Creative Heritage in Mind

Mixed Media Puppets by Juliet Lockhart and participants

The Association for Suffolk Museums (AfSM) and Norfolk & Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), developed  a collaborative working partnership through a yearlong project; Creative Heritage in Mind. The project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and delivered arts and heritage courses in four Suffolk Museums. The project sought to establish ways that health care and heritage sectors can come together to meet a shared aim of contributing to people’s well-being through engagement in culture, heritage and art.

The project offered opportunities for people experiencing mental health problems to feel more meaningfully connected to their local community. The courses focused on art and learning in museums to promote wellbeing and recovery. Working with guidance from the museum curators and the project artist, participants were encouraged to create their own artwork in response to museum collections. Participants (re)discovered their creative potential and most have been inspired to continue some art practice outside of the courses and many continue to visit the museums. The museum collections provided rich sources of inspiration; the objects and their stories resonating with individual’s experiences, creating opportunity for expression of personal narratives and enriching connection to the community and its history.

The overall project spanned  May 2015 to December 2106, with course delivery from October 2015 to July 2016. The courses ran in three terms of seven week art courses across the four  museums.

Description of the arts activity

The courses were focused on visual art. Each course covered an introduction to art techniques, social and art history leading to the production of an individual piece of artwork inspired by the museum collection. The artist provided visual and narrative references to historical and contemporary artists pertinent to the theme of each terms work; containment, re- invention and transformation.

The courses delivered a mix of creative exercises designed to suit all abilities, introduce relevant art history, contextualise it through the work of contemporary artists and encourage participants to explore the theme in their own way. The small group size (max 8), allowed the artist to work on a one to one basis if required.

All the themes in the project were offered as opportunities for participants to explore personal experience, using the art work as a vehicle for personal narrative, implicit or explicitly communicated through their artwork.

Details of the project participants

The project engaged adults experiencing mental health problems and aimed to engage and educate mental health professionals and museum staff.

The project was advertised through emails and flyers which were widely distributed within the mental health service and community resources e.g libraries, adult education. We also promoted the project through talks in the inpatient services and at world mental health day.

Prospective participants could self-enquire or be signposted to the project. People also came to the project outside of mental health services, (e.g through the library). It was important to encourage a socially inclusive mix.

Project management

The project was managed by the steering group which comprised the project manager, project officer, the artist, a lead representative from each museum, the art therapist and a participant representative.

The project officer and lead artist worked with the museums and art therapist, who was the NSFT representative and provided advice and supervision throughout, ensuring clinical governance in addition to signposting service users to the project. The project artist is an experienced community artist who runs an arts in mental health charity which maintains quality assurance standards. Volunteers and museum staff had ongoing CPD including mental health first aid training. A participant advisory panel developed during the project which advised on the project.

The total cost was £60,406, made up of £39,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £7,566 from Suffolk County Council and the AfSM and in kind contributions from NSFT.

There was a charge of £15 per participant including all materials, but their place could be funded if they were unable to pay. Consent forms were filled in by each participant, to cover all visual and written material and any evaluation recordings made and a data protection policy was in place.  

Evaluation methods and findings

Reflective journals were kept by participants. This included WEMWBS, a quantitative wellbeing scale. The art therapist conducted evaluation sessions with the artist and participants, in which an art based activity was used to reflect on the experiences of those in the group. This was recorded (with consent) and used for outcome and testimony purposes.

The WEMWBS data showed that all courses showed significant improvement in mental wellbeing. Key findings from participant testimony showed meaningful change in art and heritage engagement (in and outside of the courses), social engagement, confidence, motivation and a more positive self-view regarding capability and potential.

We found an increased awareness of mental health problems amongst museum staff and an interest in developing the collaborative working relationship between health and heritage sectors locally.

Development sessions were delivered in museums, inviting mental health staff and local arts organisations to sample partnership working. This has progressed into workshops about art, museums and wellbeing on the mental health trusts’ Recovery College timetable.

Three exhibition booklets were produced, including photographs of participant’s artwork, of the museum objects which inspired them and participant testimony. This was given to each participant as a record of achievement and for use as promotion.
Final exhibitions will be held in Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds in September and October 2016, to show participants work and to launch the books.
A short film is currently being edited, to be used for promotion and advocacy purposes and can be accessed once completed.
The full evaluation report to the HLF is due January 2017

Supported using public funding by the Arts Council England