Research on impact of making art in early childhood to be carried out across Scotland

Galleries across Scotland are to take part in research exploring how the exposure of children to art at an early age can affect their behaviour patterns, bonding with parents and development.

Art therapists are to be “embedded” in sites as part of the project, which will see adults and children up to three years old making art together.

It is hoped the ground-breaking research led by Dundee University, which will see four pilots staged over the next 12 months, will lead to a national roll-out involving arts organisations and venues.

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The project, which is to be targeted at vulnerable families and traditionally under-served groups, is aimed at building an “evidence base” over the potential impact of making art in early childhood.

The Art At The Start project is being led by Dundee University. Picture: David P Scott

It will examine whether “shared art experiences” can help build a strong relationship between young children and their parents or guardians, and also explore how participation in art making can affect their “social well-being”.

The “Art at the Start” initiative has received an initial £177,560 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

It is funding £1.2 million worth of research across the UK into new ways of using culture and nature to improve health and wellbeing, which have the potential to be “scaled up” to benefit communities across the country.

The project is being led by art therapist Vicky Armstrong and experimental psychologist Dr Josephine Ross.

The Art at the Start research is being led by Dundee University. Picture: David P Scott

The 12-month pilot will involve the Dundee Contemporary Arts, where some initial sessions have already been held, the Tramway in Glasgow, Carnegie Library & Galleries in Dunfermline, in Fife, and Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre in Lochmaddy, in North Uist.

Ms Armstrong said: “This funding will allow us to have an art therapist working in each location for one day a week.

“We wanted to work with places which are a community space, are welcoming and are a real resource for their area, and also wanted to bring lots of new people into those spaces to get those benefits.

"We’ve chosen different kinds of places as we’re really interested in seeing whether the same approach works in terms of having an art therapist works in the same way and whether we learn different things from each area.

“We’re very much looking to increase the scale of the project in future to build our evidence base.”

Dr Ross said: “We’ve been running very successful Art at the Start sessions at Dundee Contemporary Arts.

"Expanding this project to these new venues in other areas of Scotland will help us show that art making is creating change in a measurable way.

“Art therapy is a great way to help children bond with their parents and other adults in their lives.

"We’re interested in the impact that participation in art can have upon the social well-being of young children and how shared art experiences may help to build strong attachment relationships.

“We’re exploring how engagement contributes to a child’s individual development, and how we can describe what is happening when making art.”

Professor Helen Chatterjee, health disparities programme director at the AHRC, said: “The pandemic has highlighted stark health inequalities across the UK.

“Access to local cultural activities and natural spaces can play an important role in health and wellbeing.”

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