Six years ago, they were told they shouldn’t be in the same building as ‘artists of calibre’. But, with a Turner nomination under their belt, life is changing for the Project Art Works collective and other neurodiverse artists

‘Everyone’s done brilliant, not just me.” I’m chatting to Lucy, an artist with Project Art Works, about the Hastings-based collective’s Turner prize nomination (they lost out to Belfast’s Array Collective in the end). Today she’s in the character of Listey Cat; Lucy’s work revolves around her love of animals, which often manifests in the form of the bright, elaborate costumes she makes and has worn to give gallery tours. “It’s given us more independence and we get to work with other artists,” she says, of the collective. “I feel lucky and chill. It’s therapeutic.”

Founded in 1996, Project Art Works collaborates with neurodiverse artists and those with complex support needs, providing them with studio space, materials and facilitators. Tom, who works with lead artist Lucy, is like many of the facilitators also an artist, and is keen to stress the collaborative nature of the practice: “It’s a mutual experience,” he says. “I support Lucy and she supports me.”

Neurodiversity has become something of a buzzword in recent years. It’s about replacing the stigmatisation of people with conditions such as autism with the recognition that these are simply normal variations, with qualities of their own. The Turner nomination suggests that the art world finally seems to be catching on. Though perhaps not fast enough, if some of the attitudes Project Art Works CEO and artist director Kate Adams has encountered are anything to go by: “It was only about six years ago that a head of exhibition somewhere within an organisation said to us, ‘I don’t think it’s right [to have] people with learning disabilities in an exhibition downstairs with an artist of calibre upstairs. They shouldn’t be in the same building.’”

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