Our History

The movement to reintegrate the arts into health, started internationally back in the mid-1970s and early 1980s. However, it wasn’t until 1990 that it was first seen in an Irish context when Dr Abdul Bulbulia approached the management of his local University Hospital Waterford with an idea – to introduce art into the daily life of the hospital and its environment.

Once the hospital management saw the value of his proposal, a committee comprising representatives of the hospital, arts and business sectors was set up to oversee developments. The following milestones and successes are largely attributable to the dedication and commitment of these enthusiastic pioneers.


Waterford Healing Arts Trust is established following the unveiling of the first public art commission in an acute hospital context in Ireland: Quintess-ometry by Remco de Fouw. The work was commissioned by an arts committee drawn together by Dr Abdul Bulbulia and Mary Baxter, which realised Dr Bulbulia’s pioneering idea of enhancing the hospital environment through the use of the visual arts. This committee became the first Waterford Healing Arts Trust Committee.


Aifric Gray is appointed Artist in Residence for a six-month pilot project; Aifric subsequently became WHAT’s first Arts Co-ordinator.


The Healing Garden is initiated by WHAT on the hospital grounds to provide an outdoor space for peace and solace. Designed by artists Saturio Alonso and Aifric Gray, the Healing Garden was realised through a partnership with Waterford City Council Arts Office, and the Department of Social Welfare through the Student Summer Employment Scheme, with the involvement of Roadstone of Kilmacow, Louis Power, Bausch and Lomb, Feelystone, IMPACT, The Medical Centre and The Hospital Saturday Fund.


The WHAT Healing Sounds music programme begins, bringing live music to the hospital foyer and the bedside of patients at Waterford Regional Hospital (now UHW), and later into other healthcare settings.


The UHW Tapestry Group begins meeting in WHAT on a weekly basis to produce beautiful tapestries to document the history and culture of Waterford, to be displayed in UHW and other healthcare settings for the benefit of patients. The group continues meeting until the onset of COVID in 2020.


The Healing Garden is officially opened by Mary McAleese, President of Ireland. It becomes a highly valued space by staff from all over the hospital.


Inside Out, an annual group exhibition of art by HSE staff in Waterford begins, continuing for 10 years. It is subsequently replaced by the Staff Art Wall initiative.


The Art Kart begins. This brightly coloured refurbished medicine trolley becomes a regular and welcome sight in the corridors of the hospital, bringing art materials to patients on the Paediatric Ward and Renal Dialysis Unit.


The WHAT Arts Programme in Renal Dialysis begins, with artist Boyer Phelan engaging patients in art making, funded by the Punchestown Kidney Research Fund.


WHAT opens Ireland’s first dedicated Centre for Arts and Health in the grounds of Waterford Regional Hospital (now University Hospital Waterford)


Participatory Arts Practice in Healthcare Contexts: Guidelines for Good Practice is published. Commissioned by WHAT and HSE South (Cork) Arts and Health programme, with financial support from the Arts Council, these guidelines continue to be used by arts and health practitioners around the world.


Open Studio workshop begins. This weekly visual art groups provides a creative and social outlet for people living in the community who may be isolated due to ill health or disability.


artsandhealth.ie is launched by WHAT in partnership with Create, the national development agency for collaborative arts, and commissioned and funded by the Arts Council.


The Staff Art Wall begins at UHW. Managed by WHAT, this initiative celebrates the creativity of staff working at UHW by providing an opportunity to display their work at the hospital.


Iontas Arts & Mental Health programme begins. The Irish word for ‘wonder’ or ‘surprise’, Iontas brings arts experiences, such as music, visual art, creative writing, movement and drama to people experiencing mental health issues, to support their wellbeing and recovery. A partnership with Waterford Wexford Mental Health Services, Iontas is currently delivered a team of artists in the Department of Psychiatry and across several community settings. Iontas today has evolved from a series of music and visual art experiences delivered by WHAT in mental health settings since the mid-2000s


WHAT celebrates its 25th Anniversary with the first public performance of Hospital Voices, a WHAT commissioned choral work, by Artists in Residence composer Eric Sweeney and poet Edward Denniston

2020 (March)

COVID 19 arrives and WHAT hands over its Centre for Arts & Health to UHW for use by the hospital’s team of allied health professionals, and moves all our work online.

2020 (June)

Checking In takes place online in June, replacing our annual Arts and Health: Check Up Check In in-person national arts and health event. Checking In is the first national arts and health event to take place online since the onset of COVID and proves vital in bringing the arts and health sector together to build solidarity, restore confidence and share the myriad new methods of working necessitated by the pandemic lockdown.


Surviving or Thriving? takes place. A partnership between WHAT and the Arts Council, this online series of panel discussions, workshops, podcasts and resources supports the wellbeing of arts professionals in Ireland, with particular relevance to the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic. Open to all working in the arts in Ireland, participants say Surviving or Thriving? strengthened resilience, restored confidence and promoted connectedness across the arts sector.


Réalta is formed and Waterford Healing Arts Trust re-brands to Waterford Healing Arts…