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Art Therapy for Adults with Learning Difficulties at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art

09 June 2016

Art Therapist, Simon Critchley tells us about an art therapy project for adults with Learning Disabilities at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art…


Art Therapist, Simon Critchley tells us about an art therapy project for adults with Learning Disabilities at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art…

In Newcastle upon Tyne an art therapy group was offered to adults with learning disabilities within BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.

The BALTIC ANIMATE Project aimed to engage patients and service users of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust in a community art activity over a period of 6 weeks. A group of adults living with learning disabilities who have suffered from and are recovering from mental illness, were given the opportunity to work alongside BALTIC Resident Artist Lesley-Ann Rose and Art Therapist Simon Critchley on a 6 week project inspired by Fiona Tan's DEPOT exhibition.

The project aimed to bridge the gap between art therapy and arts in health services in the community by engaging patients and service users with mental health difficulties and intellectual difficulties who can find it difficult to access or become involved in community groups, which can help support them socially and develop their interests and participation within their wider communities.

The project was successful in engaging 9 individuals (6 female, 3 male) over the 6 week period, of which 3 were inpatients and 6 service users living in the community.

The benefits of the gallery space as an inspirational creative therapeutic environment (in an era when the traditional art therapy space is less of a reality) and as a vehicle for exhibition (building confidence and self-esteem of service users) and educational purposes (for the general public) around mental health issues was addressed.

Over the course of 6 weeks the group has had the chance to work within a fantastic creative space and experience using media that they have never worked with before over 6 lively afternoons, including:

• A tour of the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art including Fiona Tan's DEPOT exhibition
• Clay model making and sculpture
• Art making with a variety of media
• Stop frame animation and digital media recording and editing
• Silk screen printing and poster making
• Musical performance and recording

The BALTIC Project has allowed the attendees to be part of a social group in which they have been able to develop skills and techniques and have had an opportunity to use art to help work towards better mental health.

The work culminated in a short animated film produced by the group and screened within the BALTIC on World Mental Health Day 2015 which also served as an AIR (Audio Image Recording) illustrating the aims and benefits of the work.

The animation also includes voice recordings from individuals in the group discussing mental health and the theme of “Dignity” (World Mental Health Day 2015's theme), making the film a collaborative AIR but also an educational / awareness raising piece if viewed by the general public.

The individuals involved in the project have each experienced something they never thought possible: having their animation screened at BALTIC and their artwork and music exhibited. The premiere event was a huge success and the attendees, staff and invited family members were thrilled by the film screening and chance to show off their work with 25 people attending in total on the evening.

Simon Critchley is an Art Therapist at Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Foundation Trust CYPS Newcastle/Gateshead & Adult Learning Disabilities North of Tyne Arts Therapies Team.