Creative practitioners responses: Northern Ireland (Arts Care)

Read more about Arts Care here.

"Covid -19 and lockdown for me as a visual artist and in my role as Arts Care Artist in Residence for the Belfast Trust, manifested as a visceral need, a desperate itch and pull in my tummy to do something, to engage, to inject creativity into the hospital and units that I would normally be with week to week."

Beth McComish


Beth McComish is Arts Care Artist in Residence for the Belfast Trust.

Beth's reflections

Covid -19 and lockdown for me as a visual artist and in my role as Arts Care Artist in Residence for the Belfast Trust, manifested as a visceral need, a desperate itch and pull in my tummy to do something, to engage, to inject creativity into the hospital and units that I would normally be with week to week. I could not even imagine the emotional tsunami that collegues, friends and patients were going through.

My response was to contact each of them and work directly with Arts Care in providing some daily and creative comfort for them. This has taken form each week in a myriad of interventions, whether online – creating workshops tailored from my intimate knowledge of the unit's and patients' wants and abilities – or working closely with the bereavement services within the hospital. I worked with the team to transform the Mater Hospital ‘wobble room’ from a sterile antenatal clinic into a space of comfort and colour. This included having a 2m x 2m tapestry installed into the space. The tapestry was created with community social workers earlier in March and completed by me in the studio. I was able to let the social workers know that their beautiful reflections of their days were now providing support at the Mater. Alongside this I created multiple illustrated spaces/frames for staff to write positive messages to each other as they travelled in and out of this cared-for space.

These artworks are having a direct impact on the wellbeing of staff and volunteers and the knowledge of that, for me, is profound.

As a mother of young children, this creative journey has not been alone; my children are bearing witness daily to my creative interventions and many times have joined me in their creation. These in themselves are memories I am cherishing.


My personal practice researches and illustrates the essence of human narratives and their direct and indirect affects on our community, planet, and human actions and motivations. I work through reflective documenting, 2D and 3D illustration and other visual arts media and a range of live exhibitions, contemporary art commissions (public and private), through to participatory events activating audience’s creativity, insight and ideas.

Graduating from Central St Martins in 2002, I have worked consistently within the creative industry, as an in-house illustrator at a number of creative agencies, specialising in public health in London, to being freelance visual artist and illustrator in Belfast, through to the last two years working with Arts Care as project artist and Artist in Residence at the Mater Hospital Belfast.

Facebook: @bethmccomishartist

Brendan Popplestone


Popplestone is Arts Care Musician-in-residence at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. During the COVID-19 Virus, Brendan delivers his arts service through online facilitation. The beneficiaries are service users and staff from Mental Health Service, Disability and Older People’s Services including those with Dementia in Residential Care. Brendan delivers in Lock Down, online Guitar Lessons which are a continuation of his weekly face to face sessions with Health and Social Care Staff. This is a regular activity and aims to teach staff music skills for their personal benefit and to support their mental health and well-being.

Brendan's reflections

The current crisis has been a challenging time for society, most so for care professionals and for the vulnerable, who are the main focus of our work as professional Arts in Health workers. As Musician- in-residence for Arts Care in Belfast Health and Social Services Trust my pre-crisis work was mainly facilitating music sessions (often 4 per day)  in day, residential and hospital care settings. Fairly abruptly in March it became clear that popular and effective interaction using music in these settings was now impossible, with the closure of day centres and enforced isolation of people in wards and care homes.

We were challenged to use our contracted time in different ways and we came up with alternative ways of arts delivery. My personal path started off with a stocktake which was challenging working 5 days per week as well as reviewing years of documents. In the course of this work I found ‘forgotten’ projects and audio files and was inspired to reinvigorate some of them.

With the advent of the Arts Care 4U YouTube Channel one of the first projects I published was a reimagining of a Creative Relaxation Session, produced successfully around 2000 with an Occupational Therapist (OT) who is now Senior OT at the Acute Mental Health Unit, Belfast. I used her original voiceover from my stocktake with some music I had recently recorded and abstract images created by another Artist- in-residence in a care home. The newly produced Relaxation Session uploaded onto YouTube had a wide outreach. The positive benefits of the new Relaxation Session recorded by healthcare staff and service users endorses the process of the musician re-producing music works from archives.

This example of a response to the need for a new way of working highlights a Musician working collaboratively with Healthcare Professionals, other Artists,  and service users to successfully address an identified need in a time of crisis.


Brendan Popplestone is a freelance musician, facilitator and composer who has been working for Arts Care as Musician-in-residence and a Project Artist, based in the Belfast Area since 1995. Before that he worked in Day Care Management until he saw an opportunity to marry his health work experience with his love of sharing music.  He has just released his seventh music album with folk/classical trio, Seefin, playing concerts to good houses in many venues.

Bronagh Corr McNicholl


Bronagh Corr McNicholl is the Arts Care Visual Artist-in-residence at the Western Health and Social Care Trust. She delivers her arts service into Altnagelvin Hospital, Derry, Older People’s Services, Mental Health Services, Cancer Services and Young People’s Services. The beneficiaries are from across the above services.  Bronagh highlights in her ‘story’ the on-going project in the North West Cancer Hospital where the beneficiaries are service users, their families and healthcare staff from the hospital.

Bronagh's reflections

As an Arts Care Artist-in-residence working throughout health environments in the Western Health and Social Care Trust, I have always enjoyed and valued the artist/ service user collaboration and champion the idea that we can work creatively together towards a sense of well being.  Fundamental to my work has been the relationship to nature, through painting, drawing, photography or whatever art form I feel is right for the service user. The importance of making small connections in the world around us and standing still is core to my creative practice. For example, over the course of a number of pop up workshops in the NW Cancer Hospital waiting rooms working with staff and service users, facilitated the creation of a number of Floral, Botanical style painting workshops. The finished paintings were used to create ceiling panels above the cancer ward treatment assessment bed. Another project involved installing large scale photographic digital images of nature by busy staff areas to encourage positive mental health in working environments. These types of installations mean that during the Lock Down I can continue working with NHS staff via email in a participatory way, as they make the creative choices on their future environmental installations.

Whilst missing the service user relationship, in some ways, I feel the slowing down of life during this pandemic has brought a lot of positive attributes I try to instil in my work; taking the time to enjoy nature, explore our creativity, through art, cooking, gardening, dancing and most importantly to explore who we are and what is really important to us as individuals.

If anything this pandemic has taught us, it is we are all creative beings, we can pivot, adapt, change, we can find a new normal, we can support each other, care for each other, enjoy the process of creating art without worrying about the end result, we can all do our bit towards a new and kinder civilisation.


Originally from Tyrone, I have been living in Derry City for the past 12 yrs. I work as an artist/photographer/facilitator. I am married and the mother of two teenage sons.

My own photography conveys the small narratives and moments in both people and nature, observing the small detail in a fast paced world.

Whilst I work predominantly in photography I work across all disciplines of mixed media  crossing over to include oils, film, audio, literature and sculptural/found elements in some of my work. I have completed an MA in Film and Television and am about to embark on a PhD practice based research degree.  Film nature, and the photographic image continues to influence my professional work.


Grainne Kielty


Grainne Kielty is Arts Care Artist-in-residence at Musgrave Park Hospital, Belfast. The beneficiaries of Grainne’s residency are Healthcare Staff, Service Users and their families from the Neuro-rehabilitation Unit, Older People’s Services including Rehabilitation Services, Mental Health, Children and Young People’s Services.  The funders of the Grainne’s residency in Musgrave Hospital are the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and the Health and Social Care Board. Some of Grainne’s Arts Care Projects are also funded by the Public Health Agency NI.

Grainne's reflections

Covid-19 has affected every aspect of our lives, imposing a new way of working and living. I have not found this a difficulty…and this surprises me. I have missed the physical presence and connection with patients and colleagues, but I have found that this in itself has added strength and resolve to my desire to remain creatively engaged and connected. My imagination is stretched and though out of my comfort zone, I am not as apprehensive as I would normally be. I think this is because we are all in this strange place together as Artists and as People.

My work feels important to me and others. I am working at a distance and yet closer than ever with fellow Creatives. We are working to develop ways to sustain a creative input to the already difficult days of our service users and staff. The challenge has been to continue with ongoing projects remotely and maintain interest. Our hospital staff are great believers in the power and importance of creativity within their departments, they are working with us to ensure that we can continue to provide the resources needed and the support required to ensure that service users remain creatively engaged. 

Our digital world has come to the fore and we are rapidly learning to present virtual sessions, provide comprehensive worksheets and resource packs to hospital staff for dissemination and later evaluation. Never before have we as Artists been so removed from our user groups. I am accepting of this because I know it is necessary, I am overwhelmed demand for creative output...this is a good thing!

While my home life remains stable and my work life busy life can seem almost normal, I think this has been the key to my own physical and mental wellbeing…that and all the creativity!



Grainne Kielty graduated in Fine Art Sculpture in 1992 and since 1994 has been Director at Artworks a Belfast based company specialising in arts facilitation within education and health care settings. Since 2014 this has included a part-time Arts Care Artist- in-residence post at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust where she is based at Musgrave Park Hospital.

Grainne’s studio practice encompassing bronze and ceramic work, she has exhibited throughout Ireland and has completed a number of public artworks in education and health and community settings throughout Northern Ireland.

Ned Jackson Smyth

Ned Jackson Smyth is an Arts Care Visual Artist-in-residence at the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust. The primary participants and beneficiaries are service users and healthcare staff from Adult Mental Health Services and Older People’s Health and Social Care Services. The key funders of the creative professional’s residency are the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Health and Social Care Board and the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust.

Ned's reflections

When this Lock Down and Pandemic landed in my life, my initial feelings were of grief for my freedom of movement as my choices stopped. This was a bereavement for my normal way of working as an artist and facilitator. After absorbing these personal emotions and some ‘internal cooking’ of ideas and even personal anger (not seeing loved ones), the creative thought moved into considering solutions, a way through to survive, simply as a human being.

The adaptions to my creative work involved art workshop delivery using technology which has had limitations. The removal of the face to face conversations with service users and staff, the ‘craic’ as they say here in Ireland has been challenging. The face-to face interaction leads to collective creativity between service user and artist. However, online delivery I consider a solution for now.

My arts delivery during Covid-19 has extended into the local school where I have facilitated projects in the past. During Lock Down I am involved in working with Key Workers and Frontline Healthcare Staff’s children. An example of my work was making a short film on the ‘Two Metre Rule’ with two brothers aged 7 and aged 4years old. The film for the Arts Care ‘Arts Care 4U’ YouTube Channel promoted ‘social distancing.’ Overnight with the support of the school’s facebook page, the film had a huge outreach with positive comments. This showed me the impact of such interaction during Lock Down and in some way ‘fed’ the creativity outcome.

On a personal level, I record sounds and images of everyday things, bird song, the quiet roads, going shopping etc. I live in the countryside in Northern Ireland where a wave to someone walking their dog is normal, but now there seems to be a strange camaraderie in the wave followed by ‘are you going ok?’ ‘How’s your family?’ …a question of wellbeing. I hope that we can take this element of ‘care’ forward. I feel this is where creativity can live at the heart of community and become stronger within our everyday living.


I have been involved in Public Art for a number of years and completed over fifty public commissions. The artworks range from community-based projects, authority commissions and private commissions in Ireland and Europe. They range from ephemeral to permanent public art works. The concepts are informed by the qualities of place, the interactions inherent in the specific space and concerns of the human spirit. I have participated in international exhibitions, and been commended with a number of awards and accreditations.

My influences are broad and varied but most are derived from personal life experiences and the human condition…

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