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Blog - Learning Disabled Art Studios

An art studio occupying several arches in Hastings

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Our visit to Project Art Works marked the end of our traveling and the end of the research phase of this Arts Council England funded project. We were really excited to see their new studio/archive space, as well as to find out what was happening concurrently at Tate Exchange in Tate Liverpool, as half the team was there instead!

Four stunning framed works in shades of blue by Jo

After a tour around their new space, we sat down to chat all things Project Art Works with Matt, whilst being overlooked by four framed paintings by Jo – beautiful. Capital funding has allowed the new arch space to be kitted out with a bright open studio space, walls for exhibitions, more space for their archive, as well as a multi-purpose room upstairs that can be rented externally.

Project Art Works is known for working across the visual arts and social care sectors for the past 20 years, and this is built into everything that they do. For the social care sector it is about demonstrating the important role that art often has in people’s lives. When working out in the community with museums and galleries, it is not about short-term projects, but about long-term impact and change, and for these organisations to make change from the top down.

George Smith’s Untitled canvas hanging in an exhibition

A specialist support worker role is in place whose job is to think about the environment and any alterations that need to be made to the environment to enable each individual artist to take part each day. This is an area that is under constant review and includes things like the physical environment, the temperature and the personal space that certain artists may need.

Project Art Works are keen to not be seen as an art therapy organisation. For them it is about people having support, time, good materials, and a value being placed on the marks made. They recognise that this can have knock-on benefits for wellbeing, confidence and social confidence, but ultimately it is about art, freedom and purpose.

Charlie’s studio setup for a new canvas painting she was working on

Their in-house adult programme runs across 36 weeks of the year, with different groups and numbers of artists in each day. The ‘Supported Studio’ on a Wednesday led by Tony Colley has been running for ten years, and the artists attending on this day all have their own practice and their own innate desire to create and pursue artistic careers. Each day has a different artist lead, which brings their own artistic practice and working methods to the studios, and there are regular sharing days for artist leads to meet to share how they have been working with the group, and the challenges/success stories of things that may have taken place. On the Tuesday we saw a diverse group working who had taken part in a group drawing activity in the morning. Tanya said,

“It was really interesting to see how the studio and the artists create their own work, on their own terms, supported in many different ways according to the individual artists needs and creative goals. The work they had done that morning was hung to create a canopy, which was then used to break up the studio space into intimate spaces – some artists used these as working spaces. Other artists had also personalised their working spaces too, much like the artists have done in the space for ArtStudio01 in Shrewsbury. It was really interesting to see the identity of artists coming through in their work too.”

The morning’s session artwork with Annis hung like a canopy in the studio

At the end of each day there is a reflective practice meeting that all staff and volunteers are involved within. Simple evaluation questions are addressed at these meetings each week too. Like with Project Ability in Glasgow, the volunteers for Project Art Works only come in for limited periods of time, as there is a long list of people that want to come and gain voluntary experience with the organisation.

We chatted with Esther who is the two-day a week Community Networks Coordinator and a large part of her role is the peer support network. Esther organises informal meet-ups for carers/family members to discuss topics that are important to them and to hear from others in similar situations. Guest speakers relevant to the topics being discussed are also often brought in. Having someone able to offer this support or pinpoint people to relevant organisations seems quite key to learning disabled art studios, with the places we have visited all having different things in place. Tanya said,

“I will definitely be looking into developing a peer support network within ArtStudio01. We already have acknowledged the need for creative practice for two carers/families and they now also have studio spaces addressing their own health and well-being.”

Eden looking at her still life setup that she is documenting on her painted canvas

Finally, we looked at the archive, which is a wonderful beast housing over 4,000 artworks and over 70,000 photographs! It has been built over several years with funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, and Wendy talked us through how it works and the different information that is held on each artwork on the database. It was quite something, and one that other organisations could certainly aspire to in years to come!

Best of luck to the Explorers group who are off to a remote area of northern Scotland for a week, and we look forward to seeing the results and films from this across the country in 2019! Tanya:

“And congratulations to the six artists featuring in several South East based Premier Inn’s currently. What a surprise when I booked in to the Eastbourne Premier Inn and saw the work of Project Art Works artist Darryl Spencer in the hotel reception. Then I was told all about it by the very enthusiastic receptionist, who had also been to a Project Artworks workshop.”

Matt talking us through one of the many artworks that are in the archive

These blogs are co-written by the producer for this research project, Jennifer Gilbert, and Director of ArtStudio01, Tanya Raabe-Webber, sharing what they have learnt during their studio visits. This blog draws to a close the research visits for this project. Please follow ArtStudio01 on social media to see what happens next!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/artstudio01

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ArtStudio01/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/artstudio01_/

 

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