Open Art box CIC is a non-profit arts organisation which works closely with people living with dementia and those who care for them Two artists and Digswell Arts Trust alumni, Christina Armstrong and Anji Archer set up Open Art Box CIC in 2019, with a vision of delivering bespoke, high quality art workshops for people living with dementia and their carers.
In 2021, as part of its Communities Looking Forward programme, the Heritage Foundation granted £6,480 to Open Art Box to support an art program to run from September 2021 in Mrs Howard Memorial Hall. Currently a few months into their year-long program, Open Art Box have succeeded in enhancing the wellbeing of people living with dementia in the community of North Herts. They achieve this by employing guest artists to work alongside participants living with early-stage dementia, Mild Cognitive Impairment and those caring for someone with dementia. Through the rotation of guest artists, members are able to learn different styles of art such as weaving, glass, painting, collage, moving sculpture, monoprints and much more.
We sat down with Christina Armstong, Director of Open Art Box (a role shared with Anji Archer) to speak about the most inspirational and daunting times they have experienced.
“The pandemic made the first year as a CIC (community interest company) a huge challenge. We had to adapt quickly and completely reassess our original plans.
Finding funding as a new organisation was difficult, and demand for our services became quite high due to our home support during lockdowns. We also hadn’t recruited many volunteers at that time, so recruitment of those was a priority.
“The Communities Looking Forward grant has enabled us to run an exciting programme of art workshops, inviting professional artists to share their practice with participants and deliver a fantastic range of workshops with our group at Mrs Howard Memorial Hall.
“We have been able to introduce and support artists - some of whom have not worked with a dementia group before - and give them a chance to develop their work in the community.
“Our participants have expressed their delight at the diversity and quality of the workshops. All our participants have produced a piece of artwork at every session.
"We have been able to give our participants the wonderful experiences, working with an incredible range of fantastic artists, introducing them to new and inventive ways of making art."
“Since the start of the project we have seen increasing demand for our Letchworth group. We originally opened up the group for 10 people but have since increased this to 12. We are now at full capacity for the size of room we have available.
“We offer ongoing, long-term support to our participants, enabling them to grow in confidence over time and to take part in a wide variety of projects. Through this we have become part of their journey with dementia and part of their wider support network.
"This project has been an incredible experience for us as an organisation. It has enabled us to build connections;learn about running a whole programme of art workshops, and support and project manage a large number of artists. This is the first time we have done this and it has helped us grow in confidence with regard to doing more ambitious projects in the future.
"We have been able to see just how much our participants can achieve and how much they have taken from the opportunity."
“The project has sparked creative exploration and given us the confidence to try new things more in future. We are passionate about continuing to deliver high quality, engaging art projects for our participants and we want to continue to grow our partnership work with artists and organisations, to enable us to develop projects for people affected by dementia.
“Open Art Box will continue to strive to be a sustainable organisation, so that we can offer our participants a secure,reliable, high quality service that can adapt to their changing situations.
“Letchworth is a town with a unique vision and an emphasis on the importance of arts and culture, innovative ideas and creative development for the benefit of the wellbeing and lived experience of all it’s residents. As a community organisation supporting more isolated residents who often do not have as many opportunities to take part in cultural arts projects, we feel we are part of a thriving art community that is working tirelessly to be inclusive and adaptive to a diverse variety of needs.”
The Foundation acknowledges the importance of exploring the creative side of life and encourages those who are caring for or living with dementia to reach out to Open Art Box CIC if you would like to participate in their activities.
To find out more about the Communities Looking Forward Grant programme, visit Letchworth.com/grants