Image shown: “In-Courage” Exhibition

Pilot Curatorial Programme 2016. Photo credit: The Creative Well & McKenna Gallery

Riverbank Arts Centre.

Image shown: Active workshop Image

12 week workshop image



Mental health and intellectual disabilities service users, youth services, primary health care teams, and their staff; HSE staff; members of the general public; practicing artists; local community groups.


The Creative Well visual arts programme aims to build and support wellbeing and rich life experiences by encouraging adults to engage with their creativity through visual art. In a friendly social space, we welcome people with all levels of abilities and life experiences, providing opportunities for everyone from complete beginners to practicing artists. We encourage and support wellbeing through the arts in the context of local communities. It is a conscious decision to provide a place for all members of Kildare’s community – to blur the line between arts and health, arts and disability and visual arts practice and invite everyone into that space.

We aim to continually adapt, develop and grow the programme to ensure a socially engaged and accessible programme is available to all participants through various access points: taught classes, self-directed studio space, artist talks on practice and process, supported curatorial programmes and exhibitions.


Over the six years since its inception and original case study on, The Creative Well has developed a series of art engagements and opportunities that allow anyone interested in visual arts to participate.

In 2014, the team saw the potential to broaden the programme from the 12-week workshops and to offer inclusive and supported opportunities for all to learn art processes in the same manner that students engaging in formal arts education would: taught workshops, self-directed studio time, lectures and artist talks, seminars, curatorial programmes, and onsite and offsite exhibition visits.

In response to our members and participants over this time we have continuously responded to demand and need by offering:

  • Facilitated workshops: Established in 2011, the original 12-week visual art workshops that roved the county have developed into specific medium-based workshops open to all such as life drawing, printmaking, expressive drawing and colour studies. The work from the original pilot series heavily informed the workshops we offer.
  • Shared Open Studio: Established in 2015, this is a location-based weekly studio space in Riverbank Arts Centre where members from previous workshops, members of the general public and those interested in the development of an arts practice work in a self-directed manner. This studio has been facilitated by visual artists Dominic Thorpe and Emma Finucane and is currently facilitated by visual artist Eleanor Philips. The artist facilitator is onsite to provide encouragement, tutorial and critique discussions with individuals, and technical support for members to develop processes and learn skills.
  • Artist Talks & Seminars: From 2015, we created a space for discussion on the value of art in our communities and offer our members the chance to hear artists discuss their practice and processes. From this, a programme of artist talks developed.
  • Curation & Exhibition Programme: In 2015, now partnering with Riverbank Arts Centre, we explored the potential of what the gallery could be used for. This partnership grew into the 2017 arts and health residency ‘This Must Be the Place’. Members of the Open Studio, staff and participants from KARE Intellectual Disability Services and members from Newbridge Local History Group worked with artist Dominic Thorpe to curate three group exhibitions for the McKenna Gallery Space in Riverbank Arts Centre. We offered mentored meetings and discussions for the groups to learn about curatorial processes and skills in the same manner as our visual art workshops, creating the opportunity for these collaborators to be leaders and decision-makers in creating exhibitions.

This new programme of opportunity and work was developed by a strong collaboration between artists Dominic Thorpe and Emma Finucane and arts and health specialist Carolann Courtney, using key considerations and principles from the original workshop pilot and supports from adult mental health services. We wanted to move away from prescriptive timetabling to more fluid and moveable scheduling that allowed participants to have autonomy and elect into the programme at their convenience.

To deliver this the artists created a ‘hands-off’ methodology of practice. This was achieved by:

Use of Language

Language used is key. The artists changed their art language for the workshops and studio. The key words of tools, play and experimenting replaced art process and technical words to create a ‘no pressure’ language in the space.

A Gentle Approach

Unlearning what are often long held restrictive assumptions about art and its processes. In the space all are on the same level. Warm ups and blind drawing introductions take the fear out of making work. Don’t worry about the finished piece. Tools used include branches as paintbrushes, music to dictate the pace/scale/type of mark making, playing and experimenting.

Communication – Feedback – Listening – Responding with participants

Each session we ask for feedback on each other’s work, on participants’ own work, on how they found the class (what worked and what didn’t, what they want more or less of). The feedback informs the design of the programme.

Constant Evaluation by facilitators

We talk to each other about every workshop we do, questioning how we approached things, what worked and what didn’t, how we could have done it better. We learn from each other. Please note that it is the programme, the session and the model of facilitation that is evaluated and not the participants. We strive to reflect and improve constantly.


Trust with the participants as a class, trust between the facilitators and participants, trust between the facilitators.


Facilitators knowing how each other works, listening to each other and filling gaps for each other when explaining or advising.

Artistic Outputs

Visual Art Workshop Programme 2011-2016

126 participants overall, 12 weeks, two hours contact per week

  • 12 participants per workshop
  • 3-4 spaces allocated to referral from Services (Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities)
  • 8-9 general population from the community and venues in the community
  • Evaluation: Edinburgh Warwick Scale and feedback questionnaire.

The Creative Well 2014-2017

Open Studio

  • 51 participants have engaged with the studio
  • 12 are now long standing members developing a practice for over two years.

Visual Artist Lecture Programme

Speakers included in this programme to date have varied across many fields and this format has been adapted to allow different conversations and dialogues around process and participation to form. From May 2015 to date, we have held symposia on the themes of ‘Play in Adulthood’ and ‘Arts and Health’. The programme has included a series of informal artist talks discussing art-making processes, theme-based sharing on printmaking and a showcase on the work in Kildare across many art forms.

Visual artists: Maria McKinney, Mary A. Fitzgerald, Pat Curran, Doireann Ní Ghrioghair, Jennie Guy, Emma Finucane, Dominic Thorpe, Chloe Brenan, Louise Peat, Ceara Conway, Emer O’Boyle, Monica de Bath, Marta Golubowska and Jennie Moran

Healthcare practitioners: Caroline Peppard (HSE Senior Health Promotion Officer) and Monique McEvoy (Play Therapist)

Other arts practitioners / professionals: Dr. Hilary Moss (Now of UL and formerly Director of the National Centre of Arts and Health), Katherine Atkinson (Create, acting as chair), Sharon Murphy (music and health practitioner) and Ailish Claffey (dance and health practitioner).

Visual Art Facilitated Workshops

  • Printmaking
  • Life Drawing
  • Expressive Drawing
  • Colour studies

These also included workshops for health practitioners in the county and onsite workshops in Naas General Hospital.

Evaluation Methodology

The 12-week workshop programme continues to be tested through self-evaluation. Participants completed the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS) pre- and post-intervention. Carmel Downes of TCD completed a review evaluation of all workshops from 2011 to 2016 when the programme was developing.

The findings conclude that the intervention had a positive effect on the wellbeing of the participants.

Continuous qualitative feedback from participants consistently shows that this programme enables participants to meet and connect with others in their community. Providing a space for individual creativity to develop without pressure or judgement is seen as the major positive outcome for participants.

Evaluation Outcomes

Testimonials from participants include:

What happens here is important. I have never encountered the likes of it before and I have attended many art classes and workshops throughout my adulthood. How open, inviting and inclusive the studio is just floors me. It is important to me for my work, work that I did not realise I could make – art work – I never thought I would say I make art work! This place has allowed me to say that. I can’t begin to tell you what that means to me‘ – Open Studio member

I miss this when I can’t make it. It is so reassuring to know it will be there next week’ – Open Studio member

I never have to apologise for being me in the studio. This acceptance has had a profound impact on me and my depression. I love what I do and who I am when I am there’ – Open Studio member

In terms of the impact on the artists, they reported the following:

I have seen the immense benefits on many levels for people who endeavour to learn an artistic process and express themselves through creative activity/thinking. Time and time again I see profoundly moving artworks that come from individuals who do not practice as professional artists. As an artist this is a very potent environment to find myself in. Facilitating The Creative Well enables me to share and exchange ideas about art and the potential of art with people outside the traditional fine art context and environment. This has proven crucial to the development of my own practice.‘ – Dominic Thorpe

Many people see creativity as a capacity far beyond them. But it’s not. The Creative Well allows adults the time and space to take the creative self seriously through the process of visual art. This is also a shared space that nurtures the exchange of ideas and peer feedback. We repeatedly see individuals immersing themselves into this creative space and emerging with the most incredible visual art processes and works that inform, enrich and question our world. The Creative Well has enabled me as an artist and facilitator to investigate alongside the participants the potential of art and its role in society.’ – Emma Finucane

The impact and importance of this programme has been captured in many ways since its inception. The commitment of Kildare County Council in providing continuous and sustained funding for its delivery every year and the new partnership with Riverbank Arts Centre ensures its continued success. We are able to respond to demand and need and providing these supports in the community allows us flexibility and the opportunity to take these risks.

This is a hugely successful collaboration between all stakeholders and partners and participants and we hope to evolve and grow even more in the future.

Documentation and Dissemination

Since its inception, the outcomes and findings of this project have been presented widely. Most recently the programme was presented by Arts and Wellbeing Specialist Carolann Courtney to Nursing and Midwifery Students on the UCD Arts and Health Module (March 2017) and showcased by collaborating artist Emma Finucane and HSE founding partner Catherine O’Grady at the 2017 Arts and Health Check Up Check In, Sligo (May 2017).


To date the programme has worked with the following groups and organisations in the county as partners to deliver aspects of the developed programme:

  • KCC Arts Service
  • KCC Library Services
  • KCC ISP (Integrated Services Programme)
  • Mary’s Hospital Naas
  • HSE Adult Mental Health Services – Recovery
  • HSE Health Promotion
  • HSE Suicide Prevention Officer
  • Naas General Hospital
  • Physiotherapy Department
  • Day Hospital
  • Lakeview Psychiatric Hospital
  • Naas General Hospital Volunteer Arts Committee
  • Newbridge Primary Health Care Centre
  • National Office of Suicide Prevention
  • GP Primary Care: Countywide GPs in each area workshops have taken place
  • National Learning Network
  • Choices Maynooth
  • MOJO
  • Muireosa Foundation
  • Moore Abbey
  • KARE Central Services
  • SJOG St. Raphael’s
  • SJOG General Services
  • The Bridge – Camphill Communities Kilcullen
  • IWA
  • Rosconnell Community Association
  • The Acre Arts Committee
  • Eyre Powell Hotel – Direct Provision Centre
  • Local Family Resource Centers
  • McAuley Place – Naas Na Ríogh Housing Association
  • TCD
  • Riverbank Arts Centre
  • First Fortnight
  • The National Centre for Arts and Health, Tallaght
  • KFM
  • County-based and national artists
  • Local community groups and connectors

Project dates

2011- to date

Lead organisation

Kildare County Council Arts Service, HSE and Riverbank Arts Centre

Funded By

Kildare County Council, the Arts Council, HSE Health Promotion, Riverbank Arts Centre


Dominic Thorpe, Eleanor Philips, Emma Finucane


Visual Arts

Healthcare context(s)

Acute Hospitals, Health Promotion, Mental Health, Older People, Primary Care/ Community Health, Training & Education

Nature of project

Collaborative/ participatory, Exhibition, Residency



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