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Open Arts

welcoming art groups for people
with mental health problems

Are you feeling stressed, depressed, isolated, excluded or recovering from other mental health problems? Find out how an Open Arts group might be able to help you.


Open Arts paintingSouth Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (SEPT) have piloted a new Art initiative as a response to national research led by Jenny Secker, the Trust’s Professor of Mental Health, that showed the benefits that the arts can have in improving mental health. Open Arts began in January 2008 and has proved to be a resounding success.

The aim of the project is to provide relaxing, welcoming art groups for people with mental health problems. 12 week art courses, with sessions in a variety of mediums, including drawing, painting, collage, print, textiles, clay, wire and photography take place in community venues across the whole of South Essex. The sessions are unpressurised and adapt to participants’ ability and interest, so students can work at the level that suits them. Participants can be referred by a mental health worker or they can self refer.

New studies show that participation in the arts leads to significant improvements in health, and that it can also boost self esteem,
and reduce feelings of isolation and exclusion.

Open Arts paintingOpen Arts can help people in recovery from mental health problems, as well as in prevention of illness and isolation. The groups also aim to be socially inclusive by reducing stigma and working in partnership with other organisations. Signposting is an important part of the project, and vital in offering the support that is needed in helping participants move on to their next stepping stone. Participants are supported in working out what their next step will be, through Independent Advice and Guidance, and are also offered the opportunity to exhibit their work and attend gallery visits. Participants are also offered optional accreditation at level 2 through the National Open College Network, for attending the course and learning the skills in materials exploration.

Open Arts has been so successful that last year it received a Silver Award at SEPT’s annual Quality Awards. Open Arts is also has an input into Arts in Health Project on a national level, as a representative on the National Forum for Arts in Health, currently lead by the London Arts in Health Forum.Open Arts painting

Referring to Jenny Secker’s research, Alan Johnson, previous Secretary of State, said:

Continuous Line - by Vicki Kelly"A recent study commissioned by my department and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (“Mental Health, social inclusion and arts: developing the evidence base”) has shown that participation in the arts leads to significant improvements in health, and that it can also boost self esteem, and reduce feelings of isolation and exclusion. And the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is currently looking at the benefits of offering arts therapy to patients with schizophrenia."

This can only be good news for the Arts in Health, to have recognition of the benefits a project like this can offer. It looks as though the future may be bright…

For more information on Open Arts:
contact Kirsten Heydinrych at

For more information about the research referred to above:
contact Jenny Secker

Open Arts is funded by South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, East of England Development Agency through Southend Borough Council and Thurrock Council, Rochford LSP and NHS South West Essex.

Open Arts works in partnership with NHS South East Essex, Essex County Council, Rochford District Council, Southend Borough Council, Thurrock Council and Castle Point Borough Council.

See the Healthy Life Essex page Open Arts Courses in Essex for a list of forthcoming Courses.

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