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Mental Health in schools

with DAISI

Devon Artists in Schools Initiative ArtEffect Project 

Between October and December 2017, Sara Downham-Lotto took part in the second phase of the DAISI mental health and art project, ArtEffect. The 10 week project was based at  Kingsbridge Community College in South Devon working with 2 groups of 10 year 8s (aged 13-14) identified as having some mental health issues. With a dedicated room for use and fully supported by a member of staff, each workshop ran weekly on Wendesday afternoons for 2 hrs.

DAISI’s outlines of the project …

Project/Workshop details:

Exploring how artists can collaborate with young people and their schools or settings in Devon to create artistic opportunities that support the wellbeing of young people who have identified themselves as experiencing mental health issues.

Aspirations and aims for the workshops:

  • Improved belief in own ability to effect change in own life
  • Improved confidence in themselves
  • Increased competence in artistic skills and approaches
  • An increased score on the Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being scale
  • Improved confidence in their positive relationships with those around them
  • Improved belief in own ability to make decisions that are good for themselves and others
  • Improved sense of connection with school (eg. Attendance, willingness to ask for help)
  • willing to see themselves as the artist in these sessions, and someone who could take part in other arts sessions beyond this group
  • perceives the arts activity undertaken by the group as enjoyable (NB enjoyable does not necessarily mean ‘fun’, but could mean ‘meaningful’ or ‘successful’) an increase in transferable skills that support the ability of young people to manage their own mental health in small steps, and to communicate their needs better to the school (such as seeking help when they need it and articulating what help they need)

N.B. young people will have opportunity to agree additional aims

Sara Downham-Lotto’s main objectives of the workshops was to:

  • create a safe, comfortable and non-judgemental environment in which the students feel confident to think and do differently, take risks and make new discoveries (e.g. ‘no right or worng’)
  • give the students ownership, choice and the freedom to express themselves
  • activities that balance working collaboratively as a whole group, in pairs and independently
  • facilitate use of and experimentation with a range of art materials and techniques (acrylics, inks, oil pastels, charcoal, collage, pen and ink, pencil, stencils)
  • facilitate use of and experimentation with process over outcome
  • facilitate use of and experimentation with colour, texture and abstract forms
  • create a range of artwork to display at Arts Lab Dartington for the students to visit and share with pride with each other

Pupils were to benefit from the workshops by:

  • growing in confidence through familiarity, encouragement and ‘can do’
  • having some pure fun for the sake of fun
  • learning about the benefits of being ‘in the now’ – all that matters is what you are doing now and how you are doing it, not necessarily why
  • developing a sense of pride through the work they produce both together and independently
  • further developing personal and creative identity
  • building and stengthening trust with friendships, support workers and ‘new faces’
  • learning that learning can be fun

Says Sara – “Heads down with concentration, excited murmurings of ‘can we / are we allowed to?’ and expressions of wonder – I challenge anyone to question the value of the kind of session where there are no rules – just paint, paper and working together.” The ‘grand finale’ of the project was a visit from all the students and staff on the project to Arts Lab for an afternoon. In time for their arrival, Studio 20 had been transformed into an informal exhibition space, displaying artwork completed in 9 weeks of workshops at the school. Session ‘leftovers’ provided another collaborative play activity …..

The Lab’s 16 year old film intern, Tansy West, has captured the day perfectly in the film below called Freedom.