Image shown: Iontas music workshop in ATU. Photo credit: Hugh O'Brien Moran.

Image shown: Iontas interchangeable frames

Image shown: Iontas interchangeable frames

Dept of Psychiatry

Dept of Psychiatry

University Hospital Waterford.

University Hospital Waterford.

Image shown: Iontas Visual Art Project at ATU

Image shown: Iontas Visual Art Project at ATU


Approximately 124 mental health service users participate in this project on an annual basis including those who are acutely ill, those with enduring mental health problems and clients with Alzheimer’s. In some settings there are established groups that the artists work with and in others, such as the Department of Psychiatry at University Hospital Waterford, a high turnover of service users means that the artists may meet a participant only once.


Iontas aims to promote creative self-expression, autonomy, socialisation, relaxation, a sense of achievement and recovery among clients of mental health services by:

  • engaging clients of Waterford Mental Health Services in a programme of client-centred participatory arts workshops
  • broadening the arts options by including visual arts, puppetry, writing, music, song-writing, dance and animation
  • creating a long-term legacy for the programme and fostering a sense of achievement for clients through the production of high quality outputs that are artistically ambitious, innovative and which may be publicly celebrated where appropriate
  • structuring the programme to be responsive to clients’ needs through, for example, Artist on Call in the acute ward of the DOP and one-to-one sessions for clients.


Informed by the principles of recovery, WHAT is working towards engaging clients in a programme whereby creative pursuits become the context for social interaction and greater autonomy.

Iontas is facilitated by a team of skilled and experienced artists sometimes working in pairs to support large group sizes and with a diversity of participants. This participatory programme is structured in blocks ranging from 5 to 35 weeks in a range of art forms including music, visual art, dance, shadow puppetry and creative writing.

In ATU, artist Jill Bouchier engages participants by introducing various artforms including drawing, painting, collage, clay modelling, printmaking, photography, bookmaking, mixed media, mosaics, sewing and craft activities. The grounds of St Otteran’s Psychiatric Hospital have been used as a starting point for a project with participants producing sketches of the buildings and gardens located there. The ideas were developed over the weeks as the group talked and reminisced about their experiences of St Otteran’s. Personal viewpoints and interests were explored and creative ideas formed as the drawings and paintings progressed.

With the music programme, workshops often begin with a physical and vocal warm up, followed by exploration of rhythms using percussion instruments. Participants are given the opportunity to express themselves through individual singing or playing instruments. Singing as a group allows all to be involved, especially those who may not like to sing alone. The workshops often culminate in reflection; for example, relaxation through deep breathing or playing chimes accompanied by gentle music. In certain settings, the musicians encourage group songwriting.

The creative writing workshops provide a gentle, safe space where participants are given the freedom and space to write about how they experience life. Small pieces of writing, poetry, prose and memoir are created and sometimes songs or raps depending on the particular participant.

A significant achievement of the programme to date is the successful piloting of Artist on Call in Acute Services. This is a service in which clients in the locked ward of the acute unit in DOP can request an artist to work with them on a one-to-one basis. This element of the programme relies on the availability of a staff member to support these sessions by being present in the room during the session. This can sometimes be a challenge due to staff shortages.

Claire Meaney (WHAT) co-ordinates the programme and attends briefing and debriefing meetings with the artist and staff members in each setting at the start and end of each block of workshops. WHAT also provides supervision and professional development training for artists through the programme.

The programme is shaped by a steering committee comprising representation from WHAT, ATU, DOP and WWMHS, an independent representative and a service user representative. The steering committee meets three times a year and looks at how best to integrate the Iontas programme into the programme of care for mental health service users and support for service users and artists, focusing on areas such as health and safety, documentation, evaluation, PR and public presentation of outcomes.

Artistic Outputs

Work made by participants on the ATU visual art project was presented in St Otteran’s Church during Well, festival of arts & wellbeing in October 2014. Interchangeable frames display participants’ work on a rotating basis in ATU and the DOP.

Participants at Newport Day Care Centre wrote and recorded a story as part of a shadow puppetry project with Philip Cullen; a song/rap was written by participants in ATU working with musician George Higgs; and a song was written by participants in ATU working with musicians Leah Clarke and Jane O’Brien Moran. ATU also hosted a candle-lit Christmas concert in St Otteran’s Church in December 2014.

An exhibition of participants’ artwork entitled Building Memories: Reflections of St Otteran’s Hospital will be displayed in University Hospital Waterford from September to October 2015.

Evaluation Methodology

The Iontas programme is evaluated via briefing/debriefing meetings before/after each sub-programme which are attended by participant representatives, staff representatives, artists and WHAT staff. Artists keep reflective journals and staff and participants complete questionnaires or interviews.

Evaluation Outcomes

The feedback from staff, patients and artists has been overwhelmingly positive. In particular, feedback from participants about the programme indicates that they feel part of a group, they have something positive/constructive to do, they looking forward to participating and they feel relaxed.

In some of the settings where the client group does not change very often, i.e. ATU, Newport and Ard na nDeise, repeat attendance by individuals and high attendance numbers indicate that the participants are enjoying the programme. In ATU, there is a regular attendance of 16 people for music and 13 people for visual art; the numbers continue to stay the same with the only drop off due to illness or appointments. In the Department of Psychiatry, where there can be a high turnover of service users, attendance numbers have again been consistently high: on average there are nine participants for music, seven participants for creative writing and eight participants for visual art.

Some feedback from participants of the Iontas programme:

  • ‘It helped me to relax.’
  • ‘I was never depressed after the music.’
  • ‘Would love more.’ 
  • ‘Music … was very good for the mind and helped me forget my problems for a while.’
  • ‘It [the art workshop] gives a chance to use your creative side and use your imagination.’

Musician’s feedback on one participant:

‘At first it was difficult to stimulate him as he spends his time lying on the couch but after a few sessions we began to be able to interact with him … He sang part of a Scottish song with us, played the ball and even sat up on the couch for a while to play a chime or tambourine; this was a big improvement for him.’ 

The feedback from staff indicates that they are really happy with the workshops and participation by the service users. In particular, they are very impressed with some of the clients who they thought might not be interested:

  • ‘We have had art before but these workshops really seemed to engage clients.’
  • ‘Really positive experience for all involved. Brought them together as a group and they seem to really enjoy it. Their biggest concerns were when the next lot of sessions were going to take place.’ 

Documentation and Dissemination

The Iontas programme is documented on an ongoing basis by WHAT and the artists via sound recordings, photography and notes from debriefing meetings. Where appropriate this documentation is disseminated to local and national media.


Waterford Wexford Mental Health Services

Project dates

Ongoing since March 2014

Lead organisation

Waterford Healing Arts Trust

Funded By

Waterford Wexford Mental Health Services

Waterford Council

The Arts Council

National Lottery

The Ireland Funds


George Higgs, Jane O’Brien Moran, Jill Bouchier, Lani O’Hanlon, Leah Clark, Liam Merriman, Libby Seward, Marie-Jeanne Jacob, Mary Prendergast, Philip Cullen


Dance, Literature, Music, Visual Arts

Healthcare context(s)

Mental Health

Nature of project

Collaborative/ participatory



Web link


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