Is Everyone an Artist?

On Friday 30 October, Outside In Communications Officer Kate Davey travelled to Bexhill for the De La Warr Pavilion’s ‘Everyone an Artist?’ symposium. The symposium accompanied the Pavilion’s current exhibition, ‘In the Realm of Others’, which features pieces by artists who work with Project Art Works (click here to read a blog post on the exhibition). In this post, Kate talks about the day and what sort of conclusion it came to.
The De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill

The De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill

“I was really interested in attending the ‘Everyone an Artist?’ symposium from the moment I first saw it advertised. It is a question that is very relevant in the outsider and self-taught art fields, and therefore something that is relevant to Outside In and the artists it supports. I was also looking forward to seeing ‘In the Realm of Others’, which David Rhodes (Lead Programmer at Project Art Works) recently wrote a blog post for us on.

The day started with an introduction from Councillor Keith Glazier, who spoke about the need to work together and collaborate in order to utilise the shrinking resources in both the arts and wellbeing fields. His talk was followed by Chair Baroness Kay Andrews who spoke about a project she recently oversaw in Wales that aimed to reduce poverty through arts and culture activities. She reiterated the need for joined up working, noting that there are many organisations working towards the same goals, and that connections and a sharing of resources can help us get their more quickly and efficiently.

The rest of the first half of the day was filled with inspiring talks from artists and arts professionals, including Director of the De La Warr Pavilion, Stewart Drew; Dr Trish Vella-Burrows, who spoke about the AHRC Culture Value Project; writer Stella Duffy; Director of Project Art Works Kate Adams; and Dr Emily Pringle, who is the Head of Learning Practice and Research at Tate. Stella Duffy spoke passionately about how she believes that everyone is an artist and a scientist, and explained her part in the revival of Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price’s ‘Fun Palaces.’ The Fun Palaces are free, local, innovative, transformative and engaging. They are about bringing communities together to create, and are a space where science, art, fun and learning meet. She was adamant that children (and adults too, I guess) need to be surrounded by people they can relate to who are artists, writers, actors, creatives, as this resonates with them the most: they feel like they can do it too.

Dr Emily Pringle spoke about the need to transform learning programmes in museums and galleries so that they are led by participants, rather than programmes. She initiated the redevelopment of the Tate’s learning offer, ensuring participants and potential audiences were consulted every step of the way. This tied in with what Stella Duffy was saying about who gets to decide what is important to know about art or creativity. A lot of the time there is a hierarchical model, where galleries and arts institutions are the ‘giver’ of knowledge and the participants are merely ‘receivers’ of knowledge. There is no interaction, only the transference of facts. It should be about learning with or alongside a piece of art, rather than learning from it.

In the Realm of Others at the De La Warr Pavilion, Photograph courtesy of Nigel Green

In the Realm of Others at the De La Warr Pavilion, Photograph courtesy of Nigel Green

During the lunch break, I had a look around the Project Art Works exhibition, which is entered through a mock-studio façade of shelves full of art materials and stored paintings. The exhibition aims to question perceptions about the process of art making, and on several occasions, the Project Art Works artists whose works are on display in the show have been actively creating in the space. A few of the artists were already very familiar to me: Outside In Award Winner Michelle Roberts and Neville Jermyn to name a couple, and all were makers with profound intellectual impairments, presented in a living, evolving installation that offers a glimpse into different creative states of being.

After lunch the symposium moved onto the outcomes of recent research into the link between creativity and health and wellbeing. Nick Ewbank, whose organisation Nick Ewbank Associates had organised the day itself, spoke first about the intrinsic versus instrumental debate with regards to the impact of creativity on wellbeing. The evidence-based five steps to mental wellbeing are:

  • Connect with people around you, spend time developing relationships
  • Be active, take a walk, go cycle – find an activity you enjoy and make it a part of your life
  • Keep learning new skills. This will give you a sense of achievement and new confidence
  • Give to others – even the smallest act can count.
  • Be mindful of the present moment. Take notice of your thoughts and feelings, and the world around you

Interestingly, Nick mentioned the similarities between these steps and the sort of things that being creative can achieve.


Five steps to wellbeing

Dr Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt and Dr Louise Mansfield both spoke about research happening in the field. Rebecca Gordon Nesbitt’s research looked at the longitudinal relationship between arts engagement and health, and she mentioned a couple of long term studies that have shown the impact engaging in creative activities can have on life expectancy. Louise Mansfield’s research is currently in the early stages, and focuses not only on creativity and wellbeing, but also on the impact of sports and exercise on wellbeing. Richard Russell, Policy and Research Director at Arts Council England, was next with information on ACE’s new research funding programme which will see creative organisations work with academic institutions to measure the outcomes of creative activity and engagement.

In the final section of the day, we heard from Peter Stark, an internationally acknowledged leader in cultural policy research, and Alexandra Coulter, Director of Arts & Health South West. They both spoke about the policy side of arts and health, with Peter Stark noticing that government funding for the arts predominantly serves large institutions that are based in London. Alexandra Coulter spoke about the All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing, which brings together MPs from across all parties to examine research on arts and wellbeing and discuss ways to move forward in implementing some of the findings.

It was really inspiring and motivating to hear about all the good work that’s being done in this area. I think it’s so important that academic organisations are on board, creating an evidence base on the impact of the arts on health and wellbeing which can in turn influence policy-makers and funders. I think what’s needed next is the development of a consistent way to evaluate the impact of arts activities.

Although for me the day didn’t answer the question ‘Everyone an Artist?’ I think it definitely highlighted the reasons why everyone should be an artist, or at least why everyone should aim to engage in creative activity. Like having five pieces of fruit or vegetable a day, Nick Ewbank even suggested we add ‘develop a creative habit for life’ to our medical mantras – and I am inclined to agree!”

In the Realm of Others continues at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill until 3 January 2016. Click here for more information

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  1. Tanya

    Thank you Kate Davey! I thoroughly enjoyed this post and particularly your thoughts at the end. Nick Ewbanks steps to well being are very interesting and something I would love to learn more about. The exhibition looks well worth a visit too. Thanks again for the post. Tanya Wood ________________________________________

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