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Your place to explore new perspectives on British art from 1900 to now. Through interviews, films, image galleries and essays, we uncover the creative lives of the people behind the art on our walls.

Three people in front of a wall of paintings

Social Prescribing and Creative Conversations

[ Stories )

Our Community Programme Manager, Emily Robson, explores the importance of our Community Programme and the social prescribing services it provides.

Visiting a Gallery for the first time can feel both overwhelming and rather intimidating. There can be a sense of an elusive ‘art gallery etiquette’ where a visitor feels like there are unspoken rules and even certain behaviours that must be adhered to. I have worked in galleries for over a decade and can still feel a lack of self-assurance when visiting new exhibitions; am I allowed to talk? How long should I look at each painting? Am I expected to ‘like’ everything? How close can I stand?  Is this really a space for me? Do I look smart enough? You may laugh at my angst, but I can guarantee that most people have had a least one of these concerns or thoughts when visiting an exhibition. Visiting with a group in a supportive environment quashes or a least can diminish some of these worries that when left unresolved could easily make someone feel like the Gallery isn’t ‘for them’ or that they aren’t entirely welcome or comfortable.

I am proud that Pallant House Gallery upholds the value that ‘everyone is entitled to a creative life’. This forms a very tangible and significant commitment to generating a Gallery programme and environment that strives to include everyone.

Three people stood in front of print in gallery space

The Community Programme was founded in 2002 and continues to offer creative opportunities for around 200 local people a year. The Programme offers a supportive environment for people who may otherwise feel unable to share in a creative life, this could be due to health reasons, disability or the many other barriers that people face. People join the programme for many reasons so it is important to us that the joining process allows space for people to tell us their hopes and expectations alongside how we can best support them to attend. This individualised approach promotes inclusion and enables people to remain involved for many years.

This individualised approach promotes inclusion and enables people to remain involved for many years. Members of the Community Programme can attend trips, participate in our programme of studio sessions, take part in group exhibitions, one-off events, attend training and also become Community Programme Ambassadors.

Community Programme artists chatting while doing art

Alongside these opportunities we also offer our Partners in Art scheme. This opportunity matches someone who would like support with a volunteer who shares a similar art interest. Partnerships meet to create artwork, share ideas or look at exhibitions together. Some of the partnerships have been meeting together for over 10 years and the benefits and experiences this relationship facilitates is unique.

From 22 September until 27 November 2022 we will be presenting an exhibition in the Studio at Pallant House Gallery that highlights people’s experiences and memories of being part of our distinctive Community Programme.

Studio space with multiple tables with PVC table coverings with artists sat painting

Based on feedback received from Community Programme members and also wider academic studies, it is well known and documented that creativity and the arts have the potential to significantly benefit health and wellbeing.

In 2018, when the NHS announced a national roll-out of Social Prescribing in England we were particularly interested to discover how this could connect with the work of the Community Programme. We were keen to discover what this could mean for encouraging new audiences and building even greater engagement with our local community. Social Prescribing aligns well with the Community Programme’s holistic approach to looking at an individual’s needs and interests.

A person painting a face surrounded by paint bottles

Social Prescribers who are sometimes known as ‘Link workers’ currently work with 12 Chichester area GP surgeries. Their role is to support people to engage in ‘non clinical’ opportunities in the community that promote and encourage wellbeing. For the Gallery this means that Social Prescribers are able to support people to join the Community Programme and also accompany people on Gallery visits.

Local Social Prescriber, Jo Fishwick explains that:


“For many of our clients, an art gallery is not a familiar or natural environment.  Being supported to access the space, can be very beneficial for their physical and emotional wellbeing and/or developing or reigniting an interest in art. It can also help reduce people’s sense of social isolation, which is the major reason GPs and other professionals refer into our service. The Gallery offers a quiet, welcoming, safe space and works hard to make itself accessible to the whole community. We are very lucky to have this lovely resource on our doorstep.”


Three people in front of a wall of paintings

This shared focus on supporting people to access a creative life has prompted us to work in greater partnership by relaunching our monthly Creative Conversations sessions. These sessions focus on encouraging new interactions with the Gallery, particularly those who may be engaging with the Social Prescribing service. These Creative Conversation sessions encourage wellbeing and are a fantastic ‘first time’ experience of the Gallery (regular visitors also very welcome!).

The sessions bring together people who are interested in art and would enjoy discussing art with others in a non-judgemental and safe space. During the session the group spend up to an hour in the Gallery focusing on a small selection of artworks. Questions and conversation starters are led by our assistant curators who gently guide the conversation with their insights and expertise.

Woman in green standing behind table and 3 people sitting around table

Open questions that provoke conversation create a dynamic discussion where everyone’s thoughts are equally appreciated and valid. During the session more and more is revealed about the artwork as observations are made and assertions develop. I find it refreshing for the focus to be on the immediacy of pure observation rather than reliance on art historical knowledge or cultural context. Generating a discussion that doesn’t depend on memory recall also enables the sessions to be inherently inclusive for people who have Dementia or other conditions that affect memory.

Enabling new conversations to take place within the Gallery setting enables us to learn from other’s experiences and perspectives. It enables stories to be told and shared and when taking part, I can’t help but feel the artist would be pleased the work was being appreciated in this way.

We are really excited about what this developing partnership with the Social Prescribers will offer both for those who access the sessions and also the Gallery as it learns and responds to new audiences.

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