Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Still life with plastics and plant 2010/2011 Eden Kotting © Project Art Works

Still life with plastics and plant 2010/2011 Eden Kotting © Project Art Works

Project Art Works breaks through

The innovative Project Art Works is UK’s leading artist led organisation that works with people with profound intellectual impairment and complex needs. It was started 21 years ago. In Hastings. Since then it has inspired similar schemes across the country – with international links. Isn’t Hastings amazing? It is staggering what Hastings achieves with limited resources and massive enthusiasm and  ambition. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths applauds Project Art Works’ hard work.

Project Art Works was co-founded by Kate Adams and Jonathan Cole. As a result of their work in schools with children of complex needs, they noticed the lack of imagination and skills apparent in the children’s paintings and drawings as the pupils turned out remarkably similar looking art  – i.e. the result of teacher’s influence and not the inspiration of the individual. From that, Adams and Cole explored new practical and philosophical approaches, the use of materials and techniques including casting, etching and painting to directly express form, movement and gesture.

Plant an acorn and grow an oak tree

Untitled Jonathan Rogers © Project Art Works

Untitled Jonathan Rogers © Project Art Works

That ethos is the underbelly of Project Art Works. It is individuals that matter; they are facilitated to create what they want, in safe spaces that are created specifically for their requirements. Their needs are all different – some require quiet places, others a space where they can slop and drip and make a mess or a noise; or some prefer smaller spaces, others more expansive.

It is a place devoid of criticism. A space predicated on trust, respect, where people can be themselves and grow in confidence.

The project is funded by the Arts Council, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and other foundations and businesses. Participants can visit regularly and over a long time – some have been there once a week for over 10 years. There are workshops, one-to-one, two-to-one or groups of six to seven people. Artists materials are of the best quality – pens, brushes, paints, paper, so colours do not fade or papers depreciate.

By allowing participants to do what they choose to do, the on-going participation between artists and makers produces extraordinary results. The Project Art team often film new participants to remind them later how people have progressed and developed. The team has learned to never anticipate results, never be surprised, since individuals so often massively exceed expectation. Parents have even commented that they had no idea that their son or daughter was capable of what they have achieved.

Sea Life 2010 Michelle Roberts © Project Art Works

Sea Life, 2010, Michelle Roberts © Project Art Works

Artists support makers to do what they want to do, to be. To begin with it is a matter of being respectful, building trust, allowing the participants to express themselves and feel safe. Often the communication between maker and artist is non verbal; they operate through observation and kindly encouragement. Importantly, the artists are paid. Hastings runs on volunteers but at Project Art Works the artists’ contributions are highly valued.

In 2015 Project Artworks had an exhibition at the De La Warr Pavilion. I thought it was an intriguing exhibition, the reaction was good and some of the paintings sold. The question has been raised ‘but is it Art’? Putting that point to  Programme Manager, Matt Pitts, explained “We wouldn’t necessarily think of them as artists, it is more of a sensory experience. Artists have a different way of viewing the world, the participants who come here experience the world differently.”

To me they are creatively expressing their worlds. Some might be pictorial, others abstract. All is valid. There is a definite choice of medium, colours, repetition, bright colours; some paint in miniature, others expansively; some like the sound, the vibrancy, the expression of pouring and dripping, the texture of the paint.

And the resulting work is gaining acceptance and appreciation.  Sam Smith who has been with the project for ten years had a sellout show at the Black Shed Gallery. Michele Roberts recently sold a piece at Sothebys.

Project Artworks in action

Project Artworks in action

Twenty one years later, Project Art works have expanded into another arch near the railway station. The spaces were always flexible and now they can offer new studio/workshop spaces, an exhibition area as well as storage for over 4,000 professionally archived art works. On Friday 16 February there is an open day from 4 to 8pm when the local community are welcome to experience Project Art Works and see the space, the exhibition and meet some of the participants. It is also possible to visit by prior arrangement. 

Project Art Works, Arch 3, Braybrooke Terrace, Hastings, TN34 1TD.

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Posted 10:38 Wednesday, Feb 14, 2018 In: Community Arts

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