Project Art Works
Established in 1997, Project Art Works collaborates with people with complex support needs, families and circles of support. Their practice intersects art and care, responding to neurodivergence, its gifts and impacts. Challenging paradigms of inclusion, it spans direct practical and holistic support, film, events, projects and exhibitions.
Cultural strategy ambition(s)
Culture for everyone - Hastings' cultural offer is inclusive and accessible - there are chances for people to take part in culture and creativity in their community.
Proud to live in Hastings - Culture builds connections between communities to improve the quality of life for local people.
Creative businesses succeed here - The creative economy is thriving, creating opportunities for local people to gain skills and employment.
What did you do/what happened?
Our programmes evolve through creative practice and radiate out to awareness raising in the cultural and care sectors - promoting more diverse representation of neurodiverse artists and makers, and those who care for them.
Who was/is involved?
Our studios in Hastings provide the conditions for a broad range of autonomous and collaborative creative practices with neurodiverse artists, caregivers and others.
Project Art Works facilitates the Support Collective that brings together people who care for people with complex support needs, to share our knowledge and experience, and protect our rights through training, resources and advocacy.
Children and young people with and without support needs participate in Art Breaks, giving positive opportunity to work in collaboration with a team of skilled professional artists and to experience art as a tool for exploration, communication and self-expression.
Why did you take this approach? Was there anything novel in your approach?
Neurodiverse communities are very often marginalised. There are limited opportunities for community based, independent creative development, visibility and representation.
From our studios and in temporary studio set-ups during off-site projects and workshops, we facilitate personalised creative pathways for artists and makers with complex support needs. The studio spaces are without hierarchy where events and happenings unfold, and artists work together in purposeful collaboration using total communication. Gesture, sound, signing and empathy allow for more expansive forms of connection. We provide the conditions for people with complex support needs to participate in creative expression on their own terms. We work with the circles of support that surrounds individuals so that they can participate, and their families and carers can access free training, peer support and skills development to help them navigate health and social care systems and assert their rights.
When did this happen, over what time period?
We originally worked with school children with SEND across East Sussex between 1997 and 2005. The organisation gradually expanded and we now work with neurodivergent people from age 5 onwards, operating from our base in Hastings where we have creative studios and a team of skilled artists who collaborate and facilitate studio practice. We also work nationally and internationally, collaborating with major art institutions producing exhibitions, installations and collaborations that also deepen understanding of neurodiversity and increase representation and participation. We are internationally recognised for our contribution to visual arts as demonstrated most recently by the Jarman Award 2020 joint win, Turner Prize 2021 shortlisted, and selection for documenta fifteen 2022, a major international showcase for innovative and exceptional contemporary visual art.
What was involved in terms of logistics, time or resources? (i.e. how much work did it take?)
We are a self-funded charity generating our income through trusts and foundations, statutory funding and earned income. Our core team of 11 is further supported by 22 freelance artists who work regularly in our studios with 40 (adult) artists with complex support needs, 90 children with SEND, and their families and carers. We work in partnership and are commissioned by other arts organisations on projects, exhibitions, film and other collaborations.
Is this a first for Hastings, regionally or even nationally?
Yes. Our work is unique and innovative in relation to bridging social care and culture in exceptionally high quality contemporary visual art programmes and productions. The quality of the work and its aims is recognised locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.
Where did you get inspiration / the idea from for this activity?
Project Art Works was co-founded by artists Kate Adams and Jonathan Cole, who shared a studio. Kate and her husband and young family had conducted a programme of intensive, sensory stimulation therapy (sourced via the Institute for Human Potential of Philadelphia US) with Paul their son, for 5 years with the help of over 40 volunteers from the local community, until he attended special school aged 6. In 1996 she saw a small exhibition of works made by children in Paul's class of 8. The children were all very different unique individuals yet the works were all the same. Bringing art and life together she proposed a collaboration with Jonathan to experiment with high quality, sensory materials and media and to explore direct, unmediated mark making establishing multiple approaches to facilitating this with children who had a range of profound and multiple disabilities. Working with over 100 disabled children in two special schools they conducted a radical series of residencies between 1996 and 1997. This led to their first exhibition, many new creative actions and to Project Art Works being constituted in 2004.
Over the past 20 years, Kate has worked in partnership with Tim Corrigan (Creative Director) and many artists, organisations and others. Project Art Works has evolved into a national and international leader in collaborative creative practice. They raise awareness about neurodivergence and the interdependencies of people who have complex support needs, caregivers, art and social care systems that both enable and disable full participation in life, community and culture. Project Art Works has become a vital point of connection and contact for many people and organisations. They develop and promote new ways of thinking about agency, ethics and praxis that challenge paradigms of inclusion in all ways.
What difference has this made to your organisation, the people involved?
The work is the organisation and the organisation the work. So our programmes, activities and content are shaped by neurodivergent communities, carers and artists. The difference we make is the positive impacts for neurominorities of greater representation and visibility in their communities, in culture and society more generally.
What are your plans for the future?
We will continue to develop programmes that respond to the lived experience of neurodiverse communities. These will be centred within visual art but include a wide range of local, place-based work focussed on local partnerships and collaborations. We are in the process of purchasing a new venue, that will expand our existing site, alongside working deeply in alliance with Hastings Commons to develop a town centre building as an ultra inclusive, open, town centre hub of creativity, temporary accommodation and new models of diverse led cultural action.
What advice would you give another arts organisation or creative practitioner looking to do something similar / work in Hastings?
Create meaningful relationships with the communities you wish to serve - they will guide innovation that reflects their lived experience. Work with artists who are skilled, talented and motivated. Take action and build gradually. Look at the social and political contexts and work with these to shape and mould them to support your aims.
How can your experience address commonly encountered challenges to help other arts organisation or creative practitioner working or based-in Hastings?
Project Art Works is under increasing demand to share its learning. We have more and more requests for visits and for knowledge exchange. To this end, we intend to develop a learning centre in our new space, a gallery in alliance with Hastings Commons over the next 3 years and to create multiple residencies, learning and knowledge sharing programmes that can be accessed by local, regional, national and international artists and culture and social care practitioners.
"Arts Council England has been supporting Project Art Works and endorsing its work for many years now. We are constantly impressed with the amazing impact of their work and see this organisation as a key sector leader both within the arts but also, through their pioneering work in the field of neurodiversity. This endorsement of their quality is also now being strongly evidenced nationally and internationally by other peers and stakeholders, as demonstrated by their nominations for the Jarman Award, Turner Prize and participation in Documenta 15 as the only UK representative."
-Arts Council England
"So much more than Art in its traditional form. It is about freedom of expression and experiences. It is about inclusion at the highest level, where it has moved on from 'fitting in' to 'joining in' and a freedom to just be."
-Parent of child with special educational needs and disabilities