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The impact of the Bealtaine arts programme on the quality of life, wellbeing and social interaction of older people in Ireland

  • EAMON O'SHEA (a1) and ÁINE NÍ LÉIME (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 22 July 2011

There is increasing evidence in the international literature that engagement in the arts can enhance the physical and psychological wellbeing of older people. Such engagement can increase the self-confidence and morale of older people and provide opportunities for increased social connections, leading to higher levels of social cohesion. This article is based on an evaluation of a national arts festival in Ireland called Bealtaine that celebrates creativity in older people each year during the month of May. The festival is unique in the wide range of arts-related activities it includes and the different types of organisations involved, such as local authorities, libraries, educational institutions, health and social care organisations, and voluntary bodies for older people. It includes both long-standing professionally facilitated arts programmes and one-off events at local and national levels. The evaluation used quantitative and qualitative methods to analyse two major postal surveys with organisers and consumers of the festival and face-to-face interviews with older participants, artists and organisers. The findings are overwhelmingly positive in terms of the personal and social gains arising from participation in the festival. In this context, the study provides support for the provision of enhanced and sustained funding for creative programmes for older people and, more generally, for the development of an integrated policy for older people and the arts in the country.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Eamon O'Shea, Irish Centre for Social Gerontology, National University of Ireland, Cairnes Building, Galway, Ireland. E-mail:
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S. Galloway 2009. Theory-based evaluation and the social impact of the arts. Cultural Trends, 18, 2, 125–48.

C. J. Greaves and L. Farbus 2006. Effects of creative and social activity on the health and well-being of socially isolated older people: outcomes from a multi-method observational study. The Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, 126, 3, 134–42.

S. Lowe 2000. Creating community: art for community development. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 29, 3, 357–86.

F. Reynolds 2010. Colour and communion: exploring the influences of visual art-making as a leisure activity on older women's subjective well-being. Journal of Aging Studies, 24, 2, 135–43.

S. Snow , M. D'Amico and D. Tanguay 2003. Therapeutic theatre and well-being. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 30, 7382.

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Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
  • URL: /core/journals/ageing-and-society
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