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Mapping Arts + Health in Ireland

Six fold increase in arts experiences for health service users and staff in Ireland

The rise of global Covid-19 pandemic has brought a new awareness of the importance of personal and community wellbeing and the role the arts play in that. The members of Arts and Health Co-ordinators Ireland (AHCI) have been delivering arts experiences to health service users in the Republic of Ireland for almost two decades and as such promote the relationship between arts, creativity and wellbeing. The group has recently published a report on its research into the level and nature of Arts and Health activity in the Republic of Ireland which revealed a six-fold growth in this field of work over the past 20 twenty years. The research, which was carried out by Dr. Francesca Farina, measured the level and nature of Arts and Health activity in 2019 across a range of healthcare contexts, from hospitals and day care centres, to community settings and health promotion.

The benefits of arts experiences for healthcare users, staff and the public are well documented, ranging from stress reduction, improved health and well-being outcomes, development of creativity and enhanced sense of community.[1]

The AHCI Mapping research demonstrated the diversity of Arts programmes in healthcare in terms of healthcare settings, artforms, scale and longevity of programmes and governance arrangements. The most prevalent type of arts experience was Participatory and Collaborative Arts whereby health service users and staff collaborate with professional artists in making artworks in all artforms. This accounted for two thirds of programmes (67%). Approximately one third of programmes involved either performance (38%) or artists’ residencies (32%), while one quarter of programmes involved an exhibition (27%) or an educational element (24%). One in ten programmes involved either a festival (11%) or public art commission (10%).

The research recorded that 92 arts and health programmes were delivered in 2019 by 996 professional artists and 989 healthcare staff working in partnership with each other. 96% of programmes had at least one professional artist involved and 88% of artists were paid for their work.

One third of all programmes (33%) were carried out in day hospitals, day care centres or services, or community health settings. Approximately one quarter of programmes were conducted in acute hospitals (28%) and another quarter in residential care (26%).

The research demonstrated that those programmes that had input from multiple partners and funders had in turn larger budgets and multiple funders, ran for longer periods and were more likely to survive the vagaries of the ever-changing funding landscape.

According to Mary Grehan, Arts in Health Curator for Children’s Health Ireland, and Chair of the research working group, ‘Arts and Health programmes in Ireland have traditionally been born of the vision of individual champions. Yet the beneficial impact of Arts in healthcare comfortably chimes with the ambition of national healthcare strategies such as Healthy Ireland and Sharing the Vision. This relationship between arts and healthcare is something we would like healthcare policy makers to consider in a more systematic way as we consider how to embed arts and creativity into the experience of healthcare and promotion of wellbeing in the aftermath of Covid- 19.’

When the findings of this research are compared to those from a similar research project carried out by Ruairí Ó Cuív and Leargas Consulting in 2001, what is found is not only a six-fold increase in the provision of Arts and Health initiatives from the previous period (1987-2001), but also a more complex scene. A higher percentage of programmes in 2019 involved more healthcare settings and beneficiaries than in 1987-2001. There was an increase of programmes delivered over a longer timeframe, with a wider reach. This growth happened where partnerships between arts and health organisations and practitioners were long established. However despite this welcome increase of Arts and Health initiatives, the research shows that are still gaps across Ireland where there is limited or no access to such programmes.

In the words of Justine Foster, Chair of AHCI and Manager of West Cork’s Arts for Health programme says: ‘AHCI aspires to the provision of access to arts experiences for all health service users regardless of health status, geography or means. We strive for professional payment for all artists working in this field. It is hoped that the outcomes of this research will provide a benchmark for future and ongoing mapping of the field and will lead to a more strategic and policy-driven approach to embedding arts into health service users’ experience of healthcare in Ireland.’

According to Sarah Daly, Executive Director of Creative Spark in Dundalk and member of AHCI, ‘The value of the work of AHCI members came to the fore during lockdown, not just with our own cohort of beneficiaries, but also with others who are now able to access our programmes online. This pivot to a new reality brought on by Covid would not have been possible without the years of experience and depth of knowledge that our members have built up. Having programmes and professionals in place and ready to respond to a growing need to arts experiences is more important now than ever.’

Mapping Arts and Health Activity in Ireland in 2019 was commissioned by Arts and Health Coordinators Ireland and is a joint initiative between Arts for Health, West Cork; Arts in Health at Cork University Hospital; CHI Arts in Health Programme; Creative Spark; Helium; Kids Classics; Kildare County Council Arts Health and Well-being Programme; Limerick Culture and Arts Office, Limerick City and County Council; National Centre for Arts and Health at Tallaght University Hospital; Naas General Hospital Arts Committee; Saolta Arts; West Cork Mental Health Services Arts and Health Programme and Waterford Healing Arts Trust.

The report is available on the Arts and Health Co-ordinators site: