Up, up and away

Living

ENGROSSING WORKSHOPS Helium Arts workshop with Rachel Doolin at the Le Chéile Family Resource Centre (Mercy Centre) in Mallow in early April.  Pic: Marcin Lewandowski/soundofphotography.com

Ciara Moynihan

One of art’s most valuable gifts is its ability to allow the artist move outside of themselves, of their everyday life and worries. The execution, the act of creation, can be so engrossing that preoccupations and even pain can drift away, even when the artwork’s themes reflect those realities.   
No one could be more deserving of a break from the pressures reality than children living with long-term medical conditions. Recognising this, Helium Arts is launching a new creative health programme in Castlebar aimed at providing arts programming for children living with long-term medical conditions. The national children’s arts and health charity’s first outpost in Mayo, the Castlebar Creative Health Hub is scheduled to open this summer.
The new hub will follow the trail blazed by those in Cork, Limerick and Galway, which have already served more than 2,000 children living with long-term medical conditions since 2019, supporting their wellbeing, their creativity and their ability to cope with their conditions.  
A quote on the Helium Arts website says it all: “When you care for these children for such a long time, they often conceal what they are going through inside in order to maintain the little control that they have,” says paediatrician Dr Aoibhinn Walsh. “But they’ll reveal themselves to the artist through the medium of their creative interactions. Giving children an opportunity to express themselves during such difficult times is so important.”
A quick trip to the Helium Arts gallery on helium.ie showcases the fruits of the young artists’ labours, from paintings to animation, sculpture and film. A dizzying array of imaginative forays, the gallery fizzes with life, fun and expression.  

Connection and belonging
Helium Arts is dedicated to empowering these children and teens through creativity and the arts by creating connection and belonging for young people who can feel lonely and defined by their health condition. All Helium Arts Creative Health Hub programmes for children are free of charge and wheelchair-accessible. Medical support is provided by a professional medic, and volunteers are present to provide extra one-to-one support so that workshops can be safe and inclusive environments for children to have fun and make friends.
For some participants, the workshops are a rare opportunity to connect with peers with similar life experiences in addition to developing creative skills.
Helene Hugel, founder and CEO, explains that the benefits are manifold. “Nurturing creativity through the arts is shown to improve coping skills, wellbeing, stress and anxiety, as well as building confidence, self-worth and a sense of hope. At Helium Arts, we are driven by the idea that healthcare will always be about more than treating the condition – it is about supporting people. And as we have seen throughout the pandemic, the arts play a vital role in supporting people, both their individual and their community wellbeing.”
This positive impact of unleashing such creativity has been well documented. As one parent whose child took part in a Helium Arts programme put it: “My son’s creativity was opened up in such a short time and I could see confidence in himself growing that he would love to do sessions on a regular basis.”
Until now, Helium Arts’ only Creative Health Hub West programme was located in Galway city. Now, thanks to the new location in Castlebar, Helium Arts will be more accessible this year to Mayo children and families challenged by long-term medical conditions.

Castlebar summer camp
The Castlebar hub’s inaugural free art camp will take place over three days from Tuesday July 5 to Thursday, July 7. There will be a morning workshop for children ages six to eight and an afternoon workshop for older children ages nine to twelve.
Facilitated by local artist Lucy Hill, the Mayo hub will be a space for children to play, learn, and explore their creativity through hands-on activities. “I am absolutely delighted to be working with Helium Arts to bring its amazing programme to Castlebar. The emphasis in the workshops will be on having fun, making friends, and exploring some new, exciting, and really enjoyable artistic processes,” said Hill.
Ann Marie McGing, Acting Arts Officer, Mayo County Council Arts Service said: “I am delighted that Mayo will now be part of the Creative Health Hub network and that young people living with long-term medical conditions in the county … this project provides unique and valuable access to arts opportunities, in a safe and supported environment, for the young participants. The Mayo Hub is very fortunate to have Lucy Hill on board, she will bring a wealth of passion, experience and fun to the workshops.”

To find out more about the programme, or to refer a child, please contact Helium Arts’ Family Liaison on hello@helium.ie or 083 010 3240. Helium Arts is recruiting volunteers in Co Mayo to help lead artist Lucy with the workshops and provide one-to-one support to children who may have additional needs. To apply, visit helium.ie/volunteer or email volunteer@helium.ie.