By Rod Webb 

Sometimes you have to travel outside Hastings to get a proper perspective on the town and the amazing things that go on here. It’s not something I often do these days, but I recently had the opportunity to stay a few days in Liverpool. Visiting Tate Liverpool to shelter from the rain, I stumbled on an exhibition by Hastings-based Project Art Works – taking over the entire fourth floor.

Illuminating the Wilderness workshop at Tate Liverpool, 2019
PICTURE: Tate Liverpool workshop exhibition

What I hadn’t realised was that Project Art Works is the UK’s leading artist-led organisation working with children, young people and adults who have complex support needs. They do this by providing them with ‘freedom and purpose’ through art in a studio environment. 

And here they were, all the way from Hastings, collaborating with Tate Liverpool “to celebrate and raise awareness of the dynamic, extraordinary contribution neurodiverse communities make to art and culture.” 

At the heart of the exhibition is a new film produced by Project Art Works, Illuminating the Wilderness, that investigates a remote Scottish glen “in collaboration with a group of people who are highly sensitive to the sensory stimuli of the world around them”. Complementing the film is an evolving installation of artwork made in collaboration with neurodiverse people and groups from social care organisations across Merseyside.

The collaboration with Tate Liverpool is the culmination of a three-year project funded by the Arts Council and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation called EXPLORERS, in which Project Art Works has been able to export its ideas to galleries across the country – and the world. 

The first two years were spent running awareness activities and creative workshops with leading galleries in Brighton, Milton Keynes, Liverpool, London and Sydney, Australia. These are run in collaboration with other social and community service providers in the surrounding areas.

EXPLORERS 2019 is the ‘grand tour’ where each gallery celebrates what has been achieved with a programme of film, exhibition and workshops that “challenge and promote representation in curatorial programming”. 

MK Gallery in Milton Keynes was the first, in March 2019, with the premier of Illuminating the Wilderness in their exhibition The Lie of the Land, which highlights campaigns to democratise space, looking at how people use public space and the communities that “have been excluded through structures of race, gender, disability and class”.

The Tate exhibition followed in April and there will be a chance for Hastings to see a late collaboration with the De La Warr Pavilion in September.

Kate Adams, Director of Project Art Works, explains: “Through EXPLORERS we have worked to increase the visibility and representation of people with disability in culture. … The people and organisations involved … have fully embraced the relationships with new communities of artists and audiences that have emerged through collaborative working.” 

She is confident that these relationships will endure long after the EXPLORERS programme and will continue to nurture and promote art that “truly reflects different ways of living in and experiencing the world.”

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