Launching in April 2020, the ‘Big as a Bus‘ wellbeing project aimed to provide a vital service of connecting people and reducing anxiety during the first lockdown. After overnight cancellation of all classes, AATH switched to art sessions on Zoom (a scary first!) offered free. National Lottery Funding later enabled continued free access. Participants were invited to regular Zoom sessions to move through three innovative project themes, and create multi-media artwork for a huge upcoming gallery installation – measuring 12m x 3m (as BigAsABus!) This ambitious project established a community of artists that reached international levels.

Funder: National Lottery Community Fund

Partner: Tektura – provided wall covering samples and designs for the project, and work was contributed by international designers Katje Behre (Elli Popp) and Helen Strevens, set designer of the Hobbit House in The Lord of The Rings.

Attendees: 527 participants over 20 hours of workshops, including extended families and schools 

BigAsABus Message in a Bottle Community Artwork Collage

The three project themes were selected to encourage discussion and creativity: 

• Hanami – the Japanese celebration of spring, focusing on the cherry blossom to evoke peaceful relaxation and appreciation of nature. Many participants found solace through spending time in their gardens and capturing the outside world in artwork

• Making Waves – linking to a community wave, and the calming movement of the ocean. Participants developed resilience through including inspirational messages in their wave artwork such as ‘Be Strong’ and ‘Be Gentle’

• Message in a Bottle – this theme was conceived by 9-year-old Veer, whose painting of a manta ray in the depths of the ocean included a submerged bottle bearing the message ‘Stay Happy’. Through brainstorming as a group, this theme generated heartfelt responses to the pandemic, using the bottle structure as a guide 

BigAsABus Project Hanami Community Artwork Collage

Impact of Big as a Bus

• Club Hub Lockdown Achievement Award (nomination) – Art at the Heart are now finalists and the winner will be announced soon

• Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (nomination)- the highest recognition for voluntary groups in the UK – read more here 

• Solihull Says Thank You Civic Award (nomination) – to acknowledge the profound impact on the community

• Over 500 artworks created – works produced span painting, textiles, origami, photography and more – see our digital galleries here. All work will contribute towards a huge upcoming installation at the Core, Solihull

• 100% positive feedback – participants described the project as a ‘joy’ and the ‘highlight of the week’ – those who participated regularly reported the greatest impact on wellbeing 

• Vital contact and engagement during isolation – this formed the only social contact for many participants and helped to cope with feelings of uncertainty and loneliness; it enabled ‘exclusion from the frustration and limitations of lockdown’. All participants expressed the desire to continue meeting

Confidence and empathy developed through regular group sharing, training where required, and feedback and guidance from AATH Directors Kamaljit and Mukesh

The upcoming gallery installation will continue to support communities through providing unique records of resilience and spirit, empowering the artists who have contributed as well as onlookers 

For more information about participant experience, read our case studies below: Usha’s Story and Daphne’s Story.

Usha's painting of blossom and two birds

Usha’s sons Nayan and Veer attended Art at the Heart’s very first workshops back in 2016. While Usha enjoyed studying art as a GCSE, and has often helped the boys with their art homework, she began to participate as an individual during the Big as a Bus project. Her beautiful blossom paintings, collages and paper sculptures allowed her in turn to blossom as an artist with astonishing creative energy.

Artwork Created by the Lad Family

Blossom Painting for the Big as a Bus project

•Responses to the Japanese Cherry Blossom – Each family member used acute observational skills to shape their landscapes. Veer focussed on precise floral details, while Usha chose to paint a romantic scene with two birds perching on a branch. Nayan accidentally flicked paint onto his blossoms study, but found that it had a vibrant, playful effect

• Making Waves – Nayan chose to draw his favourite superhero, Aquaman, jauntily riding on a fish as a surfboard, Usha depicted crashing waves with collaged sea-shells, and Veer’s manta ray inspired the ‘Message in a Bottle’ theme 

• Usha’s Peacock – Usha decided to try something completely new and work with paper scrolls, resulting in a majestic peacock, paired with a wallpaper background chosen by Art at the Heart Director Mukesh. This passion project developed her self-motivation and ability to work with intricate detail

Peacock made from paper scrolls by Usha

Benefits of Big as a Bus

•Relaxation – regular Zoom classes gave Usha a break from supervising home-schooling and working full-time. She was astounded at the sheer amount of work she was able to produce while immersed in creative energy. Consequently, she has now been inspired to join the Me&MyPencil sketching classes for adults 

Teamwork Skills – Usha, Veer and Nayan worked together as a family, and with other members of the group, to share skills and give each other feedback

•Pride and Confidence Nayan was able to share work with others for the first time, and Usha is excited to see the finished gallery; ‘it is always inspiring to see people commenting and looking at my children’s work’. Thanks to this project she has also gained personal recognition as an artist in her own right 

Artwork created by Daphne and her family for the Making Waves project

Daphne first came across Art at the Heart when her granddaughter Daisy started attending the art classes. Daphne enjoyed teaching art as a former primary school-teacher, and studying textiles in her own time. As a passionate defender of the arts, she always supported AATH from a distance, until she joined her family for Big as a Bus over lockdown and became one of the most enthusiastic and pioneering members of the group.

Artwork Created by Daphne and Family

Daphne holding up her mechanical fish

•Making Waves Ocean Scene – this began as just a shoebox, and was added to by each family member: Daisy used dissolvable fabrics for the wave effect, April drew the colourful fish, Daphne worked on a mechanical ocean creature – until the quirky creation was complete! The project was exchanged between houses using doorstep drop-offs and tutorials over Zoom, making it a true product of the lockdown.

•Message in a Bottle – plastic bottle recycled and filled with twinkling lights and paper fish, designed as a comment on plastic pollution in the ocean

Illuminated bottle created by Daphne and her family

Benefits of Big as a Bus

•Adaptability – work was made collaboratively by family members living apart – this provided a focus and welcome distraction from isolation

•Creative thinking – Daphne witnessed her granddaughters learning to ‘think for themselves’ and Daphne herself began to notice shapes and patterns in the world around her, finding solace in nature 

•Lockdown Community – people were brought together regardless of age or ability; ‘a place where so many people can find something different’; ‘it gave me a wider community’