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Art in schools project receives six-figure grant

Published: 3 June 2019 at 15:00

Fantastical Cambridge

Research finds that working alongside artists in nature can improve children’s wellbeing

A research project to examine how producing art in nature can help the wellbeing of school children has received a six-figure sum of funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Anglia Ruskin University has been working with arts-based charity Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination (CCI) and the University of Cambridge to evaluate The Fantastical Cambridge programme. 

The programme sees skilled artists invite children to lead them on creative adventures in their local spaces. The children are invited to draw, make, write and share their ideas as they think about the world around them.  

A recent research article by Anglia Ruskin’s Dr Nicola Walshe and Dr Elsa Lee from the University of Cambridge found that the artists had observed how the creative activities they took part in with the children had a significant effect on the children’s wellbeing – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The study found artists could illustrate how their work encouraged children’s confidence and independence, as well as stimulating new evidence of creativity. The AHRC funding will go towards further research working closely with the children themselves.

Collaborators and teachers and children from Mayfield Primary School in Cambridge attended the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft, and Design Education at Westminster last month to talk about the programme.

Dr Walshe, Acting Head of the School of Education and Social Care at Anglia Ruskin University, said:

“There is significant national and global interest in children’s wellbeing and mental health, with figures suggesting that 10% of children in England suffer a severe mental health illness, and that suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people. This figure is higher among those from deprived areas.

“We believe that an innovative way to reconnect children to their local environment is using art in familiar outdoor places. Our research so far has found that artists undertaking this practice have observed how it encourages the children’s independence and sense of agency, develops their confidence, and cultivates a healthy sense of adventure! However, we need further evidence to determine why this is the case.

“This AHRC grant will enable us to explore this further, working alongside the artists in two primary schools over the course of a school term to explore exactly how children benefit from this unique way of learning.

“The outcomes will be of particular significance for teachers, schools and their communities but also for policy makers through access to evidence-based knowledge about arts-based learning in nature and how this supports children’s wellbeing.”