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Project Art Works’ practice and approach is rooted in the principle of seeing everyone as an individual who has value and a right to direct their own life.

We work with people labelled as having complex needs (learning disabilities, autism, challenging behaviour, physical disabilities, health conditions) and despite being classed as having a disability that affects their cognition and communication the health and social systems intended to enable them to live freely are complicated and impenetrable by design.

As an organisation funded through statutory bodies, trusts and foundations we are required to evaluate and evidence the effectiveness of our practice using language that is in many ways disabling and with measures that need to demonstrate improvement in neurotypical categories such as paid employment, improved mental health, qualifications, which set people with complex needs up to fail. Neurotypical constructs of qualitative and quantitative evaluation restrict open interrogation of lived experience and what it can teach us all about how to live well and to create and care for each other in all ways.

Widely used evaluation tools monetise supporting a person to live freely. Organisations, and individuals managing their own support provision, are expected to demonstrate to the state and other bodies that control budgets, the cost-benefit of investing health and social care funding in allowing them to live an equitable life as their non-disabled peers.

In the cultural sector the value of an artist is measured within neurotypical frameworks – the validity of their creative practice is judged within a historical context, its relationship within current art practice and discourse, as well as market value.

  • What happens when the person being evaluated doesn’t value the outcomes they are being measured against, or does not want to enter into a discourse on their creative practice?
  • Or the person being evaluated does not view the world on these terms?
  • What is the role of the organisation or their family or carer, and how do they advocate for someone else and translate their world view, how they want to live their life and what’s important to them, into neurotypical language and terms?

Project Art Works creates care that builds art and art that builds care. Our creative productions and projects in film and other visual mediums explore the ethics, roles and power dynamics that surround people who are defined by the world through the prism of their support needs.

Project Art Works’ approach to facilitating the creative practice of neurodivergent artists is based on giving long term support and building trust in a non-hierarchical environment. Artists are not expected to work towards a goal. The artists we work with have won awards, had major exhibitions, sell their work, so are recognised as successful artists in the art world. However, these achievements may not hold significance for the person who produced the artwork.

From working within this field over the last 20+ years we know that creative practice has a wide-ranging and long-term impact in the lives of people with complex needs:

  • Reduction in behaviour described as challenging.
  • Agency, personalisation and  self-direction in their work and life
  • Calm, focus, engagement
  • Choice and decision-making
  • Contribution to cultural life
  • The person is seen as a valuable contributor to society.

Project Art Works continues to be challenged by funders and the sectors we work in, to demonstrate how our approach has these positive outcomes.

  • Why does creative practice reduce challenging behaviour?
  • Does creative practice help someone with challenging behaviour to gain a greater sense of self/identity?
  • Can creative practice enable someone with profound cognitive impairment to become self-aware of their own practice / creative contribution?
  • Can channelling obsessive behaviours through creative practice result in lessening injurious /destructive behaviours?
  • Are there common principles across artform i.e. music, written word, or is visual art different in its impact on lessening challenging behaviour?
  • Can we make a case for investment in long-term consistent support in health and social care budgets, and from funders?
  • How do we evidence how our approach could be adapted to other environments?
  • How can the values, ambitions, interests and desires of people with lived experience define what is measured and evaluated as effective?

We continue to explore and refine these questions through shared learning and exchange with the other organisations, families and neurodiverse people. If you have any examples of co-produced evaluation tools please share them with [email protected]