The Creative Well is an integrated participatory arts and health programme in County Kildare, supporting mental health and quality of life through the arts and within the context of local communities. The Creative Well was piloted and developed by Nicola Dunne and Catherine O’Grady in 2011.
Using the arts as a social development tool, the aim of The Creative Well is to create opportunities for participants to improve wellbeing, enhance personal development and connect with others in their local community.
Few of the programmes currently available to long-term mental health service users in County Kildare provide avenues for connecting with others outside of the mental health system. As an integrated programme, The Creative Well seeks to address this by offering free arts workshops, a key objective of which is to ensure a mix of participants including service users and members of the general population. Participants can be referred from mental health or other services, or they can self-refer. Therefore, participants have an opportunity not only to engage with the arts but also to connect with others in their locality. This model aims to promote communal health and quality of life on two levels, by strengthening individuals and strengthening communities.
During the pilot programme of ten visual arts workshops, a key objective of the artists was for programme participants to find the experience enjoyable and encouraging, whether they were beginners or had some experience of producing visual art.
The artists as facilitators aimed to:
- Equip each participant with the skills to experiment with various visual art processes
- Encourage the desire and confidence of each participant to continue practicing their creativity outside the workshops.
The workshops were designed to be fun and informative, providing participants with the opportunity to learn new skills, ask and answer questions, take risks in their artwork and think critically. The theme and focus of the workshops were clear but allowed the participants to enter at their own level and to have choice within that. Time was also offered for feedback among the group around any questions that might arise. Listening to the participants was integral to the process: there was always room for the content to evolve and change in response to the exchange between the artists and the participants.
As two artists facilitated each workshop, the project could concentrate on each individual’s development rather than just offering a taught process to a group.
During the pilot, the artists introduced the group to various methods such as mark-making, drawing, colour studies, expressive painting, mono printing and clay work. For a three-week period at the end of the course, the artists facilitated each participant to focus on a process of their choice, developing their own creative project.
On completion of the programme, participants were signposted to further opportunities within their local community.
The pilot programme was tested through self-evaluation. Participants completed the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS) pre- and post-intervention. Aisling Smith analysed the results. Scores for all the participants were analysed using the Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test.
Following the intervention, a significant change in WEMWBS was observed (Z=-2.521, P=0.012). A strong positive improvement in the wellbeing of participants was observed (r= -0.59). The findings conclude that the intervention had a positive effect on the wellbeing of the participants. Qualitative evaluation also indicated that this programme enabled participants to meet and connect with others in their community.
Participants produced their own artworks which have been documented through photography.
Testimonials from participants include:
‘I have to say this has been the most wonderful experience and it has brought out our hidden talents. Something very special comes from classes like this.’
‘Someone like me who suffers from depression got a huge boost from the art course, the course was fantastic, it’s like I have found a way to express myself.’
‘The whole programme exceeded my expectations and I have come away with the ability to appreciate my own creativity and talents.’
‘Every week I just lived for the workshop and looked forward to meeting the other participants who equally threw themselves into the course. Apart from being very privileged to work with professionally trained artists we also learned from each other and learned to appreciate each others abilities.’
‘I have reconnected with my creativity, self expression through art and loved it. I have been energised and inspired and really enjoyed the process.’
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. 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
‘Without creative risk taking, inspiration, and innovation there is no creative practice. The Creative Well allows me to encourage and take part in creative risk taking; it allows me the time to engage with others intellectually and at an imaginative level. This inspires and makes me feel positive and ready to act, as I hope it does for the participants. It requires me to be innovative in my contribution to the planning of the workshops’ methodologies, processes and implementation. The Creative Well workshops are very much an important part of the development of my own creative practice.‘ Emma Finucane
The findings of the evaluation of the pilot programme were collated and analysed by a statistician (see below). Informed by the evaluation findings, the project team devised three further programmes in County Kildare in 2012 with locations including Kildare town, Naas and Athy. To sustain and further develop this model the team is currently actively pursuing funding opportunities through grant aid and development of strategic partnerships.
Documentation and Dissemination
To date the outcomes and findings of the pilot programme have been presented at the Interdisciplinary Research Conference of TCD School of Nursing and Midwifery, Dublin (November 2011) and at the Arts Care 21st Anniversary Arts in Health International Conference, Belfast (May 2012). A paper on this ongoing programme was presented at the Horatio Second European Festival of Psychiatric Nursing: Vision, Knowledge and Practice in psychiatric and mental health nursing, Stockholm (September 2012) and at the ENCATC ‘Arts – Health – Entrepreneurship?’ Conference, Helsinki (October 2012).
Kildare County Council Arts Service, HSE Kildare West Wicklow Mental Health Services, HSE Health Promotion, Kildare County Mental Health Association, Kildare County Council Library Service and Nás na Ríogh Housing Association
Kildare County Council Arts Service and HSE Kildare West Wicklow Mental Health Services
Arts Council of Ireland, HSE Health Promotion, Kildare County Council, Kildare County Mental Health Association, Nás na Ríogh Housing Association
Dominic Thorpe, Emma Finucane
Health Promotion, Mental Health
Nature of project