Emerge Art Programme

Artwork being created during emerge art programme
Photo courtesy of Willis Newson.


This participatory arts programme was a collaborative partnership between two Bristol organisations: Emerge, a supported housing initiative, dedicated to assisting people with a range of issues, including homelessness, alcohol and substance misuse; and Studio Upstairs, a working arts community which provides artistic resources and therapeutic support to people experiencing mental and emotional distress and to those in drug and alcohol recovery. Artist Barbara Disney lead a programme of six three hour workshops at Studio Upstairs for 10 participants who had all recently left, or were coming to the end of their tenancies with Emerge.


An evaluation of the project found that participants reported increased self-confidence, new friendships and a desire to engage in further arts activities as a result of the arts programme.

For example, a participant engaged in creative writing didn’t, at first, want to read his work aloud, but was encouraged to do so by others in the group who praised his words and read them for him. In a later session, he was happy to read to everyone. He eventually had a professional recording made of him reading his poems and this was played over images of the group’s work at a final celebratory event.

Through the creative process participants were engaged, using their imaginations, developing skills and supporting each other in the process.  It is hoped that the confidence, skills and friendships developed through the project will support participants as they move into independent living. The partners report that they intend to work together on similar projects in the future.

The art programme was managed and evaluated by specialist arts in health consultants, Willis Newson.

Barbara Disney

Barbara Disney is a Bristol-based visual artist with many years experience of running participatory art and public projects in health and community settings.

Emerge Bristol

Emerge is a supported housing initiative, dedicating to assisting people with a wide range of issues, including homelessness, alcohol and substance misuse, learning difficulties and mental health problems. Its work aims to encourage people to progress towards independence.

Studio Upstairs

Studio Upstairs is a working arts community which exists to provide artistic resources and therapeutic support to people experiencing mental and emotional distress and to those in drug and alcohol recovery. It too specialises in enabling individuals to become autonomous.

Willis Newson

Willis Newson is a leading Bristol-based independent arts consultancy specialising in creative approaches to improving health and wellbeing.  It develops public art strategies for new builds and refurbishments, develops and manages public art plans and public engagement programmes, delivers training for artists and performers in healthcare settings and provides advice and guidance on the design and implementation of projects to promote healthy environments and improve health and wellbeing.

The Downs consists of Clifton Down and Durdham Down - two large, historic, adjacent grassed green spaces of about 400 acres. Although on the edge of the city, The Downs feels like open countryside, with their wide views of the Avon Gorge, Leigh Woods, North Somerset, the Severn Estuary and across to South Wales. The Downs are one of Bristol's most historic and popular open spaces, used for sport, events and healthy exercise.
  • Commissioner

    Emerge Bristol

  • Produced by

    Willis Newson

  • Partners

    Emerge, Bristol and Studio Upstairs

  • Supported by

    Emerge, Bristol