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Experience the art of recovery: START celebrates 30 years with ‘People & Portraits of Salford’ exhibition

In a world where we are constantly bombarded with negative news and headlines, it's always refreshing to hear about organisations and individuals who are making a positive impact in their communities.

One such organisation is START, which is celebrating its 30-year anniversary by holding a new exhibition at Salford Museum & Art Gallery called People & Portraits of Salford.

The People & Portraits of Salford exhibition showcases a variety of quality artworks created by START’s staff, volunteers, and service users. The pieces range from individual portraits to large-scale collaborative works using paints, drawing, textiles, mosaic, ceramics, sculpture, print, and photography.

The exhibition reflects the shared experiences of its members, bringing people together through the power of art.

START, which stands for Salford Therapy, Arts and Recovery Team, was founded in 1993 by Bernadette Conlon as the UK’s first arts-on-prescription service.

Over the past 30 years, they have helped an estimated 20,000 people across all corners of Salford, using creativity, connection, and recovery to improve people’s lives.

Based in Brunswick House, SMART provides access to excellent facilities, such as art and media studios, craft workshops, and gardens. With the help of professional tutors, members can learn new skills and build their confidence to become valued contributors to society.

One of the key ways that SMART helps its members is through creative activities.

Research has shown that engaging in creative pursuits can have a positive impact on mental health, providing a social outlet and a way to learn new skills.

y empowering members to express themselves more clearly and understand their place in the world, SMART helps them reach new heights and gain newfound confidence.

Bernadette Conlon, the founder of START, expressed her delight at holding the exhibition at Salford Museum & Art Gallery, saying that the venue has a special bond with START, and that the team has supported the organisation over the years.

Claire Corrin from Salford Museum & Art Gallery with Bernadette Conlon and Michelle Dennett of START

Speaking to I Love Manchester, Bernadette said: “So many have helped make START a success over the last 30 years.

“We’re delighted to hold the exhibition at Salford Museum & Art Gallery, with which we have a special bond.

“The team has supported us over the years and it’s the best venue for these works of art to be appreciated. We were delivering art on prescription before it became a recognised form of therapy; for that we are very proud and we know it works, and the people who have exhibited and been through our services over the years are a testament to that.”

START was delivering art on prescription before it became a recognised form of therapy, and the exhibition showcases the success of this innovative approach.

The exhibition also features key members of staff, volunteers, and service users from over the years, including founder Bernadette Conlon, late caretaker John Ball, and Paul Jordan, one of the longest-serving volunteers.

Many of the works have been created especially for the exhibition, with additional funding from The Arts Society.

One of the key pieces in the exhibition is John, painted by Paul Jordan, who is START’s longest-serving volunteer.

Paul, who went through the service himself, enjoyed art so much through START that he went on to gain a first degree in Visual Arts from the University of Salford. He is still a volunteer with START, running art sessions and providing extra support and welfare advice to those who need it most.

Many service users have been helped by START, turning their lives around and going on to become volunteers, peer mentors, board members, staff, and tutors with the charity.

Some ex-members have even gone on to become artists and poets in their own right, including Salford poet J Ahmed, who performed two of his poems to more than 300 people at the exhibition opening.

Claire Corrin, Exhibitions Manager at Salford Museum & Art Gallery, said that “The museum has a long history of exhibitions and events that engage local communities, visitors, and artists. It is important to the museum to continue to support and represent local communities by working in partnership with organisations and artists in Salford and beyond.”

The People & Portraits of Salford exhibition is a testament to the hard work and dedication of START’s staff and volunteers, as well as the many service users who have been helped over the past 30 years.

It is a celebration of the transformative power of art and the positive impact that organisations like START can have in their communities.

The exhibition is running until September 24. For more information please click here.

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