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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.

A man paints at an easel in the courtyard of a red brick building.

Art on Prescription: Why health professionals are prescribing art to their patients

[ News )

You might think that there couldn’t be two more unconnected institutions than the NHS and an art gallery but you’d be wrong! For several years now, we have actually been available on prescription – or more accurately, our Community Programme has.

Social prescribing is one of the ways the NHS is working towards universal personal healthcare. GPs can refer their patients to social activities instead of, or in addition to, more conventional types of medicine. Patients are directed to a trained Link Worker who can support them to become involved in community-based activities. Joining in activities such as exercising, gardening, choirs and, of course, art workshops has been proven to reduce isolation, improve mental health and encourage people to explore new opportunities.

We have long advocated for this kind of holistic approach to healthcare through our Community Programme, our pioneering approach to enable everyone to lead a creative life. The Community Programme currently provides nearly 200 people who have a range of support needs with meaningful and long-term opportunities to express their creativity.

Creativity and leading a meaningful life

We’ve always believed in the power of creativity to transform lives – and 2020 has only strengthened that belief. Throughout the many difficulties we’ve all faced this year, we’ve seen time and time again that creativity offers an outlet for many people. Whether that’s providing an escape from a seemingly despairing and unending news cycle or allowing people to express their emotions, making and creating art has proven to be a lifeline.

In 2016 we commissioned a Social Impact Study which demonstrated that participating in the Community Programme has a significant benefit to health and wellbeing. A third of survey respondents reported “improved general health” as a direct result of joining the programme. The study also noted that participants experienced “reduced social isolation, increased confidence, decreased anxiety and/or depression”. The rise of the Social Prescribing model is a great endorsement to the work that the Community Programme has been doing over the last 15 years.

A man wearing a dark blue shirt engrossed in painting a picture in a studio.

The impact of Covid-19

2020 has probably seen the largest disruption that our Community Programme has ever experienced. For many participants, visiting the Gallery in person was a vital part of their routine.

In order to continue supporting them while the Gallery was closed, we sent out art packs containing art materials and sketchbooks and offered opportunities for people to have a Telephone Partner so that those who faced social isolation (perhaps for the first time) with a vital link to a wider creative world.

Many of our participants and volunteers found creative projects to keep them going during lockdown, such as Julia Oaks, who yarnbombed her own garden with a series of rainbow themed knitted and crocheted artworks.

A larger than life multi-coloured crocheted mushroom sits in a plant pot.

One of our volunteers, Steve Martin, was inspired to create an artwork to express our gratitude and appreciation to the NHS. He chose to paint a portrait of Julie Thomas, Head of Nursing for the Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust. She and her teams have worked incredibly hard in unprecedented circumstances and risked their own lives everyday to ensure the health of everyone else. The portrait was presented to Julie earlier in the summer, who thanked Steve for his kind gesture.

A man wearing glasses and a woman wearing a nurses uniform hold a portrait of the women between them.

As part of the art packs sent out during lockdown, we included a blank postcard which we asked members and volunteers to decorate and send back to us. The response was an incredible variety of artworks and styles that absolutely blew us away. You can see more of their responses here.

Looking to the future

Since lockdown restrictions were eased, we have all had to make sense of a new normal – and our Community Programme is no exception.

While we haven’t yet resumed in-Gallery workshops, Community Programme participants and volunteers are now able to visit the Gallery again and we hope to be able to run socially-distanced workshops in the future.

Whatever the future holds, we know that being able to express our hopes and fears through art will be essential to the health and wellbeing of everyone. We are continuing to make plans to ensure that we can continue to support our Community Programme members and find new ways to help everyone lead a creative life.