Open Sesame 2011-2013

Open Sesame! was the result of a partnership between early years and arts professionals across Sussex and Surrey, supported by Arts Council England. The project brought together artists and early years practitioners, focusing on communities with high levels of deprivation. Trainee artists worked with the nurseries, learning from each other and from a team of experienced artist mentors, to introduce art, music, dance and other forms of creative expression into the day-to-day play and development of under 5’s.

Under the direction of Project Manager Clare Halstead, a team of experienced, cross-discipline artists from Octopus Inc. acted as mentors and trainers as well as creative practitioners, producers and performers.  Octopus Inc also devised a creative event – Sorted? – for families that was hosted by each nursery at the end of the project to celebrate the creative learning experiences of children.

Open Sesame took a learning-through-doing approach, and was under-pinned by accredited training for early years practitioners (Level 4 module: Nurturing Possibility and Creativity in Early Years, University of Brighton) and trainee artists (Arts Award Gold, Trinity College London).

Who was involved

  • Clare Halstead – Open Sesame Programme Manager
  • Fifteen nursery settings: four in Surrey, two in East Sussex and nine in West Sussex, including four in Crawley
  • Lead artists: Vicky Cave, Jane Gordon, Anne Colvin, Alex Sutton-Vane, Tom Cook and Jenny Staff
  • Artist trainees: Kitty Graham (dance), Bethany Warren (drama and performance), Patrick O’Callaghan (architecture), Jo Coles (visual arts/3D), Jasmin Davies (visual arts/3D), Thomas Salway (music), Rozenn Gladwell (theatre/visual art)
  • Partners: Early Childhood Service, West Sussex County Council; Surrey Early Years and Childcare Service, East Sussex Early Childhood Service, Arts Partnership Surrey, Creative West Sussex, Brighton Dome and Festival, Chichester Festival Theatre
  • Delivered by Octopus Inc in partnership with Culture Shift


How can skills sharing between artists and early years practitioners have a positive impact on children’s creative development and the early years setting?


  • To consolidate and extend the professional practice of the lead artist group, including the production of the creative event and their skills as mentors and trainers
  • To engage parents (including hard-to-reach parents) in their children’s creativity and give them the means to support it more effectively
  • To provide a collaborative learning structure that extends the skills, knowledge and practice of early years practitioners and artists
  • To research and develop a model for an apprenticeship framework for artists working in early years through the trainee programme
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Artists and early years practitioners, managers and staff, parents and children, local authority departments benefited from sustained, supported collaboration.

The project encouraged risk taking, embracing child-led approaches, working outside, using movement, tools and unusual materials.

Children developed their confidence, voice, expression and skills, in aspects of creativity from language development to creative thinking.

Staff challenged their perception of what was possible, experienced a growth in confidence, and extended their skills in working with a wider range of materials and art forms.

The experience for Octopus Inc. in creating Sorted? and the audience’s experience of participating have been overwhelmingly positive.

A copy of the full evaluation report is available to download here.

Practitioners can get worried about what people think of them. It taught me not to let your inhibitions inhibit your practice; I danced like a marshmallow and spaghetti at different points in the project!

Early years practitioner

I ran successful creative sessions and the children and myself had a good time. This is all due to the skills and confidence I learnt from the Open Sesame project… I learnt how to reflect and analyse a creative session and I have a greater understanding of child development.

Trainee artist

Fantastic. Innovative, fun, child-led, creative

Parent’s feedback at Sorted? event

I liked getting inside the boxes

Child’s feedback at Sorted? event

More information on Octopus Inc: