Why Arts and health?

To all that is broken and suffers inside us, Art speaks with a healing voice” (Mark Roper)

What is ‘arts and health’?

Arts and health embraces a range of arts practices occurring mainly, but not exclusively, in healthcare settings.
Arts and Health operates from the principle that the arts are integral to health and healthcare provision, and that everybody, regardless of their health status, should have access to the arts.
Arts and Health is founded on a principle of equal partnership between the arts and health sectors. It embraces a range of arts practices occurring primarily in healthcare settings, which bring together the skills and priorities of both arts and health professionals.
Arts and Health projects and programmes have clear artistic vision, goals and outcomes which seek to enhance individual and community health and wellbeing. Improving quality of life and cultural access in healthcare settings is at the heart of arts and health work.
The framework for Arts and Health practice in Ireland is guided by the Arts Council’s Arts and Health Policy and Strategy (2010)

Where does Arts and Health happen?

Arts and Health takes place across the spectrum of physical and mental healthcare. The range of healthcare settings includes, but is not limited to, hospitals, residential units, day care centres, primary care centres, hospices and community health settings.

Who is Arts and Health for?

Arts and Health can engage health service users of all ages and abilities, their carers, visitors, healthcare staff and local communities.


Arts and Health is not limited to any artform. It can include visual art, music, literature, theatre, dance, storytelling, opera, film, circus, spectacle and architecture. It can also involve a multidisciplinary approach, bringing together different artforms.


Arts and Health incorporates different approaches:

  • Arts Participation: an artist collaborates with individuals or groups within a health or social care setting in the creation of work, eg. one-to-one art making at the patient bedside, participatory music sessions, artist residencies etc.
  • Environmental Enhancement: The clinical environment of the healthcare setting is ‘softened’ by artworks, exhibitions, public art commissions etc.
  • Receptive arts engagement: Performances, concerts, screenings etc.

Initiatives can range from once-off events to long-term programmes.

What is not ‘arts and health’?

Arts and Health is not Arts Therapy. Arts and Health practice in Ireland refers to non-clinical arts initiatives, led by professional artists.
There is a clear distinction between arts and health practice, where a key goal is the experience and production of art, and the arts therapies, where the primary goal is clinical. (Arts Council, Arts and Health Policy and Strategy)
Arts therapists work creatively with people using a recovery-focused approach to achieve specific clinical outcomes and require specialised training for this express purpose. “A client very often comes to art therapy because of a specific issue or concern which is subsequently addressed in the session, using the art making as a tool to address the concern.” (John McHarg, Art Therapist, Working on the Edge)

Arts and Health practice is delivered by artists who bring their own arts practice to an encounter or setting. It involves considerable experience and skill on behalf of the artists who need to be self-aware, responsive, resourceful and to demonstrate excellence in their artform. The artistic aims are demonstrated and articulated in the course of the practice and participants are encouraged to extend and enhance their experience of the arts. Participants are invited to explore their own creativity and self-expression, not to address a specific issue or concern. The artist is not a therapist, the participants are not clients and the artistic processes are not a mechanism to achieve specific health, behavioural or rehabilitative outcomes. The act of creating and expressing, free of clinical expectations, is at the heart of Arts and Health work.
If you are working or interested in the field of Arts Therapy, please contact the Irish Association of Creative Art Therapists for further information.

Arts and Disability

Arts and Health practice in Ireland is distinguished from Arts and Disability: Arts and Health incorporates both artistic and health aims, whereas Arts and Disability is focused exclusively on the engagement and involvement of people with disabilities. (Arts Council, Arts and Health Policy and Strategy)
Disability can refer to physical, intellectual or sensory impairments. Padraig Naughton, Director of Arts and Disability Ireland, argues that there is a perception of disability as being primarily a health issue, which has led to some confusion with arts and health work. The focus of Arts and Disability ‘is about removing barriers to people with disabilities around participation in or experience of the arts.’ (Naughton, Why arts and health should not be confused with arts and disability)
Arts & Disability Ireland (ADI) supports artists with disabilities, provides access services to the arts for audiences with disabilities, and supports arts and culture organisations to adopt an inclusive approach to audience development. The extent to which an arts initiative involving people with disabilities can be considered arts and health practice depends on whether it is positioned within a health context, involves a partnership approach with health professionals and has wellbeing objectives as its remit.

Other related practices

Arts and health can cross over with any number of other arts practices such as: community – based arts, arts and medical humanities and arts and science. In addition, an individual artist may choose to explore health themes or content
in his / her work. The degree to which these practices may be described as arts and health will depend on the extent to which they incorporate the characteristics described above.