Accessible Art = Social Health

My name is Frank Hayes and I’m the founder of the For Enjoyment Company, an art workshop company that provides totally accessible classes in Drawing, Photography and Printing. I studied for six years at Art College and have been involved in art ever since in one form or another including having my own illustration business. Nine years ago, I moved to Scotland and began creating a model for making art more achievable and accessible when I worked with groups on the edges of society.

 

From 1989-91 I was at Scarborough Technical College and while there I was inspired and mentored by my tutor Malcolm Burn. He managed to find a way for everyone studying under him to be creative, and I think that was the seed. He wasn’t pretensions. He never talked about borders or boundaries he saw opportunities instead of limitations in people.

However, what I found in the art world is that it was very exclusive and I never felt like I belonged there. I felt like an imposter, which from what I’ve heard from David, that is something you all can relate to as well. So, what I was trying to do with For Enjoyment is bring art back to its center, that joy of just creating and drawing that we all had as kids. It wasn’t about what it looked like or how good it was, it was just fun and natural to make marks and use your imagination. What has surprised me is how powerful a tool it is in creating community.

 

This led to a vision For Enjoyment as a unique encouraging environment that is accessible, allowing people to explore their creative side regardless of skill level. On a weekly basis it takes the form of drawing, printing, and photography workshops.  I introduce various elements of the arts, techniques and methods that would usually be too exclusive or too expensive for the general public. I try to keep the courses accessible by keeping the actual teaching part brief. I try not use art diatribe/ jargon, so no one feels intimidated and everyone feels welcome and competent. Instead of making art lofty and out of reach, I’m trying to make it accessible and achievable. The real progress is seen when people are taken in by the community and their skills and confidence are built up over weeks almost without them knowing it.

I started with drawing because it’s one of the basic skills that people feel like they can tap into and it’s a great leveler. By leveler I mean everyone has a pencil and a piece of paper. With a piece of paper and pencil there’s no hiding, everyone is vulnerable from beginners to experts. That vulnerability tends to lead to encouragement because everyone is sitting there terrified of that blank piece of paper. As soon as marks are made I begin to see possibilities rather than limitations and guide the students with encouragement. I suppose you can apply that to a lot of things in life especially when studying, a lateral thinking approach, something also passed on to me by my tutor Malcolm.

 

One of the main drivers is about inspiring confidence through that vulnerability and encouragement. I can see people’s confidence grow the more they are encouraged and their specific form or expression of creativity is validated by myself and the community as a whole. There’s something in the vulnerability of just drawing that means when someone validates another person’s work they’re validating that person as a human being as well. By seeing worth in their work people begin to see worth and value in themselves. In part this is because the aim is not about output, but the joy of creating. The workshops and the community give people the safety and confidence to try and possibly ‘fail’. But even in failing enjoying the process since it’s become an almost meditative and restorative time in people’s week. I know the workshops are working at an individual level when the participants begin to appreciate their own work, seeing value in their pieces and in turn themselves. In an even more fulfilling sense, I know the idea is working when I see individuals in the community supporting and encouraging one another; when people from such a diverse range of backgrounds all feel at home and a part of something. In the last couple of years, it’s been amazing to see the people it’s attracted grow and establish their own roles in this creative environment, making it their own.

Since, I aim to engage individuals who for whatever reason feel alienated from the Arts, be it because of lack of confidence or experience, social issues or additional needs, I’ve worked hard to create an atmosphere where anyone regardless of talent, skill level, or background are equal and see each other as such. This has worked so well with the courses for the general public that I’ve been asked to bring the model to different at risk and lower socio-economic segments of the community as almost a health service. Really the workshops are a vehicle to bring together a diverse group of people that learn to see and care about each other as human beings in a very organic way through the simple act of drawing or photography. The workshops are really a tool for building community and reforming society, which is really crucial in a small rural town like Dumfries that has been hit hard by the financial crisis. It’s even opened up opportunities to partner with other organisations in the community like the Dumfries Museum, which has really begun to knit people back together. All these opportunities and this groups success has shown me how powerful art can be in developing community and how important an encouraging, open, supportive community is to human beings at any stage of their life. So, my major encouragement for you is if you don’t have a community like that, go find it!

 

David thought in part this would be a great case study for those looking at the intersection between art and community development.  So, if anyone is interested in doing some research, has more questions, or is looking to get involved feel to contact me at  frankhayes397@btinternet.com . For those of you in the arts I’d like to encourage you to feel free to look at your own art in a new way and reimagine the possibilities for it. We try to make grand contribution but sometimes it’s in the simple act of taking joy in the process where the real contribution is made.

 

We are always seeking new guest bloggers! If you have an idea for a blog post or would like to informally discuss writing for the SGSAH blog please get in touch with David via email at d.peters.2@research.gla.ac.uk or connect with the blog on Twitter

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