta Arts’ A Bird at my Window and Other Stories. Shadow play using Sarah Fuller and Manuela Corbari’s shadow box theatre. Photo credit: Tom Flanagan.

What is Arts and Health?

Arts and Health operates from the principle that the arts are integral to health and healthcare provision and that everybody, regardless of their health status, should have access to the arts.

Arts and Health is founded on a principle of equal partnership between the arts and health sectors. It embraces a range of arts practices occurring primarily in healthcare settings, which bring together the skills and priorities of both arts and health professionals. It is characterised by clear artistic vision, goals and outcomes that seek to enhance individual and community health and wellbeing. Improving quality of life and cultural access in healthcare settings is at the heart of arts and health work.

The framework for Arts and Health practice in Ireland is guided by the Arts Council’s Arts and Health Policy and Strategy (2010).

Musical Memories, a Kids Classics programme in nursing homes and care settings.

Musical Memories, a Kids Classics programme in nursing homes and care settings.

Where does it happen?

Arts and Health takes place across the spectrum of physical and mental healthcare. The range of healthcare settings includes but is not limited to hospitals, residential units, day care centres, primary care centres, hospices and community health settings.

Who is it for?

Arts and Health can engage health service users of all ages and abilities, their carers, visitors, healthcare staff and local communities.


Arts and Health is not limited to any artform. It can include visual art, theatre, literature, music, dance, opera, film, circus, spectacle and architecture. It can involve a multidisciplinary approach, bringing together different artforms.


Arts and Health incorporates different approaches:

  • Arts participation: an artist collaborates with individuals or groups within a health or social care setting in the creation of work e.g. artist residencies, participatory music sessions, one-to-one artmaking by the bedside etc.
  • Environmental enhancement e.g. exhibitions, public art commissions
  • Receptive arts engagement e.g. performances, concerts, screenings

Initiatives can range from once-off events to long-term programmes.

SCRUBS Workplace Choir at Cork University Hospital, performing at the National Concert Hall

SCRUBS Workplace Choir at Cork University Hospital, performing at the National Concert Hall

Arts and Health is not Arts Therapy 

Arts and health practice in Ireland refers to non-clinical arts initiatives led by professional artists.

There is a clear distinction between arts and health practice, where a key goal is the experience and production of art, and the arts therapies, where the primary goal is clinical. (Arts Council, Arts and Health Policy and Strategy)

Arts therapists work creatively with people using a recovery-focused approach to achieve specific clinical outcomes and require specialised training for this express purpose: “A client very often comes to art therapy because of a specific issue or concern which is subsequently addressed in the session, using the art making as a tool to address the concern.” (John McHarg, Art Therapist, Working on the Edge)

Arts and health practice is delivered by artists who bring their own arts practice to an encounter or setting. Participants are invited to explore their own creativity and self-expression, not to address a specific issue or concern. The artist is not a therapist, the participants are not clients and the artistic processes are not a mechanism to achieve specific health, behavioural or rehabilitative outcomes. The act of creating and expressing free of clinical expectations is at the heart of arts and health work.

If you are working or interested in the field of arts therapy, please contact the Irish Association of Creative Art Therapists for further information.

Arts and Disability

Arts and Health practice in Ireland is distinguished from Arts and Disability: Arts and Health incorporates both artistic and health aims, whereas arts and disability is focused exclusively on the engagement and involvement of people with disabilities. (Arts Council, Arts and Health Policy and Strategy)

Disability can refer to physical, intellectual or sensory impairments. Padraig Naughton, the Director of Arts and Disability Ireland, argues that there is a perception of disability as being primarily a health issue which has led to confusion with arts and health work. The focus of arts and disability ‘is about removing barriers to people with disabilities around participation in or experience of the arts.’ (Naughton, Why arts and health should not be confused with arts and disability)

Arts & Disability Ireland supports artists with disabilities, provides access services to the arts for audiences with disabilities, and supports arts and culture organisations to adopt an inclusive approach to audience development.

The extent to which an arts initiative involving people with disabilities can be considered arts and health practice depends on whether it is positioned within a health context, involves a partnership approach with health professionals and has wellbeing objectives as part of its remit.

Informed by Arts Council Policy, arts and health can cross over with a number of arts practices such as community-based arts; arts and medical humanities; and arts and science. In addition, an individual artist may choose to explore health themes or content in their work. The degree to which these practices are described as arts and health will depend on the extent to which they incorporate the characteristics described above in ‘What is arts and health?’


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