Community Arts and A Medical Miracle


It's been what you could call a bit of a week! I wasn't going to write about my run of what can only be described as one thing after another kind of luck, but thought as so many of you have sent me good wishes for my shoulder surgery and sent prayers from all around the world, I would let you know I am doing fine, although I have come very close to screaming a few times!

It all started to go wrong after my colitis was found to actually be Crohn's disease and I had to have a wireless endoscopy. For anyone who is set to have one, it's not that bad. The Pill Cam is slightly larger than a large vitamin pill, but it goes down well, and is a much better option than any alternatives. By all accounts it is now also half the cost of carrying out a traditional endoscopy.

Both Crohn's and Colitis are difficult to identify at times, in my case it took 18-years before it was properly diagnosed. Both have no cure, but they are in this modern day treatable. I have to take an oral chemotherapy drug everyday, it's a small amount, but to date it is the only drug that has kept me relatively flare free for more than 12-months. You can find out more by visiting and you can also help this wonderful organisation by donating a little or by becoming a member.

Then on Friday I had a pain that I hadn't felt for a few years, I knew immediately it was a kidney stone. It wasn't a surprise, I'd had a previous stone removed surgically and had spent a lot of time in and out of hospital, the stone they removed then was around 12mm, and I knew I still had one left after having a scan last year and another a few weeks ago. What did surprise me was that it had been joined by a few more in the opposite kidney, which hadn't had cause to previously be included in the scans.

I was took by ambulance to an emergency department and passed two small kidney stones in three hours. Now let's get some context here, anything up to around 5mm is passable, anything over 5mm needs an intervention in most cases. Anything over or around 2mm is, unless you are some kind of super human, extremely likely to hurt more than a bit.

Two 3mm stones in a few hours, well that's a bit like trying to roll a barbed wire encrusted golf ball through a straw, but with lots of added pain, and lots of swearing; water boarding is most definitely a preferable option at this point. You would think the more stones you pass the easier it gets, no. In fact I am now certain that they regenerate with an additional side of extra hot chilli. They linger long enough to write a Trip Advisor review, then WHAM! The third stone remains, as does the original one, but I was released from hospital the next day. No surgery needed for now.

On Monday it was touch and go for my shoulder surgery, apparently it was originally thought that I had a torn rotator cuff, but I was lucky enough to be seen by a very respected orthopaedic surgeon who said it was a frozen shoulder, but it needed some urgent surgery.

They nearly cancelled the surgery due to what by now had been defined by the nurse, anaesthetist, and the surgeon as my crazy weekend, and because of the Crohn's I had lost nearly 5 stones in weight since April, this was due to me finally being taken off the steroids, not because I had an eating disorder, and thankfully they decided to go ahead. It took a little negotiation.

Two hours of surgery later, I had completely lost the use in my arm hand and shoulder, and it was during this time that I actually had thoughts of never getting the use back. I actually felt panic, although I knew deep down it was the regional anaesthetic that was causing the arm not to move at all. All I can say is that during this time I could only think that amputees and stroke victims are some of the bravest people on the planet. I got my use back after 16-hours, although I'm still a little numb in places. But at least I can still create my art, and I can albeit one handed for now, write the blog. Thankfully I started writing this piece a few weeks ago, prior preparation and all that!

But mostly I would like to sincerely thank everyone who sent me their best wishes, you really have helped me through this last week. My four months of physiotherapy started today with at least 3 times 20 minutes of exercise to do in between, every day. Unfortunately I can't get in the car quite yet, but once my movement improves I will be able to drive, hopefully in a couple of weeks.

Then 45-minutes later this afternoon it was on to another hospital to see my other specialist in Kidney issues, I now have two consultants, one for each kidney, (maybe it's a game of consultant Pokemon Go, gotta catch em all, or maybe its the way the National Health Service works in the UK when your local emergency department closes at 10pm because of staffing issues and no budget, and you get taken to another hospital many miles away), and I think my usual consultant was feeling a little left out.

His words came out easily as my jaw dropped, I think we need to give you an anaesthetic and have a look. He must have noticed I was leaning slightly toward toppling over the edge, and he quickly said, don't worry I think I know what it is and it's a really easy fix, followed up with, and I'll look after both kidneys. So now I await whatever this anaesthetic requiring fix is going to be and am now back to a more manageable single consultant.

I'm going to be fine, but for now I need to rest and moving forward I need to start taking it much easier, try to avoid some stress, and stop when I recognise the signs of something going a bit wrong. That's going to be the hardest part. 18-hour days eventually take their toll it seems.

But honestly, what a week. If you take one thing from this, please, if you have any symptoms for anything and you think it's ok I'll wait and see if it goes away on its own, my advice is don't. Go and see a healthcare professional and do not rely on Dr. Google. Don't put it off otherwise you could end up having one of these weeks too.



Seasons Artwork collection from Mark Taylor
My Seasons Collection is now available!

I have started to release my new works in readiness for the Fall and holiday seasons. My new Seasons Collection will eventually form a series of 12-works. Each one will feature a unique texture found during various seasons of the year. This abstract series is the one that I have been working on for the previous twelve-months and it has taken me to some interesting places in very different seasons.

The first three pieces Seasons, All that Glistens, and The Roots of Nature were inspired from visiting the following locations, Cannock Chase (Staffordshire UK), Palma De Mallorca (Spain) and Sardinia (Italy), I have started working on the next three pieces, and I plan on visiting a number of locations for future pieces.

These works are available from on a wide range of products and canvases, and at and also from Earth Prints, The Great Frame Up, Framing and Art Centre, and Deck the Walls. That's more than 150 retail locations in the USA and Canada! You can also get in touch to purchase smaller signed prints directly, on a range of print mediums plus I only ever use the best quality inks and canvas/papers.

So that's enough about me, this week I'm taking a look at community arts projects and how you can get involved. Remember if you would like to appear in an upcoming featured artists spotlight it's not too late to get in touch. You can contact me at or just complete the contact form at the bottom of each page on this blog. You only need to do this once, and it's free! Whilst I can't guarantee that you will make hundreds of new sales, it's a little more exposure for your work, and if you make millions, you can buy me a coffee.

Community arts projects
Do something great!


Community arts have always struck me as something that is generally a good idea. The therapeutic effects of art have been widely renowned for many years, and it also strikes me that bringing a community together with a project where everyone has the opportunity to contribute always makes sense.

It is though difficult to carry off. Firstly you need a community that hardly ever engages, to come together. People these days don’t seem to have time for community events. I know only a few of my closest neighbours, yet whenever I speak to them they all say that there is just not enough going on in the community that they feel that they could or would get involved with.

Austerity has side-lined some engaging projects of the past, and whenever I speak to people about the importance of art they tell me that they would rather see money spent on things like reducing crime and improving health care. Wow, because if there is one thing I really believe in, it is that community arts projects often can and do make a significant impact on the reduction of crime, and there are many ways in which art can have an impact on health and especially around mental health.

Over history, cultural and artistic programs have played a prominent role in urban regeneration, often taking run-down areas and making them once again liveable. We also know from the vast array of research carried out that community arts programs are often linked to social gain, and that key findings of much of the research carried out has indicated that supporting participation in arts and sport can aid neighbourhood renewal through improved performance on indicators of health, crime, employment and education.

The arts are vital to any economy and I say this not just as an artist, but someone who has seen first-hand how the arts can transform people’s lives from my work in justice, and my previous work in the health sector. I get the feeling that there are some who think that spending money on the arts helps only the arts, but visit any number of the community arts projects that have been successful over the years and around the world, and you will see that they really have benefited the communities in which they have taken place.

Not only are the effects of crime reduced, there are many respected sociologists who have provided evidence that suggests that strong social connections are necessary ingredients of economic success. An area with lower crime rates will encourage business, and areas where the population feel safe are to be welcomed.

Dr. Felton Heirs, a Harvard professor looked for the ingredients that affect the physical well-being of different kinds of people in different places. He carried out a fifteen year study across neighbourhoods in Chicago and his findings concluded that the single-most important factor differentiating levels of health from one neighbourhood to the next was what he called “collective efficacy”.

He discovered that it wasn’t wealth, access to healthcare, crime or another tangible factor as the most important, but a more elusive ingredient, the ability of people to act together on matters of common interest. When this happened, it made a greater difference to the health and well-being of both individuals and neighbourhoods.

By developing cultural ties, they found that they developed their social capital by cooperating, sharing, and seeking and finding shared goals. Once these connections were established the communities did well in their other community efforts from economic development to healthy-living, and ultimately civic participation.

It needs little research to realise that when communities mobilise positively, the effects are surprisingly powerful.

For many years’ town planners, architects, and those who have a stake in town planning have focussed on the aesthetics of public places, the flow of people and traffic, and how they maximise their ability to observe and control people in public spaces. Whilst the security of people is always and should be a priority, so too is the need for promoting constructive interaction between people in public spaces.

Essentially pleasing aesthetics and security have created safer communities, but we have seen a decline over the years in community engagement. Whilst we have beautiful spaces, the aesthetics seem to be designed above the people and what actually attracts people to any area is people. If the places are clean and safe, and people can actively engage in activities within those spaces, those spaces then become core to the communities that they serve. In essence, the community should be at the heart of any development.

As an artist I know that I have a responsibility to encourage the arts more broadly, and I certainly believe that if artists don’t support the arts in a wider context than their own studio, then who else will pick up the baton and take the agenda forward?

If we are at work it is nice to see art in our work areas, it is nice to see public art on display, and if I am visiting a new region I will always be on the lookout for art. In Cuba, Jamaica, Russia, and in the U.S I have always been taken aback at the range of art on display. Much of it showing local cultures that you just wouldn’t get a feel for by reading Lonely Planet guides. I am amazed at the variety of art in each country. I am also amazed by the innovation that is applied to art and especially in poorer countries, it seems that anything can and is used to create some of the most beautiful art I have ever seen.

Art is not elitist any more. Where once the industry was patrolled by gatekeepers, art is now available to anyone, and anyone can create it and get it seen, all without having to go to a gallery with a portfolio. If communities could come together more to develop the arts, then there is a much wider benefit to everyone.

But as artists how do we engage our local communities? It is a difficult question. People are busy at the best of times, increasing life pressures mean that it is difficult for people to find the time. I am a firm believer in reaching out to the community, when a community comes together it can be as powerful as any formal initiative and indeed sometimes more so.

Commit one hour per week to your local community
Imagine if 50% of the population spent one hour per week on their community!

There are so many things artists can do to engage their communities. I have discovered a few of these on my various travels, and I have been in awe of some of the results. Very often we will find that no matter how little time people actually have, if there is something that will benefit the community as a whole, people will make the time to attend.

I visited some areas in the Baltic a few years ago, on route to Russia we visited Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Estonia. It was here I was taken aback. Estonia always seemed such a quaint little place, but actually it is an extremely sophisticated region.

The local community ran a craft fair, and I walked through the town. I noticed that a stark difference to high streets in the UK, the shops were filled with people, and there was a most amazing community vibe. Shops were not left unused, all of the shops had from what I could tell, a thriving business. I walked in to a gallery to find that it was actually pop-up gallery in a space that had been borrowed from the property’s owner.

The gallery had already been set up for a few weeks to display artworks of locals who had not sold their art anywhere before. Many pieces had been sold to locals and tourists and when I visited they had taken another 20 works in that morning to keep up with demand. The prices were reasonable, the art was very good, but what was interesting was the sense of community I got when I walked through the door. In total they intended to keep open for a few months during the summer.

I was offered a coffee, so they entirely hooked me in at that point, and many of the artists were sat around chatting to people. It wasn’t some half-hearted attempt at a pop-up gallery, they had clearly put a lot of thought in to how the space would look, and it reminded me very much of a gallery I often have a browse in, in Covent Garden, London.

There were no pushy sales people, just a group of folk bringing what they had created to a space that would have otherwise sat empty. Everything was there that you would expect, they took card payments, and they had produced brochures with the back-story of each of the local artists, and they had it available in a few languages.

What was very different to many galleries was that the artists were keen to say hello and genuinely seemed interested not so much around their sales, but they wanted to know what life was like back home. It was a truly humbling experience and I just wish that we could see more of this in the UK.

They told me that there were around 30-people involved, although they chose a new leader every week as originally no one felt confident enough to make decisions on their own. Collectively they had come together, created a democratic process of how things should be done, and despite having little experience, they had managed to pull something off that would have been difficult enough if you actually knew what you were doing. They told me there was a steep learning curve, but from what I witnessed they seemed to have absolutely everything covered, and the coffee was beautiful.

Imagine something like this in your community. Finding a place where people could come together with a love of art, and shared that with the community. Imagine if you could run art workshops for children or even adults who wanted to learn something without the formality of attending college, and just maybe offering a recognised certificate or arts award. Now that would be phenomenal.

Whenever I walk through high streets in the UK I see the effects of the financial crisis even to this day. Shops sit empty, the authorities have no money to keep the area clean, they do their best with what little they have, but there are so many places that actually just need a little TLC. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not painting a bleak picture of the UK in general, but where the financial crisis and austerity have taken their toll, places like this exist. It’s a reality.

Organising clean ups of an area is something we sometimes hear about, communities going out on a Sunday morning with their friends and families who have volunteered to clean up an area. We also read many reasons why this doesn’t happen. Often it is not that they can’t get the people to attend and help out, it is just a case of how can they get the rubbish they collect picked up and disposed of properly. If local authorities can’t afford the people, maybe the compromise is that they could at least afford to take the collected rubbish away after the event.

It’s amazing to visit a town centre where a few weeks before you would have seen rubbish littering the streets, and then when you go back after the people have done their bit, the whole place looks entirely different. It encourages people to take pride in their area, and surprisingly it can be a long time before the untidy streets once again become littered.

We also often read that it is the rules and legalities that prevent groups from doing this kind of work, but maybe we should not have to break the rules, maybe the rules need to be changed.

Artists could paint murals, giving them some actual exposure for free work, maybe even some local press coverage too, certainly more exposure than they would get when they take on free commissions. One of my pet hates as you will have picked up is when an artist is asked to work for free, but the exception for me is when it truly benefits the community I live in.

There are so many positives to community art projects yet they do seem to be undervalued by many of the official authorities. Some authorities however embrace their communities spirit and actively assist projects. But just where do you even begin?


Despite many local authorities facing massive budget restraints many are still eager to provide a service that includes the arts. Many have Arts Officers or staff dedicated to the arts within an area. It’s certainly worth contacting your local authorities to see if they have this kind of scheme or staff in place. If they do, they will be able to assist you in setting up a community arts project, but they might be even more willing to engage if you have a way to fund the project. We will talk about that in a moment.

Aside from the local authority, many people set up weekly or sometimes monthly arts groups. I know of three groups, one meets in a well-known coffee chain, one in a local community centre on a Tuesday morning, and one in an artist’s studio. The problem for many is the timing.

The local groups all gather during the day and this makes it difficult to engage if you are working in a full-time job, because even many professional artists also have to maintain an income during the slower times of the art year. For me I find it difficult to attend any of the local groups purely because of the time they meet.

A local artist I know charges nothing to attend his studio one day per week. Artist’s go along and contribute to the refreshment fund which I believe is about £1 sterling, and this covers tea, coffee, biscuits, and cake! It’s a bargain. Plus you get to use the artist’s studio whilst you are there, as long as you bring your own materials and canvases. This is a terrific way to help other artist’s in your local area who perhaps can’t afford the luxury of their own studio. To help with running costs he also hires his studio out on certain weekends during the year, and literally only charges enough to cover his costs.

The community centre group charge a couple of pounds each week as the community centre costs around £25 per session. They usually have a good turn-out but some weeks the costs need to be covered by the organiser when fewer people turn up.

As for the coffee group, they get very little painting done, usually using it to discuss new ideas and they bring in their art each week for critique. Yet even this is useful. As an artist some constructive critique and mentoring is always welcome no matter how experienced you are. Just being able to discuss new ideas and techniques is often all an artist needs to find new inspiration. The only downside is that when the artist’s come out of the coffee shop they have usually consumed way too much coffee. You can tell who they are because they walk down the street at 30mph carrying half a dozen canvases.

There are many of these groups all around the world. Facebook is usually a good place to start looking for them. There are also a number of local community groups on Facebook who some of the members actually provide art services to local businesses.

Many larger cities will have large museums and many will feature art. In a lot of instances those museums may have community projects currently happening. It’s always worth speaking to your local museum to see what’s happening in your area.


Funding is usually where things often fall flat. Mostly there might not be that much funding required, and especially if people can provide their own equipment. However you might need to have the event properly risk assessed, or you may have to contact the local police especially if you are doing something on public land. You may also need public liability insurance, and before you set anything up it is always best to check with your local authority or Town Hall. More often than not it is the paperwork that needs to be completed that becomes the issue.

In the UK you can approach the local authority to see if grants are available, and the UK lottery make grants available to arts projects. I have some experience in bid writing and depending on who is funding the project will depend on just how detailed the bid needs to be. There are professionals who write bids for a living, the problem is that the professionals will charge a professional fee. I would too, some bids can take months to write.

There are some really useful links for the UK on this page: which provides details of various organisations who might support your project.

If you are in the USA or elsewhere, a quick Google search will often bring up a myriad of options to obtain grants and awards.

But there are other options too. Crowdfunding has been a way in which many people and organisations have benefited.

Crowdfunding (a form of crowdsourcing) is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising monetary contributions from a large number of people, today often performed via Internet-mediated registries, but the concept can also be executed through mail-order subscriptions, benefit events, and other methods.

People have managed to raise millions of pounds through crowd funding sites such as Patreon, Go Fund Me, and other services. There’s not really a major requirement to have a specialist bid writer involved, essentially everyone who meets each sites requirements can do it and it doesn’t take long.

Does it work? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Often it is down to the publicity and what the project is and who it will benefit. You might want to consider contacting the local press or radio or even TV station to cover your project and gain some much needed publicity.

Unfortunately we hear stories occasionally of people setting up crowd source projects but they will either not meet the goal, or in some cases the project will never happen. If you plan to donate to a crowd sourcing project, then you’ll need to do your own due diligence.

Crowd-sourcing, funding, is perhaps one of the easiest routes to raise funding, but it still requires time and effort, but it's not guaranteed to work.

You could also try approaching local and major businesses. Many major corporations will have what they call a corporate social responsibility program or CSR in place. Many also put aside a portion of their income to the CSR funds which then goes unclaimed. You would be surprised at just how many will say yes.

Things do not change. People change
It's not things that change, people change.


Best Ways to Support your Local Community

Of course there are other ways that you can help your community. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate scheme involving hundreds of people. Here are some of the best ways, many of which can be scheduled in to your daily routine!

1. Buy Local. Support local and independent artists and craftspeople, or buy work from your own artist friends!

2. Buy local again, this time by supporting those high street shops that have lost business from the arrival of large retail parks and malls. By doing this you will be supporting the local economy and keeping your high street alive.

3. Promote your town positively in social-media. You can be an advocate of your home town and encourage people to visit. I have so many places on my to do list from following people on social-media, one day I will get to as many as I can!

4. Write to your local officials and be positive. Life in public service is difficult, I say this from experience. Very often we hear only the negative side of public service staff, but we never hear of the 99% of positive work that they do. By supporting your local public service staff, it will provide a much needed and welcome boost to their day. They will also be much keener to become engaged and offer assistance.

5. If you are taking a walk, why not pick up some litter and place it in a bin. I always take a garbage bag out with me and quite honestly whenever I am walking I tend to get some really strange looks for picking up other people’s litter and placing it in a bin, often just a few yards away. The looks are as if I am insane, but this should actually be the norm. If everyone did it, or rather if everyone used a garbage bin, then we would all benefit. No one wants to visit an untidy area.

6. Encourage your employer to participate and help fund local events. Many who do this will receive good advertising. Why do so many organisations sponsor large events? Because that advertising works.

7. If you have unused art supplies then why not donate them to a local arts group or a homeless shelter. Homeless people are so often forgotten, yet there are artists and craftspeople who are homeless. Maybe if they had materials to produce their art, it might be the difference that they need.

8. Set up an art exhibition at a local business. This is actually a great way to get some free exposure and sell a little of your own art on the way. Many of the businesses will want you to set up in their foyers and entrances so you will get passing foot traffic for most of the day. It brightens up employees lives too.

9. Volunteer to teach a class from a local arts group. It’s so rewarding to be able to pass on your knowledge, especially to new artists who are trying to get in to the business.

10. Work with special-needs children. Art is such a therapeutic activity and it is amazing at just how much enjoyment you will get, and you cannot underestimate how much benefit the children will get.

11. Offer to read to people. In fact you could do this at a local library. Even today, many people still cannot read, or have visual impairments that make it difficult for them to read anything. You can read books, or maybe even the daily newspaper.

12. Offer to teach seniors how to use the internet and get connected. In fact it’s not just seniors who often struggle with getting online, but some of the younger generation do too.

13. Set up a mentoring system that allows new artists to engage with you and offer them advice on creating their work and working within the industry.

14. Encourage employers to give staff at least one day per year to assist in the local community. Staff enjoy the break from the usual routine and the community will benefit from their help. It’s also a great PR story and will generate some free advertising if you do it right.

This encourages greater staff morale and studies have been carried out that suggest that allowing staff the opportunity to impart their knowledge and skills elsewhere to benefit the community is a good thing to do, and staff really do value these types of emotional reward.

15. If you have a garden try to incorporate a wildlife area. This serves two things, one you’ll need to mow that part of the garden less, and secondly it will bring native species to your garden, benefiting the community environmentally as a whole.

16. Create a list of useful phone numbers of various organisations and support groups and hand them out to the homeless and seniors. Make sure you have a version in large print too, and if possible have a version in another language.

17. Ask your local museum if they need volunteers. Many do and especially during school holidays when there are more visitors.


Better staff morale for a start, but voluntary work can help you and your business by developing skills that you might not already have, and improving specific hard skills such as project management and stakeholder management. It is also a great way to meet new people.

If you have a business then allowing your staff to participate in voluntary projects can hone the staff member’s ability to work in a team. Spending a day working on for example a school gardening project can allow people to take on very different roles to those they normally undertake.

It won’t harm your reputation either! Being socially responsible not only looks good to your customers, it shows them that you really care about your community.

You can generate press statements, do local TV and radio interviews, and generally get the type of advertising that would normally cost you a lot of money for free. Getting the word out that you are a socially responsible business is also a great way to generate future customers.

Being socially responsible also makes you more attractive to investors. If you are contributing to a more sustainable long-term local economy, investors will recognise you as having a role to play in delivering that particular agenda. In many cases, investors carrying out their own due diligence will ask you how you address corporate social responsibility issues, and even if you are a local independent artist, your buyers will be so much more likely to buy from you again.


If you are thinking of setting up something yourself, or volunteering as part of another project, getting involved in the local community is a great idea that can only be a positive thing for your own art.

In this day and age the art world is a difficult business for local and independent artists to make a living from. Much of your business might rely on local people buying your work, and connecting with those potential buyers is the best way to ensure that the first local artist they think of is you.

The more people you meet, the wider your circle of influence becomes, and your chances of sales become higher. But most of all, it’s not always about you, it’s about putting something back in to a community that helps you to make a living.

If you have any ideas on how people can get involved in local community arts projects then please do let us know. Also if you would like a community project spotlighting on this site, please do get in touch. You can email me at and I will feature the best ones on my blog. If you are planning an event in Staffordshire or the surrounding areas, let me know and I might just turn up and offer some support.


Mark (M.A) Taylor is a UK based artist who lives in Staffordshire. His experience of professional art spans over 30-years and he is the founder of two well-known Facebook Groups, the Artists Exchange and The Artist Hangout. His work is available from and a range of retail locations across the USA and Canada, and you can buy smaller works directly using PayPal. You can follow him on Facebook at and on Twitter @beechhouseart

Mark has been supporting local, independent and international artists since before he created this blog and has also been described as a caffeine dependent life-form, and will be by now, assumed to be a minor medical miracle. By purchasing M.As art you will be supporting him to continue creating blog posts that help those new and not so new artists to become just a little better prepared for the world of art.

Next Time!

Next time I will be writing about how you can make yourself a better artist not by simply widening your technique or overall skills, but by working just a little smarter. If you have any tips that have made a positive impact to your life as an artist please do get in touch or leave a comment.



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