Art Matters

Culture chat with Studio Manager Mark Cremmen

Art Matters in Redhill is a community arts studio and centre of wellbeing dedicated to fostering growth, mindfulness, and connectivity within the community. Through creative pathways to recovery, Art Matters aims to help people connect and develop a sense of community. Join us in this month's Culture Chat as we explore this inspiring community arts space.

Article by Luna Russell

An inspiring and creative space

I'm here to meet Studio Manager Mark Cremmen, and as I step into the studio, my eyes are immediately drawn to the stunning array of artwork that decorates the walls. The collection is a feast for the senses, from large canvases to intricate creations in various mediums, including photography, prints, textiles, and collages. The space is bustling with activity as a group of talented artists immerse themselves in their work. Some chat quietly while others listen to music through their headphones, all the while using their brushes, inks, and printing materials to bring their visions to life.

In the office, I chat with Mark, who tells me that Art Matters has been operating since 1995 and in their current premises, a former church hall, for the past 17 years. The hall, previously used for wedding receptions and community fairs, now serves as a studio which prides itself on providing a supportive and person-centred environment that fosters creativity and curiosity amongst its service users. Through collaboration with experienced and innovative staff and volunteers, individuals are empowered to develop new skills and confidence while engaging in artistic work. The studio strongly emphasises personal growth and development, encouraging individuals to set goals and control their learning pathways.

Referrals to Art Matters

Art Matters service user artists come through referrals from Community Mental Health Recovery teams and GPs, as well as self-referrals. Many individuals recognise the benefits of Art Matters and seek out its support on their own.

Mark says, 'When meeting someone new, we go through their support and mental health needs. However, we also make it a priority to discover their creative interests. Some individuals may be practising artists searching for a supportive environment, while others may not have done art since school. Our goal is not to critique but to support individuals in pursuing their passions and utilising available resources. While we don't offer formal lessons, those interested in learning new skills like printmaking can work alongside current attendees or staff members to develop their abilities. We offer a safe space to work and can also provide recommendations for local specialised courses, such as life drawing sessions.'

Mark goes on to say, 'Our Peer Tutor workshops take place on Mondays and are led by attendees. This allows peer artists to utilise their acquired skills and give back to others. The experience helps boost their teaching confidence, which can be applied beyond Art Matters and into the community.'

Artists and exhibitions

As I exit the office, I am introduced to Sue, who is busy in the printing area. She proudly shares that she has been a regular at Art Matters for a year and showcases some of her latest prints. "I can't draw, so I resort to abstract work and have built an extensive collection of fossil shapes," she explains. Sue then proceeds to demonstrate drawing or tracing into foam board, using a biro instead of lino. The stunning results blow me away. Sue's creations are a testament to her talent and passion, and it is evident that the process brings her immense joy.

I have the pleasure of speaking with Sasha, immersed in carving soapstone. She has been coming to Art Matters for some years, exploring various art forms and received encouragement. As I watch Sasha work, I can't help but feel a sense of calm wash over me. It's clear that engaging in this mindful activity within a nurturing creative environment can significantly improve one's overall well-being.

As I leave Sasha to continue her carving, my eye is drawn towards a framed photograph of a man's face with his eyes closed, and I'm joined by David, Art Matters Creative Lead, who tells me that Art Matters artists are getting ready for a new exhibition called The Hope Whisperers.

David tells me 'Coming out of the pandemic 'hope' was really important for many people. This bigger project came on the back of smaller activities that we had been running, looking at what hope means, the environmental issues and the economic impact that was very much present. We wanted it to be somewhere between a protest and meditation, drawing inspiration from influential figures like the Dalai Lama. The Art Matters artists were captured in photographs with their eyes closed, reflecting on the poems they had written for the project. These poems will also be featured in the exhibition.'

The exhibition is set to be showcased in various venues, online, and in a book. I can't wait to see it. As I leave Art Matters, I plan on getting my sketchbook out when I get home; what an inspiring visit I have had.

Get involved

Art Matters operates a referral system and numbers are limited, but their exhibitions and open studio events highlight art's positive impact on the mental well-being of the wider community. Attending one of their events and chatting with artists and staff will inspire you to seek out local art groups or dedicate time to nurturing your creativity at home.

Art Matters run projects yearly, including camera club and events at Surrey libraries and other community venues. They operate in partnership with Richmond Fellowship's East Surrey Community Connections services to ensure inclusivity and a shared sense of community. They are members of Disability Arts in Surrey (DAiSY).

Discover more on the Surrey Culture Map.