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Vision, mission and background

Our vision is to connect visual artists with people and projects to build and energise happier, more connected and more resilient communities.

Our mission is to be a vital resource enabling artists, young people and the wider community to promote and benefit from the visual arts. Establishing ourselves as an experimental learning hub, lives are transformed through dynamic visual arts engagement working for and with artists.

Our aims

  • to establish a stronger presence of the visual arts as a vehicle for change
  • to reduce isolation and lack of purpose in people’s lives
  • to reduce the number of young people suffering from anxiety and depression
  • to create opportunities for young people and artists alike
  • to increase the number of happy and fulfilled artists
  • to bring art to the attention of people who might otherwise not give it a second thought
  • to inspire others to exceed their potential and fall in love with their purpose
  • to play a part in Dartington’s enabling and giving expression to a ‘many-sided life’
  • to foster high callibre visual arts practice and collaboration throughout the south west
  • to build and energise happier, more connected and more resilient communities

‘A rounded human being has got to be better than a square one for the tasks that lie ahead.’                               Michael Edwards (writer and activist)

Our ethos embraces experimentation and play, individual expression and social and cultural diversity and inclusivity. We aspire to harnessing creative energies in ways that can most benefit the marginalised and disadvantaged, the local community and the arts themselves. 

Arts Lab is committed to the arts, their practice and how they link on a fundamental level to other disciplines and what it is to be human. Art for us is a vehicle for immersive, experiential learning by doing and making. In line with Dartington’s ethos, we see ourselves as an extension to the ‘progressive lab for living and learning’ and believe that ‘creating art (can be) central to the development of a good citizen’ * (*Black Mountain College of Fine Arts and Progressive Education).

The core of Dartington’s philosophy is a ‘many-sided life’ – the idea that we should draw on all of our faculties in our efforts to transform the world, and by doing so, become transformed ourselves –‘head, hands and heart.’ A life with many sides instead of one is bound to be more productive and fulfilling, both for individuals and for the societies they create.

What’s the need? In times of political instability, with health and welfare services, education and the arts so compromised by financial cuts, it is a necessary resource. One in four of our country’s 12-25 year olds suffer from anxiety and depresssion. We have a generation of increasingly isolated, uninspired and disempowered young people. Equally desperate are the increasingly high numbers of arts graduates unable to find work that relates to their passion and utilises their skills.

For mutual benefit, Arts Lab connects these two groups – young people with artists – to develop programmes to engage the wider community. We are an innovative and vital resource offering a range of opportunities to be involved with dynamic experimental arts engagement to inspire and motivate, boost confidence and empower. Young people are connected with opportunities to build and energise happier, more resilient communiites. At the same time, the project helps to increase numbers of fulfilled arts practitioners.

How it all started. Arts Lab came into existence as a pop-up arts space at Aller Park, the former Dartington Hall School building on the estate. The idea for the project came from founder and creative director, Sara Downham-Lotto. Born out of an ambition to combine artists’ studio space with a place to run workshops and collaborative projects, the 2 rooms at an affordable rent was a great opportunity. Sara had recently completed an AA2A residency at Plymouth College of Art. This experience, together with her year-long project with the local secondary school facilitating students to set up their own studio, prompted her to consolidate her 30 years’ experience of painting, exhibiting and teaching. The timing for an Arts Lab couldn’t have been better; the newly appointed CEO, Rhodri Samuel, and Director of Arts, Amy Bere, were embarking on the challenge of resurrecting Dartington from years of neglect and mismanagement. The plan – to return to the core values of what the Elmhirst’s Dartington stood for, embracing inclusivity, social and cultural diversity, the new and the experimental. These values underpin everything that Arts Lab stands for.

Where we are now. In August 2016 Amy Bere invited Arts Lab to be a part of the ‘evolving arts strategy’ at Dartington, and since September of the same year, we have been based at Studio 20, Dartington Space. In January 2018 Arts Lab became a Community Interest Company. Since Spring 2018, we have on board, 3 directors, 3 steering group members, 7 associate artists, 5 young artist volunteers, 3 volunteer administration assistants and a volunteer film and video tutor.