Guest blog: No Added Sugar deliver their one thousandth project and tell us how they have created and run a successful arts business

Our One Thousandth Project and our 16 year journey.

No Added Sugar is a specialist participatory arts organisation managed by professional artists Toni and Gordon Dickinson. Our mission is to promote inclusion and provide creative opportunities for people of all ages and abilities. We provide platforms for participants to realise their untapped creative potential through participatory workshop programmes, artist in residence, commissions and cross-curricular work in schools and youth centres. We have been delivering projects for 16 years and have loved every minute of it.

“Wonder Wall”
Oaktree Nursery and Primary School

In June 2017 we delivered our 1000th project, bizarrely at Oaktree Nursery and Primary School, the place we undertook our very first project, which was funded by The Arts Council South West and the Swindon Director of Education.

Throughout the years artists often ask how we have run a successful community arts organisation without regular funding. Working in the arts was very different in 2001, we wrote our business plan, attended all the Arts Council Training available and called local schools to arrange meetings with head teachers. This was all at a time when schools had more funding to bring in outside providers and enrich the regular curriculum. We were able to secure work through our enthusiasm and drive. Crucially, due to our hard work in these early years we have a number of long term partnerships with creative head teachers from 2001.

Butterfly Wall
Holy Cross Primary School Swindon

We have  found that young teachers we had previously worked with, who have gone on to become head teachers, remember us fondly and employ us in their new schools. Arts Council South West funded our professional development in our 3rd year, which gave us the opportunity to watch teachers and observe how children learn in the classroom. We were lucky enough to be partnered with Lauren Connor, then the head of Moredon Primary school, now part of the White Horse Federation Team. Lauren was amazing and supported all of our ideas which gave us the creative freedom to develop our workshops.

We spent 3 weeks in her school working alongside a number of artists and were evaluated by a team  of  professionals including  a psychotherapist, to make sure we did not push the children too far with our enthusiasm or leave anyone behind. This has stood us in good stead over the last 16 years, encouraging us to evaluate, attend training, including a post grad course in participatory arts, and work alongside a variety of other art professionals.

Children painting Butterflies at Millbrook Primary School London

The majority of our work comes through reputation and word of mouth although we include at least one funded project annually. This has included partnerships with The Alspac Scientist and Heritage Lottery fund with one of our HLF projects was held up at the City of Culture as Best Practice.

No Added Sugar are based in Wiltshire, however we work nationally and clients pay for our accommodation. We have also had the pleasure of working with partners outside of the UK and have delivered workshops in Negril all age school in Jamaica, as well as lecturing on arts in education in Finland. At this time we are working with Pride and will be delivering a number of free activities to encourage families to their festival on 31st July 2017.

As practising artists ourselves we ensure that we find time to develop our personal projects. Gordon has an exhibition in September in The Oink Gallery, who have been voted the best gallery in Wiltshire.

In answer to the question “how have you continued to run a successful arts business over the years?” I think it is because we have valuable partnerships, we are flexible and have a great deal of experience and enthusiasm. We also have a fabulous team of artists who have been with us for 10 years, some came to us for work experience through universities and have remained. Their enthusiasm and expertise matches our own and together we continue to develop fun and engaging workshops that continue to change with the times. Although working in the arts was arguably easier when we started out as it was a very different political climate, we have had to be creative and flexible to overcome the massive cuts in arts and education since 2008.

Find out more about No Added Sugar at http://www.noaddedsugar.org or http://www.facebook.com/pages/No-Added-Sugar/116847225038004

Toni Dickinson, community artist

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