The funny thing about many community projects is how often there is more to them than meets the eye. Take Lorenzo Barron’s ‘A Journey Through the Field of Art’ classes, for instance.
At first glance, these are just small painting classes. For three hours a week, members of the community get together to chat, paint and learn about art.
But once you look closer, you’ll see that the members of these classes have been referred by local doctors’ surgeries and the local branch of MENCAP. This can be for a whole range of reasons, including mental health problems or learning disabilities to a history of drug use or being the victim of domestic violence. People have been referred for complex reasons and these classes are able to offer support in a number of ways.
The Just Act team caught up with the class’s teacher, Lorenzo Barron, to find out about how his art classes are improving health and wellbeing in his community, improving social isolation and working with participants to support them in a range of ways.
How do the community art classes work?
The premise is simple. The classes are small; Lorenzo reckons around eight people is about right to spend enough time with and be able to interact with everyone. Then, through their art, members are encouraged to express themselves and discover new talents. The classes are a safe space – no one is criticised but everyone is free to learn about other artists and develop their own skills.
It may be simple in structure, but the results have been incredible. After attending Lorenzo’s classes, one lady was so inspired that she has felt able to go back to college and is now attaining her GCSEs. Another person with a history of drug abuse told Lorenzo that thanks to these classes they’re now getting their life back on track.
He also encourages them to keep an art journal, between classes. This can be kept private from Lorenzo, but he encourages them to record things that inspire them. The rest is all down to artistic creativity, whether the journal is drawings, collages, key words or hieroglyphics, there’s a place for them. Lorenzo said that after a couple of weeks, the group want to share more and more of their work as they become more confident.
What are the results?
The most powerful way of highlighting the impact that these classes have made is to hear from the classes’ members. A number of Lorenzo’s pupils have written testimonials about their experiences of the course.
One participant said:
“Lorenzo’s course has helped me so much over the past weeks. I have gained great confidence in my decisions and myself. I now believe I have the ability to achieve anything.”
And another wrote:
“I have had bipolar affective disorder all my adult life, but this group has given me some of my confidence back. Lorenzo has taught me to look at my life (especially when feeling depressed) from a different angle.”
How does art benefit the wellbeing of the community?
We’ve found that it’s often the case that community projects can appear to be modest in their goals. But as Lorenzo’s courses prove, simple actions can have a really huge impact. The small act of getting people together to talk, paint and learn about art has shown to have staggering results. It’s clear that even the smallest projects are able to make vast improvements to people’s lives.
Despite working as an artist for nearly 20 years, Lorenzo said that teaching each of these classes has given him new inspiration for his own artwork. He told us that he’s still learning from each group that he teaches – and long may that continue.
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