Over 30 Years of Prism Arts

Prism Arts was established in 1987 by a group of five artists committed to developing opportunities for excluded people to participate in the arts. Over the years Prism Arts has also created opportunities for both local and national disabled artists to work and perform in Cumbria.

Since 1987 Prism Arts has initiated hundreds of projects and enabled thousands of people to access the arts.

Our projects always seem to deliver something extraordinary and make a difference to the people who we work with. Our participants have also supported us to improve and develop Prism Arts.

To look at our past work please click on the links below, or scroll down through our Timeline.


September 2014: Prism Arts & New Arts North work in association with the University of Cumbria to create a pop-up gallery for C-Art Open Studios event. Our Creative Arts and Conversation sessions for older people, stroke survivors and people experiencing memory loss begin in our workshop space. 

August 2014: The first Studio Theatre Summer School takes place, leading up to Carlisle City Pageant. Carlisle Studio Theatre group takes their production, The Magical Morphers and the Dream Vortex, to Mintfest International Festival of Street Arts in Kendal. Prism Arts and Tullie House commission Sean Burn’s short film, Bang! in response to Richard Slee’s exhibition, ‘Work and Play’, at Tullie House.

May 2014: Prism Arts and Tullie House hold Carlisle’s inaugural Dementia Awareness Day, with the Carlisle Dementia Network.

March 2014: 60 Days of No Borders‘, by Carlisle Day Service’s No Borders art group, is the first exhibition in our new workshop space. Prism Arts also starts to work with a group of Stroke Survivors through the Stroke Association.

February 2014: Prism Arts starts to work with Tullie House to develop their services for people with dementia.

January 2014: Prism Arts opens new premises (office, workshop space and artists’ studio) at Carlisle Business Interaction Centre, Carlisle.


December 2013: Solway Wetlands creatures (made by groups at Heathlands Farm and Carlisle Day Centres) go on display at Tullie House. Prism Arts move to new premises on Paternoster Row, Carlisle.

September 2013: The second Studio Theatre course starts in Carlisle, and a further course starts in Cockermouth.

August 2013: Studio Theatre Carlisle perform at Mintfest International Festival of Street Art in Kendal.

July 2013: End of year performance given by Studio Theatre Carlisle at the Culture Bazaar 2013.

May 2013: Art of Participation Seminar in partnership with Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery.

April 2013: No Borders programme of workshops starts at Carlisle Library for individuals with a range of health problems and disabilities.


September 2012: Studio Theatre Carlisle starts at the Shaddon Gateway Centre.

March 2012: Starfish Theatre Company which was based in Carlisle and ran for seven years came to an end.

February 2012: Spinning Yarns groups (arts for older people) explore mixed media in Appleby, Felt & Jewellery Making in Barrow and Ceramics in Egremont.

February 2012: Studio Theatre Taster Course begins. Prism Art: Studio Theatre is for young people and adults who have learning disabilities. The workshops take a multi art form approach; this means that participants learn a range of new skills including filmmaking, movement, drama, visual arts and music, culminating in a piece of street theatre to welcome the Olympic Torch during June 2012.


October 2011: Spinning Yarns groups resumed their activities including Painting at Egremont and a Textiles at Appleby.

October 2011: Prism Arts was commissioned by Cumbria County Council in partnership with Cumbria Care Alliance, to run Singing for Wellbeing workshops led by musician Russell Burbush. These workshops were held across the county (Penrith, Barrow & Workington) and were for activities co-ordinators who work in residential homes with older people.

October 2011: James Rennie Theatre Skills Residency was designed to introduce the post 16 students to a range of theatre skills. The artists involved included Ali McCaw, Mark Newport, Marion Smith, Tina Ewing. Haltwhistle Film Project filmed the drama sessions and the final performance.

September 2011: Harraby Art Group: A year of workshops began for Cumbria County Council Day Service Users who have high level learning disabilities. The aim was to deliver small group workshops to ensure high level engagement and to build the confidence, creative skills and communication skills of staff and service users.

June – October 2011: Prism Arts began a series of taster arts courses for young people and adults who have learning disabilities. Activities undertaken were film making, textiles including weaving, printmaking and creative stories.

July 2011: Spinning Yarns groups across the county completed another successful year of workshops.

April 2011: Prism Arts ran a training day for students to explore the setting up and delivery of participatory arts workshops in a health and community setting. The course aimed at students who were about to graduate from the University of Cumbria in Carlisle. The course was funded by Cumbria County Council and Creative Futures Cumbria as part of a wider programme of work to develop the skills of artists to work in the community sector in Cumbria

February 2011: Prism Arts organises and holds a meeting with leading Cumbrian artists and organisations to begin establishing exciting new programmes of work and practice.

February 2011: Prism Arts, in partnership with folly and Lanternhouse, Ulverston selected Rita Marcalo to work as artist in residence. The residency took place in Lanternhouse, Ulverston and was established to allow a leading disabled artist the space and time to develop ideas for the Unlimited commission (a disabled artist commission opportunity linked to the Cultural Olympiad). The residency ended with an artist’s talk by Rita that was presented live at the Lanternhouse and streamed online. Rita submitted an Unlimited as a result of the residency.

February 2011: Spinning Yarns: As part of the regular Spinning Yarns (arts for older people) programme, a second programme of workshops was established delivering 8 weekly ceramic workshops for Stroke Survivors in Carlisle. The workshops were led by artist Hannah Stewart. This work was funded by Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery.


October – December 2010 & April 2011: Starfish Theatre Company: The Haunted Trees – A mysterious folk tale – Written and adapted by Cheryl Hickman of Starfish Theatre Company. The Haunted Trees was based on a traditional Cumbrian folk tale about a farmer and his three sons. Every spring the farmer places flowers under three ancient trees that stand guard on the edge of his land. He does this to thank them for protecting him and his farm against the perils of nature; frost, drought, gales and floods. The farmer lives to a ripe old age and the farm produces bountiful crops. Once the farmer is dead, his older sons become lazy and fail to uphold their father’s springtime ritual. One day they mysteriously vanish and are never seen again. Will the farmer’s youngest son survive and rediscover the balance in nature he needs to secure the future of his farm? Using live performance, music, animation and puppetry Starfish Theatre Company used recent environmental events in Cumbria as inspiration to create a unique and magical piece of theatre that delighted and enchanted audiences across Cumbria. The Haunted Trees was toured around the county with performances for the public along with workshops in local schools. Over 600 participants and audience members engaged with the production.

October 2010: Parkhill Poets: A programme of workshops took place at the Copeland Occupational & Social Centre, Parkhill Day Centre, in Maryport working with a group of disabled adults called Parkhill Poets. Work was produced that linked to an outdoor performance in Workington called Promised Land which was performed to an audience at the Hub in Workington. (A West Cumbria Arts Partnership led performance.)

August 2010: A new artist database and newsletter was launched which means Prism Arts is now in touch with over 100 Cumbrian artists, stakeholders and public interested in our work.

July 2010: Spinning Yarns: Another successful year of workshops was completed.

April – May 2010: Life after Stroke: The Stroke Association commissioned Prism Arts to deliver a pilot arts project delivering meaningful creative activity for Stroke Survivors in Cumbria. Prism Arts engaged professional visual artists to work in three locations across Cumbria (Carlisle, Grange-over-Sands, Whitehaven) over a 6 week workshop period. Artists enabled stroke survivors to communicate their experiences of stroke using visual art. The pilot was not just about learning specific arts skills. The pilot project was designed to support wellbeing, to combat isolation and to enable stroke survivors to express their experiences. It is important to note that the groups were not art therapy groups.

March – June 2010: Hensingham Pilot Project: This took place at Hensingham Day Centre. The project took place over 12 day sessions. The pilot project was based at Hensingham Day Services with initial staff training taking place at Rosehill Theatre. Ali McCaw acted as Lead Artist for Prism Arts; she worked with partners to deliver the project on site and arranged creative practitioners for additional work. The project enabled adults, with profound learning disabilities, to work with creative practitioners, supported by centre staff, in order to develop skills and explore new ways of communicating. The work was celebrated with a multi media installation of work made by the beneficiaries. The installation premiered at Hensingham Day Centre on 7th June 2010 to beneficiaries, carers, partners and staff. The artwork was devised by beneficiaries, supported by the creative practitioners and staff. Creative practitioners used a range of media and art forms (film, textiles, and visual arts, music) to enable the beneficiaries to communicate and to produce the work. Prism Arts ensured that creative practitioners working on the project had extensive experience of working with adults with learning disabilities. The project aimed to actively involve Day Centre staff in the creative sessions. This supported staff development and strengthened the quality of the project.

March – April 2010: Access to Art: A Pilot Artist Residency Project for Carlton Centre in Carlisle. The purpose of this residency was to support Carlton Centre staff, who were leading arts workshops, by engaging a professional artist to develop new skills and to engage service users with a new creative project and to deliver workshops and produce an installation of work devised and produced by service users.

The residency began with a staff training session. This initial training session ensured that staff met the artist and explored some delivery techniques with her in advance of the programme. This session enabled staff to discuss the workshops they have delivered previously and informed the artist about the needs of the service users. The residency also supported volunteers already working at the Carlton Centre. The project was part of a wider scheme called Access to Art which was led by Carlisle Day Services, in partnership with Prism Arts and the Cultural Policy Unit, that aimed to engage all service users with high quality creative arts activity.

This visual arts residency project took place with high to medium dependency service users at the Carlton Centre in Carlisle. The residency created a piece of artwork, a large interactive textile wall hanging (using texture and colour), that was experienced and explored by service users. Service users created and devised the work supported by Ali McCaw and Day Services Staff. The residency took place on art workshop days and was also designed to support the development of staff taking part in Creative Futures Cumbria’s mentee programme. Two mentees took part in the mentored programme of work, Faye Metcalfe who was a volunteer at the Carlton Centre and Sandy Weatherston who is a member of staff at the centre.

February 2010: Give Us a Break: This film involved students from Mayfield School in Whitehaven, assisted by Prism Arts and the Haltwhistle Film Project. The production, which took several months to complete, gave the children and young people the chance to show what they like to do in their spare time and during breaks for themselves and their carers. It was part of the Aiming High for Disabled Children programme which had been given £2.7 million to give a voice to disabled youngsters in Cumbria. There have already been consultations about the sort of short breaks people would like and now pupils have added their voice. Mayfield School pupil Tom Wren, said: “It was good. I went into the pool with an underwater camera.” Fellow pupil Michael Sessford, said: “The shadow puppets were good and I am looking forward to doing the live performance.” Lynne Brownrigg, Headteacher of Mayfield School in Whitehaven, said: “I believe that Haltwhistle Film Project and Prism Arts have achieved the objectives in giving our young people the opportunity to share what they want from short breaks and to present images of young people with a range of disabilities being involved in a range of short break opportunities. “The work by the young people at Mayfield School has offered fantastic opportunities based on creative arts enabling young people to explore their creativity, develop self-belief and expression. “This has been a very worthwhile project.” Moira Swann, corporate director of children’s services with Cumbria County Council, said: “Everyone seems to have had a lot of fun and there are some brilliant ideas about what they’d like short breaks to offer. Many thanks to those who put in so much hard work. We are all very proud of Give Us A Break.” Highlights at the premiere included the film showing, a live performance and opening and closing addresses from Councillor Anne Burns and Lynne Brownrigg. It was premiered at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick.


November 2009: Comedy Night: Prism Arts hosted Spastic Fantastic with Laurence Clark and Unshakeable (the true story of what happened when a cure came along) with Paul Betney at Tullie House in Carlisle. This was part of DaDa (Disability and Deaf Arts) Fest Liverpool 2009.

November 2009: Theatre Company: Starfish members participated in a year long programme of workshops led by professional artists, developing work for 2 productions Starfish Time Team and The Big Daddy Show: Starfish wanted to use the theme of Cumbria and explore this through Poetry and Visual Art. The work culminated in a performance at the Tithe Barn in Carlisle along with 3 other performances.

June – August 2009: Barrow Spinning Yarns group and Starfish Theatre Company took part in the initial programme of work for the Cultural Olympiad programme Welcoming the World in the Lakes Alive Olympiad at Kendal Castle having designed a set of flags each.

July 2009: The 6 Spinning Yarns groups completed another year of workshops.


December 2008: Starfish Theatre Company: Starfish Celebration CD: The Company launched their CD which featured the most popular songs from all the Starfish shows over the last four years.

December 2008: Starfish Theatre Company: The Company presented the Icicle Winter Festival. The festival included performance, poetry, music and exhibitions. Throughout the Autumn & winter months, Starfish used poetry and dance to explore how colours felt, tasted and sounded. 5 new poems and 1 new song were written, recorded and performed, whilst the core dance members of Starfish choreographed and performed Dance With The Rainbow which brought the show to a colourful end.

June 2008: Spinning Yarns: A Celebrating Age Exhibition Festival was held over 3 days in Barrow, Egremont & Longtown. The 6 Spinning Yarns groups exhibited their work from the last 3 years.


July 2007: Starfish Theatre Company: Starfish United was performed at the Tithe Barn. The production was developed by the Company members to deliver an anti bullying message by using football as the theme, although there was also an X Factor style panel of bullying judges who were put in their place!

May – June 2007: Spinning Yarns: Participants from around the county celebrate their achievements by holding a series of exhibition days at Appleby, Longtown, Barrow & Egremont. Workshops were held in stained glass making, computer graphics, liquid lead, rag rugging, watercolours, encaustic art, felting & circle dancing.

10 May 2007: Celebration Event: Prism Arts celebrated winning the Rural Arts Organisation of the Year Award at Dada Fest 06. We were also 20 years old and we launched a new website. Held at the Sands Centre, Carlisle, to coincide with a Starfish exhibition, workshops included playing the gamelan, making music, movement and drama, salsa dancing and making shadow puppets.

April 2007: Starfish performed The Weavers at the La’al Fest at Theatre by the Lake.

February 2007: Arts and Crafts project for members of SIS (Self Injuries Support).

January 2007: Research project into visual Arts for learning disabled participants.


December 2006: Prism Arts won a National vote to become Rural Arts Organisation of the Year at Dada Fest 2006.

4 October 2006: D.Art Day at Rheged was the very successful inaugural conference with speakers, performance, exhibitions and workshops. This project was supported by core funding from Arts Council England North West and Carlisle City Council. Speakers included: Tom Shakespeare – made the keynote speech; Caroline Boditch – performer, talked about her journey in the arts and the ‘Domino Effect’; Laurence Clark – Comedian, performed some of his recent show from the Edinburgh festival based on his Jim‘ll Fix It experience; Ben Cove – NW regional Artist 2005, showed slides of his work; DIY & Starfish Theatre Companies from Salford and Cumbria respectively performed an improvisation based upon a journey, showcasing learning disabled theatre; South Lakes Society for the Blind (who created the invitation image) exhibited recent work as did Eden Mencap.

28 June 2006: Spinning Yarns Big Bash: Held at the Shepherd’s Inn, Carlisle, participants from all the groups around the county came together to exhibit work, celebrate and take part in dance, Chinese calligraphy, theatrical make up and other workshops.

March – May 2006: Spinning Yarns: Barrow group hold a photographic exhibition in Art Gene’s U-Hang gallery at the Nan Tait Centre, Barrow, showing items they created during their workshops.

6 February 2006: HRH Prince of Wales’ visit to Appleby Spinning Yarns group as part of his visit to open the new Riverside Building at Appleby. HRH Prince Charles joined participants painting on china.


December 2005: Prism Arts Exhibition at Cumberland Building Society on Fisher Street, Carlisle.

September – October 2005: Artsminded: Arts and crafts for people who have mental health problems based in Carlisle – a research project.

8 June 2005: Spinning Yarns: Big Lottery funding celebration, exhibition and press launch. Representatives from the various Spinning Yarns groups around the county and invited press and local councillors came together at Brampton for this celebration on securing 3 years of Big Lottery funding.

May 2005: Wendy Hannah and Andrew Murphy, participants of Starfish, exhibit work at Tate Modern as part of a MENCAP exhibition.

April 2005: Starfish perform at the La’al Fest at Theatre by the Lake.

February 2005: A Starfish production, based loosely on a magical maze, to be performed at On the Map in Manchester and Theatre by the Lake in Keswick.


December 2004: Christmas Carnival: Starfish Theatre Company’s first performance, was held in Carlisle.

November 2004: ‘Celebration’: A series of arts workshops for young people who have learning disabilities, to evaluate the demand for a future project. They were held at James Rennie School in the evening and were run in partnership with New Directions (Theatre by the Lake), Carlisle College, James Rennie School and Prism Arts.

October 2004: ‘Roadhead Project’: Arts workshops were held in Roadhead to establish if there was a need for future arts provision.

19 July 2004: Spinning Yarns: Brampton group – first open day & exhibition with the Mayor of Carlisle, deputy chair of Cumbria County Council & BBC Radio Cumbria’s Paul Braithwaite.

June 2004: Starfish Theatre Company was established with the support of Prism Arts.

April 2004: The Nightingale: by Hans Christian Anderson, was performed at Tullie House, Carlisle by Jumpstart, a small theatre company for adults who have learning disabilities.

April 2004: Spinning Yarns: Arts workshops for the over 55s running throughout the County of Cumbria. The project was participant led and looked to raise the status of creative work with older people in the community. It included intergenerational workshops with local schools and culminated in an exhibition of the participants work. This was its pilot year.

March 2004 – February 2005: ‘Seventeen’: A Bursary Scheme for deaf and disabled artists throughout the north-west with a showcase of their work at the Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal. Launch of DVD of the work at Art ’05 in Liverpool February 2005. This was run in partnership with ACE NW, Full Circle Arts, NWDAF and Prism Arts.


June 2003: ‘Lightning Strikes’: A day of celebration and taster workshops with nationally acclaimed disabled artists, and a Cabaret in the evening.

May 2003: Drumfest: Prism Arts ran a series of drumming workshops in Carlisle with artist Stripey Dog.

April/May 2003: St George and the Dragon and Li Chi, two Dragon plays, were toured with workshops in Workington and Kendal.


Nov/Dec 2002: Jumpstart produced 2 short pieces which they toured to day centres in Cumbria.

2002 – 2005: Jumpstart Project: During Prism Arts’ Breaking the Mould Festival, the Company hosted a conference with learning disabled people to gauge what everyone wanted to see happen next. It was very clear that participants wanted longer term projects, during which they could develop theatre skills, perform to a wider audience and link up with other groups in the region. Out of this event Jumpstart was developed, and was launched in April 2002.


2001: MINDfields: A 6 month project with people who are living with mental health problems. The project offered a range of creative media to participants in North Cumbria, exploring music, drama, digital arts and creative writing. The project concluded with a special installation, a concert and a presentation of a new CD.

2001: Moving Mountains: Dance project with Carlisle Age Concern – creating a piece of choreography for presentation.


2000 – 2002: Deaf View/Sheepfolds: Prism arts had been involved with a major public arts project in association with Cumbria County Council’s Andy Goldsworthy’s Sheepfolds sculpture commission since 1998, when the Company began to research access with disability groups. The Cumbria Deaf Association expressed an interest in a photographic project, through which they could explore the Sheepfolds sites, and Deaf View – a touring exhibition – was the result. Site-specific storytelling and drama/music projects were also devised with various Cumbria groups to celebrate Sheepfolds.

2000: Breaking the Mould: Cumbria’s festival of Arts and Disability, which included an exhibition by Aidan Shingler, workshops and gig with Heart ‘n’ Soul, a music project with Altar Native and a sculpture project.


1999 – 2001: Drama Club Project: Inspired by visits to Carlisle by Heart ‘n’ Soul and the Lawnmowers (nationally renowned learning disabled performance groups), the project was set up so that learning disabled groups in Cumbria could have a regular input of creative arts. The project ended with Theatrefest at Kendal Brewery Arts Theatre June 2001.

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