“The place with the shark in the window” is celebrating a milestone birthday.
The Art Studio is marking thirty years of using the power of arts to reach out to those with mental health issues.
Three decades ago, the studio started life as an artist’s residency with Derek Hill at the former Cherry Knowle Hospital in Ryhope, and has snowballed into a charity that has helped thousands of people in Wearside and County Durham to tap into their creative side.
Now based in Lombard Street, Hendon, it is best-known for its location in Hind Street in the city centre where its papier-mâché shark in the window became somewhat of a landmarks before the charity moved due to the development of the Premier Inn hotel.
“When Derek started visiting Cherry Knowle using arts in that way, as a form of therapy for people with mental health problems, it was quite radical,” explained studio manager Barney Craggs. “From what we understand it was the first of its kind in the area with North Tyneside and South Shields using the same approach afterwards.
“Some people think arts can be arty farty, but it really works because people become so involved in the artwork that other things they have going on are reduced.”
He added: “The charity developed over time and was based at a couple of places, but people most remember us from our time at Hind Street where we were based for around 15 years. People always remember the shark in the window.”
People are referred to the charity through their GP, social worker or hospital staff and can take part in a range of art disciplines, from sculpture and photography to painting, pottery and ceramics.
The charity also runs outreach workshops at venues including the YMCA and The Bangladeshi Centre in Hendon.
As well as working with artists, participants can often see their works on gallery walls including Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens and the Oriental Museum in Durham.
Barney says the change in people who take part in workshops can be remarkable.
He said: “What always surprises me is that people start and can be nervous and frightened but because the atmosphere is so welcoming and caring they soon feel at home. It’s great to see.
“Often these are people that may be called horrible names in the outside world but when they come here it’s non-judgemental and they feel accepted.
“We also have some great talents, creativeness has often been linked to mental health problems.
“It’s such a great form of expression and is so powerful in the positive effect it can have on a person.”