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Stories of Art in Action - Project Ability: using art and creativity to foster connection

by Anita Bhadani
Image: Anna and Catherine taking part in a weekly online workshop

Project Ability are a Glasgow-based visual arts organisation. Since 1984, they have created opportunities for people with disabilities and people with lived experience of mental ill health to express themselves, and achieve their artistic potential.

Working in partnership with people with disabilities of all ages and their support agencies across the U.K, they develop local, national and international arts projects, creating opportunities for people to network, share their practice and exhibit their work.


For people with disabilities and/or lived experience of mental ill health, lockdown can be significantly challenging. Director Elisabeth tells us,

“Many of our participants are experiencing extreme distress. Learning disabled people have reduced support and with many people living alone, they are experiencing increased social isolation which is compounded by digital exclusion.

Learning disabled people are among the most disadvantaged people in our community; they are the most likely not to have internet access, mobile phones, tablets or computers. People with mental ill health are reporting increased social isolation, lethargy, anxiety and depression.

People are also coping with loss; family members, friends and housemates have died of Covid 19.”


During lockdown, Project Ability’s studio and gallery at Trongate 103 have been closed – yet they have continued to work with, and support artists across Scotland via a large range of creative initiatives.

Having received the Scottish Government’s COVID-19 wellbeing funding, they were able to re-engage their core team of artist tutors who have connected with 100 people and counting. Naturally, they have had to adapt their ways of working: delivering creative workshops and maintaining relationships and connection through weekly video conferencing, e-mailing, telephone calls and a postal art challenge.

A mixture of technological and in-person connection have indeed been vital to Project Ability’s work during this time. They have shared art tutorials to their social media channels, and with schools and community groups. “We are helping people to continue to develop and engage with their arts practice and make work at home, and where possible, connect with one another on social media platforms”, Elisabeth says. As part of this initiative, they also have delivered art materials directly to artists’ homes.

“We are helping people to continue to develop and engage with their arts practice and make work at home, and where possible, connect with one another on social media platforms.”

One of Project Ability’s art tutors has been delivering weekly sessions in two NHS learning disability inpatient units, with the support of nursing and auxiliary staff. Come mid-July, they have plans for two artists to support teenagers at a NHS inpatient adolescent psychiatric unit with a range of creative activities and art-making.

Cameron Morgan, one of the artists engaged with Project Ability, received an Unlimited support grant and via Project Ability has an artist mentor, Jason, who visits (while socially distancing) his home studio weekly. His work, is inspired by his friends and family and in the coming months he plans to delve into his extensive photography collection to continue to spark inspiration.


Project Ability have also contributed towards helping to facilitate the collective AARG. AARG are a collective of autistic artists who work in Project Ability’s studio. Formed toward the end of 2019, their initial intent was to visit the publicly funded museums and galleries in Glasgow, feeding back on their experiences as adults with autism through the medium of filmmaking. Workshops led by Media Co-op enhanced the collectives’ skills in filming and editing techniques, utilising tablets and phones.

Although their initial plans were temporarily placed on hold due to COVID-19, AARG have been continuing to utilise their filmmaking skills – creating films on a whole host of topics. From videos which act as visual documents to capture feelings and experiences during lockdown, to videos such as those by artist Grant Glennie exploring why time seems to pass more quickly as we grow older, or Simon’s guide to Lumen printing, the project has proved rewarding on multiple levels.

AARG has given me a purpose during lockdown”, says one participant. “I’ve been able to fill my time with planning and filming for my videos. Without that I think I would have really struggled being on my own.”

Working within unpredictable restrictions has of course proven challenging, however, as one artist puts it, through restriction comes innovation:

“New constraints, difficulties and opportunities have given us unplanned extra experience, a new degree of freedom and interpretation and a whole load of new stuff to try when we get back together to continue with our project.

I believe we will be able to produce work that has a lasting impact on the consideration and acceptance of people who experience various realities of the world with difficulty.”

And perhaps a particularly important aspect of this filmmaking project is the ability it presents to utilise a creative medium to represent your own experiences, on your own terms, and enable connection.

“Language is one of those things that enable us to stay connected even if we are remote”, states Simon from AARG. “The same goes for images. Images of people, images of friends and images of the world.

From where you are to me. We don’t need to know the science behind a lens-based image to know that it can represent the world. That it in some way proves a reality distant, remote or for another.

Even better that it can represent a face and I know that face is out there somewhere. Or rather indoors somewhere. There you are. I can see you and I can see what you have made.”

Through helping to facilitate the art practice of artists with disabilities and/or experiences of mental ill health, Project Ability has shown how arts and creativity have provided a vital lifeline, means of self-expression, and connection during an unprecedented period.