Open Artbox is a new project being developed by visual artists Anji Archer and Christina Armstrong. We have come together with a vision, to create a programme of friendly, welcoming and sociable contemporary art workshops in Hertfordshire. These free workshops will be specifically designed for a group of 12, six who are living with a dementia and a carer/companion.
We have spent the past year researching, training and volunteering and every part of this has strengthened our resolve to make this happen.
The background stuff
To give you some background, we are two visual artists, both trained to Masters level in Fine Art, who have been practicing for over 10 years. We both have experience of delivering art workshops to a range of different ages and abilities, in a range of mediums. Christina specialises in drawing and Anji textiles and mixed media. Christina has recently undertaken Arts4Dementia training and completed the course 'Dementia and the Arts' run by UCL and Created Out Of Mind. She volunteers weekly at a Dementia social group and has been inspired by the amazing people she has met there and the fantastic experiences they have had as a group.
On a very personal experience, Anji was carer to her late father, through the progression of his Alzheimers disease over 10 years, up until his death in 2017. Whilst sharing a studio together at this time, we began to discuss the potential of doing something as artists to challenge the stigma associated with the disease and help empower those in the community that seem to have very little voice. We both believe strongly in the chances that meaningful creative experiences can offer to anyone, but particularly to those in our society that are often losing the ability to express themselves to others.
Our project aims:
We have partnered up with Stevenage Museum, who are kindly supporting with this project, providing us with a workshop space and access to their collection.
We want to run an initial 8 week project that will allow us to dedicate a regular time to one group, focussing on building trust and confidence throughout the group through fun and creative activities. The workshops will focus on modern and contemporary art, looking at a different artist each week, their materials and techniques and using this as a starting point to explore, experiment and have fun with a wide range of mediums, forms and textures.
Everyone within the group will be supported and encouraged to express their own thoughts, feelings and ideas, in a safe and non-judgemental way. Art is a fantastic tool for helping us to connect to each other as equals, giving us a freedom situated in the present moment, and not reliant on prior knowledge or memory. The sessions will very much be focussed on these in-the-moment experiences that come from group interaction, exploring and handling materials and the thoughts and feelings that emerge from it. By staying in-the-moment through these sessions, everyone will be able to participate fully and have meaningful, social connections through the art.
With art we can learn about ourselves, make sense of our feelings and make meaningful connections with others. We feel passionately that it has so much to offer those living with a dementia, as well as crucially giving us an important opportunity to listen to the voices of those that often do not speak for themselves.
How this money would help:
If we can raise £800 we will be able to buy the good quality art materials we need for these workshops. Many of the things we need are the basics that we will be able to use over and over in future workshops. We need practical but very important things like aprons, good quality scissors, printmaking rollers, brushes, trays, plaster, pencils, charcoals, clay, paper etc. We feel that having good quality materials is absolutely essential to the project and the benefits it can provide to people.
Any extra money we raise will go towards future workshops and potentially into the purchasing resources to enable us to offer a public exhibition to participants, which would be a really exciting way of celebrating the achievements of the participants and the experiences they have had.
As outlined in Hertfordshire County Councils Dementia Strategy report 2015-19, there are an estimated 15,000 people currently living with dementia in Hertfordshire, and 835,000 across the UK. Approximately 40% of people with dementia reported feeling lonely and almost 10% only leave the house once a month.
In July 2017 the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing published a report outlining their findings from an inquiry into the current impact the arts was having on health and wellbeing and gave recommendations for its future development. It couldn't have been clearer in its message. The arts presents a huge opportunity in helping us to tackle many of our social care and wellbeing challenges for now and in the future and advised investment to build significantly on the work that was already being done. In the report there is a particular section specifically addressing the subject of arts and dementia, outlining the positive impact it can have on people lives.
Our future aims:
This initial 8 weeks is an incredibly important start for Open Artbox. It would allow us to gather feedback from participants and carry out a thorough evaluation of its impact. As well as this it will give us an opportunity to build relationships with participants and hopefully encourage them and others to become involved in our workshops again and in the arts in their community more widely.
We want to grow this project into a regular programme of workshops that empower participants and support them to shape the outcomes to be their own. Looking forward we want to give them an opportunity to celebrate their achievements and experiences through a public platform, either through an exhibition or maybe a film. We believe this would be a wonderful opportunity for people affected by dementia to tell their own narrative and help tackle the stigma and isolation that the diagnosis brings.
If you can, please help us make art, make a difference to those living with the affects of dementia.
Thank you so much for taking the time to look at our project.
Christina and Anji