Running for twenty years, Albert Street Artists has evolved from small beginnings where the group provided one arts class a week for mental health users, to a group with its own studio space that also houses kitchen facilities, a gallery and a small courtyard. Albert Street Artists is now also open three days and one evening a week for members, and holds exhibitions for the public twice a year. The group aims to provide creative opportunities, stability, friendship and inclusion for its members, who are individuals suffering from a broad spectrum of mental health problems.
Members are referred to the group by mental health professionals who have considered the individual’s suitability, the potential benefits they will gain, and their ability to participate in decision-making. Due to the individual’s mental conditions they are often left alienated, living alone and without the confidence or social skills to make connections with other people. The artistic activities provided by Albert Street Artists aim to promote status, social events, purpose and participation as well as providing the opportunity for vital creative expression, self discovery and friendship.
The fundamental aims of Albert Street Artists are to promote status, create initiatives and occupations for people who can only function in a supported situation, to raise and improve the profile of mental health disability in the wider community, to work together creatively in a tactful and friendly non-interrogative manner. They do this via a range of artistic activities that includes drawing and painting, ceramics, printmaking, digital imagery, silk painting, sewing and even paper making.
Creativity is hugely useful in assisting the rebuilding of personality and self-esteem, helping to repair the damage and dislocation caused by illness and the subsequent loss of daily structure and purpose. Albert Street Artists also goes beyond its classes and puts on two exhibitions a year in their gallery, which is open to the public for four to six weeks for each event. The group also produces an annual charity calendar related to the locality and to which most members contribute.
Members benefit from an improved sense of identity and inclusion as participation in activities creates a sense of greater personal value and self-worth. Exhibitions and projects enables people to contribute to local life and culture. The provision of a safe and supportive yet active environment and social structure assists in preventing deterioration, alienation and potential hospitalisation.
Funding for the group has to be sought on an annual basis. The basic core needs of Albert Street Artists have been met through applications to Borough and County councils, however this funding has become increasingly difficult and the past several years have seen gradual but constant funding cuts. Carlton Hayes Mental Health Charity has therefore played an important role in providing crucial funding for all extra needs, such as project work, equipment, calendar funding and most importantly, work and activity away from the studio.