ArtBox Dementia Engagement for Bristol Museums

Copyright : ©Bristol Culture

ArtBox is created by a team from Bristol Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) and is part of a project attached to the loan of the 550 year old painting St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child from the Bowes Museum. Funders: Heritage Lottery, Artfund, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

Design and Fabrication team : Lisa Cole (Designer/Maker), Chris Ingram (Designer/Fabricator at the Factory, Knowle West Media Centre), Caleb Parkin (Poet), Ailsa Richardson (Engagement Officer and Creative Producer of Art Box, BMAG), Kate Uzzell (Textile Artist) Copyright : ©Bristol Culture

Bristol Museum selected a team of artists to create activity boxes for people living with dementia. The activities in the box relate to the museum collections, in particular St. Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child, painted in the workshop of the 15th century Flemish painter, Dieric Bouts.

The lid of the ArtBox showing the source painting. Copyright : ©Bristol Culture


The brief was both loose and constrained. The contents of the box needed to be washable, durable and safe. They also needed to encourage playfulness but have clear exit strategies in case something about them triggers a negative reaction. They needed to be immediately accessible so as not to be frustrating but encourage curiosity.

ArtBox closed. Copyright : ©Bristol Culture

I worked with poet Caleb Parkin and textile artist Kate Uzzell with creative producer Ailsa Richardson who has a theatre background and is the Engagement Officer for older people at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. We had incredibly valuable creative input and fabrication expertise from Chris Ingram from KWMC.

Opening the ArtBox. Copyright : ©Bristol Culture

ArtBox open showing elements of play. Copyright : ©Bristol Culture

ArtBox open with the village blocks and game. Copyright : ©Bristol Culture

Ailsa said:

We are incredibly proud of these beautifully designed boxes which have now been launched into their outreach/community settings, for use in care homes and hospitals with people living with dementia, their families and carers. We have kept one box at Bristol Museum which will be used at Dementia Friendly Cafes in the museum and at outreach sessions.”

Design methodology

I work to Design Thinking principals and use fast prototyping to check the limits of my ideas. The central theme that flowed through the entire project was one of theatre and surprise. The box had to open in a spectacular way and create a stage for the elements inside it. I designed the box to open out like a flower, with windows taken from the painting to give extra depth and content.

Prototype for the ArtBox.

I wanted to bring sections of the painting alive in a different way and to do this I focused on the little village in the distance of the painting. Using different types of wood and a mixture of CNC routing and hand shaping, each building block has immense tactile interest. This was accentuated visually by using subtle colours from the painting reminiscent of driftwood to incorporate the theme of waterside.

The village from the landscape element of the painting.



Look through Bouts window at the bags of games inside there are no rules here

The Tiny Art Gallery Manual

a book to help you run your own small gallery kindle and in print

a book to help you run your own small gallery kindle and in print