Find it in your art

Art can trigger some powerful emotions. It can inspire, thrill, enrage and disgust. At best it can encourage us to view the world in a different way, or to explore parts of our imagination we didn’t know existed. All too often, however, art leaves us feeling bemused or indifferent. As a result art galleries are sometimes seen as the preserve of an educated elite.

Perhaps this explains why social care staff often appear reluctant to use the fantastic resources available at public art galleries, when planning trips and activities for their service users.

In order to break down these barriers, the Tate Britain and Tate Modern galleries in London have developed a training course designed to help and encourage social care staff use the resources on offer. The four-day Tate Access course aims to build the confidence of care staff to view art, express their opinions about it and share their experience with others.

“The idea is to get staff working in care settings to feel comfortable with using Tate Modern and Tate Britain,” says Liz Ellis, head of the professional development department at Tate Modern. “The course covers everything from the practical aspects of how to get around both sites, wheelchair access and so on, to actually interpreting the art that is on show.”

Course participants are encouraged to discuss three or four different artworks in some detail. By questioning the artist’s intentions, the choice of materials used, even the time of day the artwork was made, Ellis aims to engage the participants with the artwork and change the way they view it. “Everyone has got their own opinion about art and there’s no right or wrong answers. You don’t have to like everything. One of our main aims is simply to get people to slow down as they pass through the gallery,” she says.

The 500 or so care staff who have taken part in the course since it began in 1996 have come from a range of professional backgrounds, working with all client groups and from the private, public and voluntary sector.

In the past year a link with the NVQ training scheme at Southwark social services, in south London, has increased participation in the course markedly. After taking the Access course, staff on the NVQ scheme return to the galleries with a group of service users. They are then assessed for the X16 unit (prepare, implement and evaluate agreed therapeutic activities) of the NVQ.

“As with many councils the staff at Southwark were taking service users out to community facilities that they had been visiting for years,” says Kate Lord of QKL Assessment Centre, which provided the expertise to link the Tate’s Access course with Southwark’s NVQ programme. “This had become repetitive. Yet here on their doorstep was a national treasure that was promoting access to community groups.”

For Natasha Soares, a project worker at Portugal Prints – a Mind-funded mental health work project – the Access course has dramatically changed the way she uses art in her professional life. “It’s a fantastic course. Liz is a brilliant communicator and was very good at making the artworks come alive,” she says. “It has made me much more confident about using galleries as a place where we can take our service users. We now have a regular monthly visit to the Tate and we are hoping to do something similar with the National Portrait Gallery later this year.”

Soares is also sure that the benefits have already filtered through to service users. “People with mental health difficulties feel very glad to be in a non-segregated atmosphere. The gallery can be a source of inspiration, motivation and reflection. They get the same things out of the gallery that anybody else would.”


Scheme: Access course.

Location: Tate Modern (pictured, right) and Tate Britain, London.

Staffing: 16 full-time posts and one part-time.

Inspiration: To encourage and enable care staff to use the Tate galleries as a resource through which service users can find inspiration and enjoyment from the artworks on show.

Cost: £3,000 per course, funded by the Tate Community Programme and participants’ fees of £50 for two days.

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