Art Lab began in February 2020, co-produced by the De La Warr Pavilion and Sussex Discovery College.

The weekly sessions were designed for young people aged 14-19 experiencing social, emotional or mental health challenges.

The project began with a steering group meeting, facilitated by Rivkah Cummerson, CAMHS Youth Engagement and Participation Manager (who also supported the weekly Art Lab sessions along with Head of Learning Ashley McCormick) , to get feedback from a group of young people on how we might approach planning the project. What came out of this,  was an interest in having the chance to test out different processes, with group and individual activity and a person-centred focus that provided plenty of opportunity for choice. One comment from this focus group was that it would just be nice to have somewhere safe to come and do art once a week. It struck me that, as artists, when beginning to think about a project we might have ambitious ideas about creating a collaborative film (for example), but actually, just providing a safe space to sit and draw and the opportunity to connect with others empathetic to some of the things you might be experiencing day to day, might just be ambitious enough.

A group of young people who hadn’t met before arrived nervously but full of creative anticipation on an evening in early February and we began our Art Lab journey, getting to know each through exploring, interacting with and responding to the exhibitions by Zadie Xa and Mark Bauer  in the galleries. We began each session with a group activity and for the first couple of weeks we explored different processes including animation, slide-making, painting/drawing on fabric, photography, wax relief painting, drawing and painting with ink. Participants then identified which processes they wanted to explore further which, in turn, created opportunities for collaboration (with two participants choosing to explore photography for example).

As the project developed, friendships as well as creative partnerships began to emerge. At the end of each session participants had the chance to share something of what they had been making and these moments were initially quite reserved. But by the fourth session we noted how everyone contributed something to this sharing and this was a testament to the generosity and courage of all individuals in the group. The space where we worked tentatively in the first week was feeling like a shared artist studio space with participants moving freely around, looking and commenting on each other’s work and with some people chatting as they worked alongside each other. For a few, these kind of interactions were more challenging but they also made their own strides towards reaching out and sharing their work with others. Without exception, the young people who came along  all had something fantastic to contribute and demonstrated so much creative potential.

On our fourth session when, as usual, the session had to wrap up just as we were all completely immersed in working, we had to discuss the possibility of not seeing each other the following week, because of the closure of the Pavilion.  Which was indeed what happened. We, the organisers, tried to respond quickly by sending out art material packages (pictured above) and emails of animation and work made to keep the connection going and let the group know we were still there.

With three planned sessions remaining we are now thinking about how to deliver them and are exploring online workshop possibilities as well as postal and email prompts. When the social isolation ends we will look forward to coming together again and celebrating our work.  We are already hoping to make plans for future projects.

Thank you to everyone involved in the project – especially to Rivkah and Ashley for their support but mostly to the Art Lab participants –  I’m looking forward to more to come.

by lead artist Annis Joslin


Posted by sally on Thursday 23 April 2020