Art: An integral part of the healing process
“Artistic expression grew in lockstep with human cultural development and has long played an integral part in how we teach, learn, communicate and heal.”
– World Health Organisation.
The critical role the arts have to play in health and medicine is not a new story. But one that for a time, was forgotten, its role separated from mainstream health practices; relegated to a position of something alternative.
But over the past five decades that has been changing, nationally and internationally. And here, in Ireland, the movement for the reintegration of the arts into health treatments and strategies started with one idea…
The spark that ignited a national movement…
It was Dr Abdul Bulbulia, back in 1990, who first suggested the idea of introducing art into the daily life of University Hospital Waterford (then Waterford Regional Hospital). At the time, the role of the arts in the hospital environment was a completely new concept in Ireland, but had been explored in the UK for some 15 years.
Once the hospital management saw its value, Dr Bulbulia, along with Mary Baxter, set up a committee to oversee the commission of Quintess-ometry, by artist Remco de Fouw. This became the first public art commission in an acute hospital context in Ireland, and the committee went on to establish Waterford Healing Arts Trust in 1993. To this day, Waterford Healing Arts continues to brighten patients’ journeys in the Waterford area through its incredible arts programmes, but its true effect has been far wider reaching than that. Its success has fundamentally helped shift views of the role the arts have to play in health, sparking a national movement and laying the foundations for the organisation we have become today.
A new national body and guiding light for arts and health in Ireland launches…
In 2022, Réalta was launched as the new national body for arts and health in Ireland. Informed and inspired by decades of hands-on practice, our mission is to illuminate health paths for all – shining a light on the transformative and central role the arts play in health, and taking a leading role in shaping its agenda globally, contributing to the growing body of evidence-based research on its benefits.
We are achieving this through three key pillars of work: training and supports, sector development – including research and advocacy – and the inspiring hands-on practice of Waterford Healing Arts and artsandhealth.ie.
Core Areas Of Focus
Réalta exists to illuminate health paths. As well as advice, mentoring and support for artists and healthcare professionals involved in arts and health practice, we host regular Continuous Professional Development talks and workshops. And provide opportunities for peer-to-peer knowledge sharing through networking and events.
As the national body for arts and health in Ireland, our goal is to increase and improve awareness of the value of arts and health, and advocate for the sector’s development. In particular, we will inform/engage with government, policymakers and funders to ensure wider arts and health policy adoption and more effective local funding of its practice.