Essex County Council – Open Arts

Essex County Council's Open Arts shortlisted for Best Arts Project - Arts, Health and Wellbeing in the 2020 Hearts for the Arts Awards


Open Arts is a community-based arts programme that helps people improve and maintain their own mental health and wellbeing, through creative learning, social inclusion and self-expression. It promotes wellbeing and social inclusion for Essex residents aged 16+ who are experiencing or at risk of mental ill health through opportunities for arts participation.

Open Arts addresses participants’ need for accessible, affordable activity that helps them to regain confidence, social support and self-worth. 

The programme enables self-development, increased self-esteem, increased resilience and a greater sense of purpose and control by inspiring people to experience a variety of creative and expressive media, experimenting and challenging their perceptions of self in supportive group settings. The sense of achievement gained through the art sessions is frequently singled out by participants as a turning point for them, leading to increased social and cultural engagement. 

Open Arts works in partnership with a range of organisations to deliver arts activity for example: Eastern Roots to deliver percussion courses; and Metal to deliver digital art and WEA to offer drama courses. In addition, Open Arts work in partnership with Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and the South Essex Service User Research Group (SE-SURG) to evaluate the project. The key outcomes achieved by Open Arts are improved mental wellbeing, including positive thinking, increased confidence and improved self-esteem, and increased social inclusion, in terms of more positive social relationships and decreased isolation.

What the judges said:

‘A very thoroughly researched and considered project. Open Arts has been designed with a keen eye on participant needs and, better than just focusing on needs – it considers the participants’ potential. The most impressive bit of this project for me is the spin off drama group, Loose Screws. The willingness of the Essex County Council to stop and ask ‘is this still the right way to deliver on the needs of our participants’ is also admirable and will go a long way to ensure this work stays agile and relevant to changing needs. The care and intelligence of staff involved in this project shines through in this nomination.’