Arts + Health

Creativity and Change, MTU Crawford College of Art & Design

Catherine Martin, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, opens The Art of Being Healthy and Well Symposium on 22 June 2022.

The Art of Being Healthy and Well: Stephen Donnelly, Minister for Health, and panelists Prof. Rose Anne Kenny, Dr Michael O'Connor, Nathalie Weadick, and Eilísh Hardiman.

Minister Donnelly referenced the World Health Organisation 2019 report on the evidence base for arts and health interventions noting:

‘The holistic nature of these types of artistic and cultural activities fits perfectly with our vision for health and wellbeing. Health is not just about the absence of disease, it is about recognising the importance and interconnectedness of physical, mental and social wellbeing.’

A series of panel discussions moderated by journalist and current affairs presenter, Olivia O’Leary, explored the role of creativity in people’s health.

The first panel, The case for improving health through arts and creativity, reflected on the evidence base, how it can underpin policy, and emerging trends nationally and internationally, with contributors Alexandra Coulter (Director, National Centre for Creative Health UK), Tom James (Head of Healthy Ireland, Department of Health) and Tania Banotti (Director, Creative Ireland Programme).

The second panel, Integrating medicine with arts and creativity, focused on hospital settings with perspectives from Professor Rose Anne Kenny (Chair of Medical Gerontology Trinity College Dublin and Director of MISA), Dr Michael O’Connor (National Clinical Advisor and Group Lead Acute Operations, HSE), Nathalie Weadick (Director, Irish Architecture Foundation), and Eilísh Hardiman (CEO, Children’s Health Ireland).

The Art of Being Healthy and Well: Olivia O'Leary, Maureen Kennelly, Justine Foster, Yvonne O’Neill

The third panel, Arts and creativity as a strategy for community wellbeing, explored the community setting perspective with Maureen Kennelly (Director, Arts Council), Justine Foster (Programme Manager, Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre) and Yvonne O’Neill (National Director of Community Operations, HSE).

Two videos showcasing storytelling in the paediatrics ward of University Hospital Waterford, led by Waterford Healing Arts Trust, and the Musicians on Call programme with residents of St Camillus Nursing Home in Limerick, led by Kids Classics, provided examples of the types of creative engagement that support the delivery of acute and community healthcare in Ireland.

Paul Reid, Chief Executive Officer of the HSE said:

‘I am delighted to see the ongoing and new arts and health projects being showcased today that are being delivered across the health service. Health service staff, attending both in person and virtually, will benefit from today’s event, building their knowledge in this area and creating more opportunities and awareness as we continue to utilise creative arts to benefit the wellbeing of service users and staff.’

Maureen Kennelly, Director, Arts Council said:

‘As the range of projects and discussion highlights, engagement and participation in the arts can make a significant contribution to our health and wellbeing. The Arts Council also sees the opportunities that this area of work presents for the many artists and arts organisations working in the area of Arts & Health, and values the important contribution of health sector colleagues, health service users, carers, friends and volunteers to the development and vibrancy of the arts in Ireland. We are committed to working with our colleagues at a national level to support the strategic development of this area into the future.’

Arts Council logo

A mind map, with apologies to Jeremy Deller.

Shuttling and weaving resources and imagination
I’ve had some time to look back at my recent career thanks to the Reflection Bursary Award 2021. There is a chronological order to it. There is also a wider feeling of interconnectivity. Particularly the impact of working relationships. It has not been a linear journey, but a nebulous shuttling and weaving of networks, resources and imagination. I’m sharing what this might look and feel like with an illustrated map. I’ll try and speak a bit about this too. Being able to think about this has been a valuable exercise for me.

Doubt and cynicism as a motivator
I often doubt the inherent value we put on art, specifically in non-gallery health-related contexts. This cynicism provokes me and motivates me to continue to make work in health settings or with communities united by a shared trauma or health experience. Arts in health settings can be misperceived by healthcare staff as art therapy and in the field of arts as a soft space, an easy-out for art, whose primary purpose is ameliorative. Indeed many arts and health programmes emphasise wellbeing and this is something that is of tremendous value. My primary concern is with artistic quality, criticality, and authenticity to a context. I do my best to produce challenging and critically relevant work using socially engaged working methods, in response to sensitive and complex settings.

Reputational economy
Sheelagh Broderick* introduced me to the term “reputational economy”. We speculate with reputation. Reputation, imagination, and substance help us secure opportunities and belief in our ability to handle and deliver projects. The challenge comes in maintaining an upward trajectory and continuing to push and deliver on your work. Other people are essential to the success of projects we take on. Success is a funny word, especially in art where measuring this can have so many parameters for so many people.

*Sheelagh Broderick is an artist, writer, researcher and health worker.

Any “success” within the projects in this chart are contingent on project participants and collaborators, the support of project partners, advocates, and each work’s champion. Each project has a champion. Someone who knows the terrain of the setting you’re working in and is truly invested in having you work there. They take risks to facilitate your artistic endeavours in novel ways and contexts. They, as Carolann Courtney* (one of my champions) told me, say yes to good ideas and hold the door open for them. These champions in turn are essential in advocating for my practice in the search for new opportunities and funding.

*Carolann Courtney worked as the arts, health and wellbeing specialist for Kildare until 2021 and currently works with Create co-ordinating the National Creative Places Network Service.

Thematic Merits
My desire for high production quality across all aspects of my work, and the changing nature of each project and output, leads me to work and collaborate with brilliant people. I work hard to maintain my career while working a 2.5 day week. The other half of my working week is spent as a full-time Dad. This has influenced how I work and manage my time. My practice has taken a move towards the directorial: the producer, the artistic director. This is also in response to the evolution of my typical methodology: on a project to project basis, I move into new mediums which I have not used before – gravitating towards what a specific context and theme merits. I rely on the expertise of others.

Overlapping points of expertise
My practice is about a meeting of imagination and expertise – the overlapping points of expertise from everyone involved. Deferring to experts in the relevant fields in each case and inviting them to exercise their skills and experience always feels like the right thing to do. This is particularly true when you’re pushing to break new ground. People – target communities and arts and non-arts professionals – are key to how I work.

The artist bursary 2021 was awarded to artists working in participatory arts and health contexts to reflect on their practice. The bursary was funded by the HSE and the Arts Council.

The Arts and Health Conversation Series is produced by and funded by the Arts Council and the HSE.

Traveller Wellbeing through Creativity. Photo credit: Creative Ireland.

Traveller Wellbeing through Creativity. Photo credit: Creative Ireland.

People’s Gardens in the Phoenix Park

Unmasked at St James's Hospital, Dublin.

Unmasked at St James's Hospital: Farjana Bashar, Staff Nurse.

Unmasked at St James's Hospital: Archana Dsouza, Education and Training Coordinator.

Unmasked at St James's Hospital: Farjana Bashar, Staff Nurse.

We chose eight individuals that represent different roles and experiences in the hospital. I’ve discovered how they coped with wearing a mask, found new ways to communicate and interact with patients, and discovered the solace and reassurance that the mask brings as a symbol of safety and protection. Wearing masks often created a barrier that made it nearly impossible to communicate with patients, but as much as they wanted to stop wearing masks, these healthcare workers also felt that wearing them provided reassurance that they were keeping patients and each other safe.’ – Asbestos

In Asbestos’ work, he explores the meaning of masks and how powerful a symbol they are. The word ‘persona’ comes from the tradition of Greek theatre, where an actor covered their face with several different masks, so they could change persona. In this way, he explores different persona with each mask created or each exploration of what masks mean. In this case, he’s showing individuals unmasked after two years behind a ‘blue barrier’.

Unmasked at St James's Hospital: Archana Dsouza, Education and Training Coordinator.

St James’s Hospital Foundation has been proud to engage with The Creative Life Hub at the Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing here at St James’s Hospital to use the arts to support hospital staff wellbeing and boost morale. Through this support, we have witnessed first-hand the benefits of the arts on staff wellbeing. Unmasked honours the strengths and vulnerabilities of our frontline staff and allied healthcare professionals who gave their utmost during the pandemic, and continue to do so. For this, we are eternally indebted to them.’ – Dermot McEvoy, Chairman, St James’s Hospital Foundation

Unmasked has been funded by St James’s Hospital, the St James’s Hospital Foundation (through donations made by the public in support of frontline workers’ wellbeing during the pandemic) and Creative Ireland.


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