Arthouse Meath Supporting Artistic Talent
www.yourssustainably.com speak to founder and executive director Becky Sheraidah aboutArthouse Meath, an artistic enterprise funded by The Meath Epilepsy Trust, teaching art to people with severe epilepsy and learning difficulties and creating beautiful products.
How long has ArtHouse Meath been going, who started it and why?
Arthouse Meath is based in Surrey and has been running for 6 years, the whole enterprise being moved to a high street shop in Godalming in April 2012. I set up the enterprise for Meath Epilepsy trust, having previously started one in Hertfordshire. My drive for Arthouse Meath came from seeing skills made redundant. When I was a freelance artist I worked one day a week in a day centre working with people who need 24 hour care and cannot live independently. The majority of people live with severe epilepsy and learning difficulties. I was amazed by the artistic talent and skills of the people I worked with, and at the same time I was saddened by how people’s skills were dismissed and work made redundant daily. Sarah Bradley was someone who recognised skills and created beautiful works with people and I knew there were other artists who would love to do the same. Employing skilled professional artists to help people create saleable works and feel a sense of purpose seemed a great marriage.
How do you fund ArtHouse Meath?
The Meath Epilepsy trust funds the enterprise, as the majority of people who access Arthouse Meath are resident at Meath Epilepsy trust. We would like to be self-sustaining from sales and we are on our way, but still need a huge amount of support to ensure sessions can be run and individuals care needs are met.
Professional art instructors run the workshops, how many are working with you at the moment and how do you find them?
We have 9 professional artists working with Arthouse Meath at the moment. Artists come in at a very high standard, one artists has an MA from the Slade on has just completed MA from the Royal Academy, all artists create and sell their own works and have a high level of understanding the arts market. We advertise when we have a vacancy.
What range of disabilities and ages do you work with and how do you accommodate for their different skills?
The majority of people we work with live with severe epilepsy and learning difficulties. In order to ensure everyone is involved we group similar skill levels in sessions. Then we evaluate individually how people can contribute, so people with very high needs and low dexterity work on abstract or backgrounds for group works, celebrating unique mark making. We provide a technical and observational skills session for people that have a keen interest to learn method and are very advanced. Some people have very unique style of drawings that will be made into prints, some people have humorous heart felt phrasings who design cards, some people like to work in the shop and others may just like the social environment and being part of a team.
Does each new artist go through a training program and if so how long does it last?
Professional artists employed to instruct a session will have protection of vulnerable adults training, and care background and health and safety instruction. To actually work with people creating works the artists are employed because of their portfolio and skills so we work closely for the first few months finding a method and process which works best for each art instructor to work with the group of people in the session. Arthouse Meath team, clients and artists work very closely together working towards positive outcomes.
Do you give any guidance with subject matter for the artwork or do the artists have free reign?
The majority of time there is a choice offered as subject matter for the artworks as people like to be lead and taught new things. We always offer the chance for development so if someone has a particular interest then the work will go in that direction. For instance Peter Andrews like to draw naked women, Molly parks likes to paint and draw birds, Maria Travis is interested in Ann Frank.
What benefits do creative activities have for those with epilepsy and learning disabilities?
People living with epilepsy are more prone to seizures when the brain is inactive, so fully concentrating and being engaged may prevent some seizures. Everyone gains something from being creative and adults with learning difficulties and epilepsy are no different, it is very good to help with communication. There is a sense of release in self-expression and some people are very expressive when creating so subsequently feel more relaxed. The major benefit Arthouse Meath can offer along with all the benefits of creating, dexterity, expression and colour skills is a sense of purpose, being part of a team, acceptance and self-worth.
The Paralympic Games have done a great job to raise awareness and change people’s perceptions of those with disabilities, what role do you think the arts can have in helping to change people’s perceptions?
Art that is created by people living with disability can send an immediate message of we can! Quite often when Arthouse Meath artwork is seen at exhibition the viewer may like it initially and then surprised to learn who the creator is. Many artists strive to create what people who access Arthouse Meath create; art by people living with a disability can directly tell the viewer ’I have something to offer, do not dismiss me’.
Have you got any new products, projects or events happening in the near future?
We have always got new products in development; we are going to have a new look online shop where you will see the new products ready for Christmas purchasing. Some beautiful gift box sets are being created. Arthouse Meath intend to have a grand opening of the high street shop soon, although it has been open since April and visitors are more than welcome to see new works on sale and being produced. Artworks will be on show at Chelsea Art fair in April.
If someone would like to become involved with ArtHouse Meath what can they do? Arthouse Meath are always looking for people who may be interested in volunteering, either volunteering in the shop, or making garments and soft furnishings from arthouse fabric designs, fundraising, carpentry for silk screen frames, volunteering in sessions. Arthouse Meath is fully appreciative of the support people offer and what is received, the more people involved the more opportunity to develop and offer more services to other vulnerable adults.