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Dublin Open Studios: Connecting, creating and experimenting at IMMA

Dublin Open Studios, the most recent addition to Helium’s Creative Health programme, started in October 2019 and ran until March 2020. Led by artist Ciara Harrison, the Open Studios provide children and teenagers the opportunity to connect, experiment, create, and be inspired by the artworks on exhibit in the Irish Museum of Modern Art, where the studios are held. 

Two Truths & A Lie: ‘I particularly liked when we cut out pictures and then stuck it on a board combining pictures together’ – 12 year old boy, Children’s Open Studio


Once a month, up to seven children aged 9-12 came together on a Saturday morning to build connections and explore identity. Inspired by the works in the DESIRE exhibition at IMMA, the group experimented with a variety of art forms including collage and text-based work. The children were all first-time participants, so artist Ciara focused on the idea of connection, and the things that link us together. While all the children live with long-term medical conditions, Ciara encouraged them to think of other connections they share including school life, home life, favourite foods or sports, etc. They then used creative techniques to explore these links further. For example, one of the games they played was the classic “two truths and a lie”, but their version had an artistic spin. They cut out different images from magazines to represent different aspects of their lives, and the group then guessed which things were true and which were not. Afterwards, the cut-outs all became part of a group collage. In addition to making friends and having fun, they’ve also been learning new skills including sewing, t-shirt design, and clay modelling. One participant told us,

‘I loved to make clay and when we made sewing and everything. Thank you so much. I love it all.’

Embellishing Boiler Suits, inspired by the work of Derek Jarman.


In the afternoons, the teenagers took over the studio. Having all participated in Helium’s programmes before, the six participants already had shared connections, which enabled them to jump straight in and build an open studio based on their own unique interests. During their first session, they established that they wanted the studio to be a place of ‘play’, ‘not just drawing,’ and emphasized the importance of ‘experimentation’ and ‘freedom’. Inspired by the PROTEST! exhibit, featuring works by Derek Jarman, the young people designed their own colourful and creative boiler suits. They also spent time exploring the question: What change would you like to see in the world? In one session, they illustrated their response to this question through drawing, sharing what they were most scared of as well as their happiest memories. Their discussions and discoveries led them to create a performance piece based on their responses.  One of our volunteers said,

‘My main take away was probably noticing the enjoyment that came come from simply making together in a group with no particular goal or set expectations - it’s a nice way to be together in a group’

Creative Connections from the Children’s Studio


The Dublin Open Studios, like many of our programmes, would not be possible without the assistance of our incredible volunteers. Not only do they bring new and exciting ideas to the group, they also provide us with a lot of insight. Here are some of the reflections our art volunteers had on our Open Studios programme,

  ‘For me, how natural and relaxed an environment Ciara and Emma created in the studio was the really special thing about the workshop. Nothing was forced, nothing was too contrived. Sitting around the table, just chatting, tearing up a piece of paper and making something nice…To be honest I even forgot why I was there at times so hopefully [the teenagers] were able to forget about whatever else they had on outside of that studio too – even if just for those few hours!’ 

“This [is] a chance for the kids to not think about … hospitals or their illness for a few hours. You can literally see each of them relax more and more as they create, chat and have a bit of fun – it was really great!

Helium Arts’ Dublin Open Studio is produced in partnership with the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). The Dublin Open Studio is funded by the Arts Council, the HSE through the National Lottery, the Community Foundation for Ireland and the Hospital Saturday Fund.

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