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Creating a welcoming space for your audience

11th Apr 2019

We spoke to Learning and Engagement Manager Heather Thomas, for an insight into some of The Lightbox’s Art and Wellbeing initiatives.

The Lightbox has been integrated into Woking’s community since the start, when local people championed the need for a gallery and museum space that could offer opportunities for visitors to engage with local history as well as contemporary art. As such, The Lightbox aims to offer its local community the things that will benefit them, and they listen to the needs of their community members when developing projects. The Lightbox’s volunteers are essential to the delivery of these projects, as are local societies, clubs, and support networks that are passionate about providing these activities, and help to fund their wellbeing programmes, alongside grants from trusts. As The Lightbox is a charity, all profits it makes from events, shop sales and its Friends scheme are invested in growing these valuable projects.

Their Art in Mind project, which was devised by Heather, was inspired by them recognising the need within the community for a space for people living with the early stages of dementia and their carers. After researching and assessing the level of demand, Art in Mind was born in 2013 and has been running ever since with two contained groups meeting every month. It has been interesting to note how some participants had never made work before and found a new love for art and making through the project.

Through their Art Without Walls project they also work with a couple of local care homes to take art workshops to their residents, helping them develop an interest for art and creative skills amongst older people with a range of needs.

Their recently launched Accessibility Guide for visitors with autism was devised in response to feedback from local organisations and carers and parents about what it would be useful to know in preparation for a visit to the space. This discussion has also led to more sensory options in exhibitions, such as a sensory bag so that neurodiverse people have another way to engage with the work.

Heather feels that having an enjoyable time and feeling comfortable in the space is paramount. In devising projects, her team is aware that some people feel that museums and galleries are not for them, and they want to change this perception with their work. They are looking at ways to make drop in art workshops more accessible to children with special educational needs, and are also developing a ‘Visual Story’ for children on what to expect in the space and who to talk to if they need assistance, so that visiting the gallery will be a less daunting experience.

Heather’s top tips in developing inclusive art projects are: speak to your audience about what they want and make the experience fun. The Lightbox hosts a quarterly meeting with representatives from local youth groups, support networks, and societies in order to find out how they can best work together and react to feedback in the new ideas they develop. Making the activities enjoyable and comfortable is key in order to take people away from their challenging life experiences momentarily and to give carers the opportunity to come together, creating their own informal support network over a cup of tea and a biscuit. (It’s also important to provide good tea, coffee and biscuits to keep people coming back!)

Image: Art in Mind at The Lightbox, courtesy The Lightbox.

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