Sam Smith's abstract painting Squeeze and Rock.

Project Art Works: The art of possibility

Posted on 05 November 2015

Project Art Works is an artist-led organisation which collaborates with people of all ages who have complex needs. The organisation works to enrich the quality of life of its participants through visual art.

Supported by public investment through the Arts Council’s national portfolio, Project Art Works aspires to excellence in contemporary visual art. Its work informs best practice in diversity through its collaboration with cultural organisations across the UK.

Three young girls with paint on their arms and faces, laugh and play.
Sisters on the Art Breaks Project, September 2015. Photo © Tim Corrigan / Project Art Breaks


Founded by artists Kate Adams and Jon Cole in 1996, Project Art Works brings together a team of artists with people who have complex needs, including children, young people and adults with autism, learning disabilities and neurological impairment.

Participants are involved in visual art activities including one-to-one workshops, group sessions and family Art Breaks during the school holidays.

Project Art Works takes a personalised approach and its artists work closely with participants, their family members and support workers in a non-directive way.

Participants are given freedom and support to work creatively using materials, colours and processes of their choosing.

Kate Adams, founder of Art Works explains: "We open up the possibilities of exploration for participants in a way that exposes their potential, that excites them and that follows their innate interests. This can open up a whole world of visual language, previously hidden, which in turn disrupts preconceptions about what an individual can and cannot do. This can have an immensely positive impact."


The Project Art Works studio in Hastings provides a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment. In 2014, the organisation provided 312 sessions of creative engagement, involving 382 participants.

recent study by Nick Ewbank Associates (NEA) on the impact of Project Art Works demonstrates its positive effect on people’s personal expression, development and social interaction. The father of one participant stated that: "Project Art Works is fundamental to her life and 100% essential for her wellbeing – her emotional well-being – if it were to go from her life it would be a massive and inexplicably bad loss."

When a NAE researcher asked a Project Art Works participant Charlie: “So you enjoy coming here because you get to paint?” He answered: “Yeah. And express myself (not like when) I was younger. I don’t want to go back. Art Works have brought me forwards. Basically.”

Sian Duly, support worker for participant Albert Geere added: "It has taken over 70 years for Albert to be given a label (artist) that he is proud of… Taking part in mentoring studios has enabled Albert to have autonomy with his art that he has been unable to achieve in any other venue or area of his life."

Changing attitudes and informing best practice

An outward-facing national programme includes professional development, creative collaborations, advocacy and advice.

Project Art Works has recently worked with MK Gallery in Milton Keynes and Camden Art Centre, London, sharing experience and providing training.

I arranged a trip for all my staff to learn about what Project Art Work do, to raise awareness and to refresh knowledge. Everyone wanted to come, which was very surprising but heartening – there was a quite a lot of trepidation as very few of us had experience of working with people with complex neurological impairments. Anthony Spira, Director, MK Gallery

Sam Smith's abstract painting Squeeze and Rock.
Squeeze and Rock Painting. Photo © Sam Smith

Project Art Works aims to alter public attitudes to disability and to normalise the place of people with complex needs in society.

Participants’ artwork can be seen in a programme of exhibitions, with 10,000 people visiting Project Art Works exhibitions in 2013–14. 

In autumn 2015, a new exhibition is on show at De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill featuring painting, drawing and sculpture by 14 Project Art Works participants, some of whom will be creating new works within the gallery space.

Hedley Swain, Area Director for South East with Arts Council England says: Our investment in Project Art Works is an important way in which we are working to fulfil our ambition of great art and culture for everyone. Art is an incredibly powerful form of expression for everyone, but perhaps even more so for those who find communicating more challenging. We are proud to support the creativity of those makers who work with Project Art Works, not just in giving them the freedom to express themselves and to create exciting works of art, but also the opportunity to share those pieces of work through exhibitions such as ‘In the Realm of Others’ at De La Warr Pavilion.