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Consent and the Art of Touch

The final workshop in a series of four in Helium’s Cork Creative Health Hub programme involved a celebration event with families. Participants aged 6-10 presented some artworks and shared some of their experimentation with the art of touch through performance and play.

Hands by two participants. Photo by Siobhán Clancy

Over the course of four Saturdays, these workshops utilised a set of creative activities that enabled the safe exploration of human touch using the hand as a key motif. The participants at this workshop series live with a wide variety of long-term medical conditions. From the first workshop, it was clear that a great deal of care needed to be taken not only with the kind of activities planned and materials collected for the group but also with the level of contact between participants. Due to the prevalence of severe allergies, participants were hesitant to interact physically and this seemed to hamper their confidence in play and creative exchange. 


The experience was facilitated by artist Siobhán Clancy with the assistance of volunteers Aoife, Róisín, Claire, Raphael, and Aoife and the support of medics Dave and Eilish. The sessions typically started with all participants and personnel washing their hands with sensitive, non-dairy based soap that was free from nut oils. Participants expressed an interest in working with colour, clay, and paint, which were all used in the activities throughout the workshop.


 An early activity was the creation of paper hands based on the outline of the participants own hands that were then decorated and mounted on sticks. They were used as a prosthethic for greeting others allowing participants who felt hesitant about physical contact to build emotional and social connections with one another through play in a way that still allowed them to maintain a safe physical distance.

Impressions on board left from the imprint of hand-shaped clay works following our workshop. Photo by Siobhán Clancy

One of the most popular activities involved participants making a clay model version of their own hands by first tracing their hand and then carving the form from wedges of air dry clay to decorate and later paint. Clay modelling gave the participants a chance to get creative in a very tactile and messy way, helping to foster their ability to innovate and challenge the values placed on traditional art-making methods in a safe and controlled environment. 

Hand by participant. Photo by Siobhán Clancy

The children also decorated boxes to keep their clay creations in, as some of the bits were quite fragile due to the nature of clay. They used a range of papers, stickers, fun fabrics and other textures which included actual sheep’s wool brought in by one thoughtful participant who was eager to share his love of farming life with his peers and delighted facilitators. 

Box-in-progress by participants. Photo by Siobhán Clancy

A different activity was inspired by a video of  a class in the US performing ‘Greeter of the Week’ that was recently shared online. Participants experimented with their own ‘Consent-based Greeting Train’. After a short discussion on how some people like hugging and others don’t and why, a poster of greeting options was created with the participants and one ‘greeter’ volunteered to facilitate the preferences of the others.

Greeting Poster. Photo by Siobhán Clancy

The results were remarkable: children that had previously hesitated to interact, much less make physical contact, found themselves having fun hugging and high fiving one another in turn and really enjoying it. One of the youngest participants, who had started the programme with a fear of physical contact due to his severe allergies, even volunteered to be a greeter by the end of the game, and realised how much joy he could get from a hug or a high five when he knew he was doing it in a safe and comfortable space. This result exemplifies the aims of our programme: to give children the resources to identify issues or experiences they want to positively change and to develop trust in themselves and in their ability to do so by being challenged, in a supported way, to try something different that may gently draw them outside of their comfort zones. The value of this is evident in the end of workshop reflections when the participant state they have not only found the experience “fun” and “creative” but also “Brilliant and Exciting and Great”. Parents have also responded positively, asking about the availability of more workshops in future after a little presentation on our process at the end of the final workshop.

Box-in-progress by participants. Photo by Siobhán Clancy

Helium’s Cork Creative Health Hub is funded by Creative Ireland’s “National Creativity Fund” and the Community Foundation for Ireland in 2019 and is taking place in partnership with Cork University Hospital’s Arts, Health and Wellbeing Programme. Our venue partners are the Crawford Art Gallery, Mayfield Arts Centre and Bishopstown Library. 

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