Open Sesame 2015-2016

A partnership of cultural organisations and children’s services providers, led by East Sussex County Council, with match funding from Arts Council England, produced an ambitious two year programme of arts and culture for very young children (0-2) and children with special needs, and a creative programme of professional development for cultural organisations, early years practitioners, and families.

Open Sesame built on the success of the previous Open Sesame partnership project managed by Culture Shift (2011-13).

An account of the first year of this programme (2014-15) can be found here.

During 2015-16 the Open Sesame programme delivered an ambitious programme of activity under a number of strands. These included:

  • Partnerships between arts organisations and children’s centres in areas of need (Audio Active, via the East Sussex Music Hub, with both Hastings Children’s Centre and Wealden Children’s Centre; Towner and Eastbourne Devonshire Children’s Centre; and Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft)
  • A series of participatory events for families and young children, a brand new piece of work devised by Octopus Inc, to be developed for children with disabilities.
  • New immersive, tactile and multisensory spaces specifically for under 2s, to be shared in museums, libraries and other cultural venues, along with audience development activities and interactive workshops.
  • A programme of professional development for early years practitioners and cultural organisations enabling them to extend their knowledge of working with under 5s, including a series of Creative Practice sessions with Octopus Inc, and a Level 4 course at University of Brighton in ‘Nurturing Possibility and Creativity in Early Years’.
  • Academic research led by the University of Plymouth.

This innovative and broad-reaching programme was managed by Culture Shift and delivered by Octopus Inc with and on behalf of East Sussex County Council and a range of cross-sector partners from Early Years, museums and libraries, heritage, the arts and universities.

At the beginning of the project, Sally Staples, Cultural Strategy Manager for East Sussex County Council, said:

Open Sesame is an innovative project that fosters collaborative partnerships between artists, early years practitioners and cultural organisations. Putting children at the centre of the work, Open Sesame will extend creative practice that supports children’s development and nurtures creativity in the adults who care for them…. We hope to achieve a significant shift in thinking in the cultural sector about the needs of this age group and their parents and carers, aligned to the positive role that culture can play in the lives of diverse audiences.



  • created new participatory work for under 5’s in museums and libraries
  • took existing participatory work to wider audiences
  • offered learning opportunities to staff from museums, arts organisations, children’s centres and libraries that gave them creative skills, confidence and knowledge about working with under 5’s leading to significant changes in their practice
  • offered parents with children aged 0-2 opportunities to participate in new arts and cultural activities, and develop their own understanding of nurturing creativity in early years children
  • shared learning from the project with a wide audience and achieved a significant change in thinking about working creatively with under 5’s

An evaluation report and summary are available to download from our publications page.


Back to top