MK Gallery: Art and Us

*This post is for information purposes only. I received no payment for this post. I volunteered to write this post. Before posting this content, I received no compensation; However, after posting, my son was offered a complimentary session for Art and Us. (his first session)

Art and Us

Art and Us is a 3-year programme, which promotes creativity and accessibility for children aged 5+ with complex needs. Supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Milton Keynes Community Foundation, Art and Us allows children to express themselves as well as incorporating a family approach to art.

MK Gallery, situated in Central Milton Keynes, has a long-term partnership with Hastings-based organisation, Project Art Works, building their expertise on engagement with children/young people and adults who have complex needs. Project Art Works is a programme that uses both a personalised and holistic approach to freedom of art.

The Art and Us programme was shortlisted at the Fantastic for Families Awards 2019 and given recognition for their family-friendly and inclusive arts programme.

Art and Us is aimed at families who feel that their children are unable to access art programmes through mainstream due to their needs. The programme offers a more bespoke scenario, however, still offers the same opportunities as the mainstream programmes.

Art and Us image from MK Gallery
Art and Us image from MK Gallery. Copyright (c) Image provided by MK Gallery

Bethany Mitchell, MK Gallery’s Curator of Inclusion and winner of a Marsh Award for Excellence in Gallery Education launched the Art and Us Programme. Bethany explains that the programme improves access to culture as well as allowing shaping in a different environment. Bethany elaborates that the programme allows for flexibility as well as being responsive to the families, reflecting in action.

Bethany identifies the need for exploration through art and allowing a more fluid response. Likewise, she discusses how there are no expectations with the sessions as it is more about the experience, a journey. It is a place where people meet people and incorporate life’s experiences, working together as a family.

It is clear that Bethany is passionate about inclusive arts and expresses how the Art and Us programme has brought her so much warmth and is a joy to be a part of.

Art and Us at MK Gallery
Art and Us. Copyright (c) Image provided by MK Gallery

Before attending the session, families are e-mailed an Art and Us information form, which is downloadable and guarantees that the children’s needs are met. The information form is used to gather information on:

  • Who will be attending?
  • What art materials/activities do you enjoy?
  • What art materials/activities don’t you enjoy?
  • Access and special equipment requirements
  • The child’s needs
  • Communication needs
  • Triggers and strategies that help

There is also the option to record your information on audio or video and e-mail them if you have difficulty with filling out forms.

Each family gets to work directly (1:1) with an associate artist in a warming and accepting environment. The sessions are based on the family’s interests.

One of the associate artists on the programme is trained in using British Sign Language (BSL), and another is fluent with Makaton. So far, 13 associate artists are a part of the Art and Us programme with future plans of expanding this to 17. Both the artists and the families grow and learn together through the programme with no fixed agenda.

The family approach grants a unique experience, both incorporating inclusion of disability and including different generations of family members to join in with the experience.

MK Gallery has produced a Social Care Map of Milton Keynes to identify what social care provision is available locally, this helps their programme to engage with their communities, improving the service that they offer.

The Art and Us programme emphasise MK Gallery’s three core values, which are quality, diversity and opportunity, a central part to the gallery’s mission.

During the Art and Us sessions, families get to work on big sheets of cloth, use large-scale digital projection and incorporate floor-based work, which is great for proprioceptive input. Furthermore, the artists use tactile material and also obscure material such as ball dusters and sieves, in addition to incorporating recycled material.

Art and Us tactile material (Copyright (c) Image provided by MK Gallery)
Use of tactile and obscure material. Copyright (c) Image provided by MK Gallery

There is a blackout tent available and sensory aids at hand if anyone needs to use them.

I am pleased that MK Gallery offers an inclusive programme as art is an important part of my son’s life with his creative artwork and cardboard creations. Me and my son bond through art. He communicates and expresses himself with art, despite having difficulties with his fine motor skills. The Art and Us programme accommodates all needs.

Art and Us reopens on 24th March and will be held in the new Learning Studio, which has easy access to the Changing Places Toilet directly outside the workshop.

The Changing Places toilet at MK Gallery
Changing Places Toilet at MK Gallery

There are two sessions, for Art and Us, held every Sunday: 11:00am – 12:30pm and 2:00pm – 3:30pm.Each session costs £5 per family.

To find out more information on the Art and Us programme, please contact Bethany Mitchell on:

MK Gallery Reopening: 16th March 2019

A photo of MK Gallery Reopening from the Sky Room
MK Gallery Reopening

MK Gallery are always looking for ways to expand their services to ensure that not only their programmes are more accessible and inclusive, but their gallery environment is too. The front of house employees receive disability training sessions. The gallery includes accessed routes with generous width, levelled access at the main entrance, large print copies of their exhibition guides (available at reception) and a hearing loop at the front desk. The Gallery will also be running a selection of accessible exhibition tours.

mayor of milton keynes cllr martin petchey
Me with the Mayor of Milton Keynes, Cllr Martin Petchey

I attended the reopening of MK Gallery, which offered a host of activities and performances, including the Mayor of Milton Keynes, Cllr Martin Petchey cutting the ribbon, Pagrav Dance, MΌTUS Dance and Togmor, Longstanding MK Folk Rock Legends.

Printing, artwork and food at the reopening of MK Gallery
Printing, Artwork and Food

Ian Revell, CEO at Milton Keynes Community Foundation gave a compelling speech about how the Changing Places Toilet (which includes a changing table and hoist) will change the lives of many people who visit Milton Keynes to do the things like attend an art gallery, something that we take for granted.

Ian highlighted that through the Margaret Powell Foundation Fund , one of Milton Keynes’ benefactors for the elderly and people with disabilities and mental health, Milton Keynes Community Foundation were able to contribute to MK Gallery for an inclusive art and cultural space in Milton Keynes. “This was not an afterthought but part of the original vision and plan of MK Gallery”. (Ian Revell)


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