In times of economic hardship, it would be easy to discount the contribution to emotional well being that taking part in arts activities can afford us. However, the arts offer opportunities for self expression and people with learning disabilities have the right to take part in creative and expressive activities, achieving new goals and potentially gaining in confidence as a result. There are numerous projects across the UK, from the award winning Mind the Gap theatre group through to those local projects listed on the Mencap arts spider website.
The authors of this study describe what happened when a group of young people with learning disabilities in Nottinghamshire took part in music and drama groups. The project was known ‘The Stage Life’ and was set up as a participatory arts programme for people attending day services in the county.
The local authority had acquired a disused cinema for community based activities and the Stage Life project group met there. Its aim was to help build community arts capacity for young adults with learning disabilities and it set out to achieve this by introducing around fifty people to participatory arts activities over 2 years.
The evaluation of the project was conducted by external researchers over the two years using a multi-method ethnographic approach, spending time alongside people to try to gauge the impact of project on the lives of those who took part. The researchers also captured the opinions and ideas of those involved.
The findings suggest a number of benefits for those who took part in terms of increased confidence as well as benefits to the community of the activities of the group.
Those involved reported many personal benefits from being part of the group and the authors conclude that being involved with the arts activities helped people with learning disabilities feel much more a part of their community.
The Stage Life: promoting the inclusion of young people through participatory arts, Stickley Tet al., in British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 40: 251–258