Artists Being Useful

We have discovered that we are ‘useful’ ie beyond the usefulness of doing nice art, or doing workshops etc.

We want to be even more useful; to people and to other sectors (e.g. health, education, planning, and business). We want our outreach and engagement to be innovative and effective beyond just advocating art to be a ‘good thing’. We want to use our artfulness to create social change. We want to go to people and say ‘how can we help?’ We want to help people to look at their issues from a different perspective.

For example, to what extent and how can the arts be ‘useful’ in things like the local economy, the land use debate, health, farming, planning? For example, talk to GP and identify a problem (appointment no-shows) and seek permission and partnership to find a creative intervention, to trial it and measure its impact/success; to record the evidence, create case-studies – to do this using art and artists. We believe artists have unique skills and can bring a different perspective and approach.

Eden Arts will employ artists to be initiators, conversation makers, connectors, people who can use their creativity and skills to solve problems and be useful. To do this they may need to bring together the most remote hill farmer, the leader of the local authority, the Chair of the NHS Trust, and a group of teenagers around a strong and mutual agenda. we are keen to create quality new art works that also meet social objectives.   The project will address how artists can be effective in undertaking activity that has beneficial outcomes for all parties (eg preventative interventions in healthcare, cost effective strategic action to provide purposeful activity for learning disabled adults etc).

Eden Arts and the commissioned artists will develop a relationship with the service provider to identify key issues (eg an area which is an unnecessary drain on resources) that they are finding hard to address through usual routes.  The artist will develop and deliver a creative solution/intervention and measure the impact. This could be an interactive digital solution, an intervention in the space/building, a different way of communicating or interacting with a client group, a visual aid.   The commissions in the ‘Artists Being Useful’ brief will have to meet rigorous criteria including:

  • work produced by the artists must involve participation and engagement with the target groups (eg an artist may work with Dementia groups or helping GPs to increase general engagement with smoking cessation or highlighting a particular aspect of healthcare).
  • the commission has a clear outcome that demonstrates that their artwork has been useful beyond ‘just being art’ or inviting participation. Eg a commission that has an outcome of reducing smoking will be more likely to be commissioned than one that is simply about ‘doing workshops’ with people.
  • Commissions must have demonstrable longevity and impact (ie beyond the commission period)

There will be some convincing to be done, as to why artists could be useful in a context where artists/art would probably not be considered as useful.

A few other potential project examples:

  • working to help a smoking cessation campaign/group
  • helping to reduce vandalism in public toilets
  • helping to reduce rural isolation in the elderly
  • raising awareness of dairy farmers and affect of milk prices
  • integrating shop-keepers into town event planning

What will artists come up with?  We don’t yet know. We will be commissioning artists soon, to begin work in early 2016.

Although the briefs have not yet been drawn up we are open to hearing from artists who wish to express an interest in working in this way.  Please get in touch telling us about you and why you are interested in the project.  The initial briefs will relate to the health sector and to young people.


We are very aware of the notion of INSTRUMENTALISM, and that is very different from what we are developing in our thinking, though this is inevitably a potential crossed wire.  This is early days for developing our thoughts around all this.  We are taken by the words “art doesn’t have the role in people’s lives that it used to” in the video at the bottom of the page, and we wish to engage with that.


email adrian.lochhead (at) if you wish to express interest.  It would be ‘useful’ if you said why…

Here’s a bit of video of Alistair Hudson, Director of MIMA articulating his thoughts on the value of art.


A project theme for 2015 onwards, Artists Being Useful is our new approach to commissioning artists