A short film telling the story of Réalta, from its origins in Waterford Healing Arts in 1993 to the present day, was screened at our official launch on 3 March 2023.  Click here to view the film and scroll down to read the story.

The Story of Réalta

Dr Abdul Bulbulia first suggested the idea of introducing art into Waterford Regional Hospital in the early 1990s. At the time, the role of the arts in the hospital environment was a completely new concept in Ireland, but was already being explored in the UK.

With the support of hospital management, Dr Bulbulia, along with Mary Baxter, set up a committee to oversee the commission of the first artwork in the hospital: Quintess-ometry, by Remco de Fouw. This was the first public art commission in an acute hospital in Ireland.  The committee went on to establish Waterford Healing Arts Trust in 1993.

Over the following decades, Waterford Healing Arts Trust deepened its roots and expanded its reach, developing the hospital art collection into over 600 artworks today, and growing the participatory programme to include art making, music, creative writing and storytelling.  Through these programmes, with the support of many funders, the team of artists, musicians and staff seek to ‘make now better’: to lift people’s spirits, promote connection, and remind people that beauty still exists, even in difficult times.

Meanwhile, from its dedicated Centre for Arts + Health on the campus of what is now University Hospital Waterford, Waterford Healing Arts Trust also began to expand its programme into the national sphere.  This took a significant step forward in 2011, when the new resource website artsandhealth.ie was commissioned and funded by the Arts Council and set up by Waterford Healing Arts Trust, in partnership with Create, the national development agency for collaborative arts.  Packed with ideas, examples and insights from Ireland and overseas, artsandhealth.ie has become the go to resource for artists, healthcare professionals, arts and health co-ordinators and anyone interested in arts and health in Ireland and internationally.  It’s now funded by the Arts Council and the HSE and is supported by an editorial panel.

In the last 12 years, with funding and encouragement from the Arts Council, Waterford Healing Arts Trust expanded its national programme to include a range of support and training initiatives including Check Up Check In, the annual national gathering of the arts and health sector, Introduction to Arts + Health workshops, advice clinics, seminars and mentoring.

This work continued online during the pandemic, with a series of Checking In events for the arts and health sector, and the Surviving or Thriving programme for the wider arts sector.  This programme saw Waterford Healing Arts Trust, in partnership with the Arts Council, bringing people together to build solidarity, restore confidence and provide a platform for artists and practitioners to share their experiences and new methods of working, necessitated by the lockdown.

More recently, Waterford Healing Arts Trust has been partnering with the HSE, the Arts Council, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, the Gaeltacht, Sport & Media (Creative Ireland programme) and the Dept of Health (Healthy Ireland Programme) to deliver Expanding Arts in Healthcare, a national programme of networking and professional development supports for healthcare professionals, and complementary initiatives that cultivate and support the arts, health and wellbeing ecosystem in Ireland.

Now, in 2023, we are thrilled to launch Réalta, the new National Body for Arts and Health in Ireland, dedicated to strengthening the sector and providing a central resource for arts and health.

Réalta’s vision is for the arts to be embedded in healthcare in Ireland.  Réalta’s mission is to lead the development of the arts and health sector in Ireland through support, promotion and advancement, and the demonstration of excellence in artistic delivery.

Réalta will achieve this through three key pillars of focus:
– Under our Training and Supports pillar, Réalta will host continuous professional development workshops, provide advice, mentoring and support for artists and healthcare professionals, and opportunities for peer-to-peer knowledge sharing.
– Under our Sector Development pillar, Réalta’s goal is to increase awareness of the value of arts and health, and to advocate for the sector’s development through engagement with government, policymakers and funders.
– and under our Inspiring Practice pillar, Réalta will showcase arts and health practice through artsandhealth.ie and the work of Waterford Healing Arts (which is now re-branded from Waterford Healing Arts Trust).

The establishment of Réalta is inspired by decades of hands-on practice and is a natural progression of the national work undertaken by Waterford Healing Arts and artsandhealth.ie for many years. Réalta also comes from a growing awareness of the need for such an organisation at national level, which was confirmed by findings of the stakeholder consultation process carried out by Waterford Healing Arts in 2021 and ’22.  This consultation was part of a wider business planning process undertaken by the Board and Executive, which resulted in the development of a long-term business strategy for the Réalta organisation.

Réalta is the biggest development in our organisation’s history.  Réalta will spearhead our national work, and will encompass Waterford Healing Arts and artsandhealth.ie, both of which will continue their important programmes and will act as the foundation for our new national body for arts and health in Ireland.  We believe that the synergies from the coming together of Waterford Healing Arts and artsandhealth.ie under the scope of Réalta will make for a formidable cohesive resource for our arts and health sector.

www.realta.ie  |  www.waterfordhealingarts.com  |  www.artsandhealth.ie

Credit: Video created by DGM Photographic