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Cultural Spring Art Leaves Grace House

01 February 2016

Do you always think your house looks huge when you take your Christmas decorations down? We had that feeling this week at Grace House when the amazing temporary exhibition of visual art work was uninstalled from the reception area.

So, is Grace House an art gallery now? Well, no, we work with children and young people from across the north east with complex disabilities, health needs and life limiting conditions, and support their families.

And what have the Arts got to do with that?

Good question.

In my experience, the activities that are seen as extra-curricular, such as sport and the Arts, actually have the potential to be the most life-enriching and transformative, and we are embracing that philosophy at Grace House.

We have been successful in being awarded a grant from Sport England to run a year-long programme of sporting activities for the disabled children who stay at Grace House, specially adapted to their needs and delivered by coaches qualified in coaching disabled young people. We hope that this will excite and inspire the children at Grace House, enable them to be more physically active, give them the opportunity to succeed, and to experience the buzz that those sporty people amongst us know is what motivates us to go out running, cycling, climbing, playing football or whatever on cold wet winter days.

We are also hoping to be successful in getting funding to run a two year arts programme, bringing artists, dancers, poets, sculptors, writers, animators and song writers in to work with the disabled children at Grace House. We want to give them access to all those creative, colourful, loud, messy, exciting creative processes and materials, in order to express themselves and make their voice heard about their experiences.

But more than this, I want to embed Grace House into the cultural landscape in Sunderland, as I believe that this is crucial to social inclusion, diversity and equal access.

Which is where our departing exhibition comes in.

Grace House is situated in one of the wards covered by The Cultural Spring - an Arts Council funded project working in Sunderland and South Tyneside. By being open and positive about the contribution that the arts can make to the lives of children using Grace House, we have already taken part in several Cultural Spring initiatives. Our children and families very vocally participated in the Summer Streets festival last summer, we have received a Your Art grant to work with an artist/designer to re-imagine a neglected part of our gardens, and we have been part of the Make Art Happen project, which resulted in the ‘Ordinary Dreams, Extraordinary People’ exhibition at Grace House.

Almost by magic, we have started to become better known amongst the community of local creatives, and we are benefitting enormously. Sunderland-born artist Linda Mason recently gifted us a body of her fused glass work that had previously been exhibited at the National Glass Centre. Painter Carol White has donated her painting that formed part of the Alice in Sunderland celebrations to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s famous book. Art collective Braena have recently been in touch about their planned community history project and whether the siblings of the disabled children at Grace House might be interested in participating. We are talking to Helix Arts, a local not-for-profit creative business, about a possible future collaboration to support the children at Grace House to work alongside a range of artists to produce great works of art.

This snowballing effect has been phenomenal. And the only cost to us has been the minimal fee for taking part in the Make Art Happen training course. In times of economic hardship, it is hard to justify expenditure for what may be seen as ‘nice to have’ rather than ‘essential to have’. Our experience, though, is that there are new creative opportunities and partnerships around every corner. You just have to be open to them, and spot them when they come along.

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