Category Archives: media & communication

Art for all: the Surrey gallery that targets a hidden need

Blue Figure, print, by Tendai from Feltham youth offender institution.

Leafy and affluent are default shorthands when describing the English county of Surrey, but the council ward of Westborough, Guildford, has the highest number of young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) in the county. Child poverty is high in Westborough, and around a quarter of all female prisoners in the UK are in custody in Surrey, including a number of lifers at HMP Send.

While the cash-strapped Tory-run council recently grabbed headlines with a threat to raise council tax by a huge 15% , this has done little to shed light on the social needs that exist in Surrey.

The issue of how Surrey’s general wealth hides specific pockets of deprivation is outlined in a new report into the social and community impact of Watts Gallery Artists’ Village (WGAV), in Compton, about a 10 minute drive from Westborough.

The gallery, opened in 1904 and dedicated to the work of Victorian artist George Frederic Watts, aims to transform lives through art – “Art for All” (Barack Obama, among others, has cited Watts as an inspiration). The report, Art for All: Inspiring, Learning and Transforming at Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village, describes the overlooked needs. It underlines the organisation’s role, for example, running artist-led workshops with prisoners and young offenders – I’m sharing some of the works here – as well as community projects, schools and and youth organisations.

The Journey, water-based oil on canvas, by Dena from HMP Send.

There are, as the report states, six prisons situated within 25 miles of the gallery, including two for young offenders and two for women. More than 420 prisoners and young offenders took part in workshops over the least year and WGAV has had an artist in residence at HMP Send for over 10 years.

Close Up, oil on canvas by Samantha from HMP Send, part of Watts Gallery’s community outreach work.

The report has been commissioned by Watts Gallery Trust and written by Helen Bowcock, a philanthropist and donor to WGAV and, as such, a “critical friend”. Bowcock argues that, despite the impression of affluence, Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village “is located in an area that receives significantly less public funding per capita than other areas of the UK”. The argument is that local arts provision in Surrey depends more on the charity and community sectors and voluntary income than it does elsewhere in the country (the concept that philanthropy, volunteering and so-called “big society” – RIP – only works in wealthy areas is something I wrote about in this piece a few years ago).

As public sector funding cuts continue and community-based projects are further decimated, Watt’s words are as relevant today as they were during his Victorian lifetime: “I paint ideas, not things. My intention is less to paint works that are pleasing to the eye than to suggest great thoughts which will speak to the imagination and the heart and will arouse all that is noblest and best in man.”

Brighton, mixed media on paper, by Jenny from HMP Send.

More information on the gallery’s community engagement and outreach programme is here.

Unique art from survivors of brain injury

Artist Nick Mayers, a member of the Submit to Love studio collective.
Artists Nick Mayers, a member of the Submit to Love studio collective.

A unique art collective in London consisting of brain injury survivors is exhibiting its “unguarded, emotive” work for the first time.

The Submit to Love Studios, supported by brain injury charity Headway East London, is a creative space in Hackney for over 50 survivors of brain injury – barely any of the artists had practiced art before their injuries. The work of around 30 of the collective’s members is featured in a new exhibition that runs until 23 February at Stratford Circus Arts Centre.

MRI, by Graham Naylor, showing as part of an exhibition by brain injury survivors (credit: Headway east London)
MRI, by Graham Naylor, showing as part of an exhibition by brain injury survivors (credit: Headway east London)
Artist Jon Barry's work, Lady in Green, in progress.
Artist Jon Barry’s work, Lady in Green, in progress.
Birds, by Laura Wood
Birds, by Laura Wood

While many of the creatives have had solo exhibitions since joining the project, this is the first time they are showing work that outlines how their experiences, including recovery, have influenced their art. The show asks visitors to consider the question “how far can one life-changing incident be seen in the artistic work you create?”.

In a related event this Saturday, the collective, which began 10 years ago, is involved in an free art workshop at London’s Southbank Centre. The event involves the artists encouraging the public to participate in on the theme of “what love means to you” with contributions acting as the basis for a collaborative piece at the Submit to Love studio. The workshop takes place in the Clore Ballroom at Royal Festival Hall on Saturday 11am – 2pm and is recommended for ages six upwards.

Freckle Face, by Chippy Aiton
Freckle Face, by Chippy Aiton
Elvis in London, by Cecil Waldron
Elvis in London, by Cecil Waldron
Creature, by Ad
Creature, by Ad

According to Headway, survivors of brain injury are often excluded from society, have lost skills, occupations and cannot communicate as they used to; art is an outlet for communication and self-expression. The charity is keen to reposition art from a simple rehabilitation activity to “both a vocation and passion project”.

Three Chicks Going to a Do, by Tony Allen
Three Chicks Going to a Do, by Tony Allen

* The exhibition, sponsored by Hyphen Law, is open 9am-6pm (Mon-Sat) and 09.30am–2pm (Sun) until Tuesday 23 February 2017 and entry is free. Venue: Stratford Circus Arts Centre, Theatre Square, London E15

Using tech to transform philanthropy

Tech entrepreneur Alexandre Mars is known in his native France as the French Bill Gates. Having made his fortune creating and selling tech startups, Mars, 41, founded Epic Foundation two years ago. In an interview for The Guardian, Mars explains how his orgnaisation aims to encourage tech-savvy investors to donate to children’s and young people’s charities it has selected.

The UK was recently ranked eighth in an annual global league table for individual giving. Figures from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations suggest we donated £19.4bn to the UK voluntary sector in 2013-14. This is 44% of the voluntary sectors’ income.

Mars believes a debate is needed “to explore opportunities and strategies for increasing giving”. At at time when trust in charities is at an all-time low following criticism of some traditional fundraising practices, new ways of engaging donors through technology is surely needed. Such challenges are expected to feature in next year’s House of Lords select committee report on charities, with its focus on digital innovation and financial sustainability.

How does he define the role of philanthropists versus the state? “We need policymakers, we need strong leaders … [but] they don’t have enough money, so where is it [the money]? It’s with the corporate world most of the time, so how can we [business] just step up?”

Read the rest of the interview here.

Weather-inspired inclusive art on public display

Redstart Arts weatherSCAPE project is on display in London this week (photo: Redstart Arts)
Redstart Arts weatherSCAPE project is on display in south London this week (all photos: Redstart Arts/Sinead Kempley)

Clouds suspended from the ceiling and lighting bolt sculptures form part of a new installation from a London-based inclusive art collective.

Redstart Arts: stencilling work in preparation for this week's exhibition
Redstart Arts: stencilling work in preparation for the exhibition (all photos: Redstart)

Redstart Arts, a collaborative group of artists with learning disabilities, have been developing weatherSCAPE for several months and the works are now open for public view, coinciding with Learning Disability Week.

The aim of Redstart is to encourage its members’ creativity, critical thinking and also to challenge public preconceptions about artists with learning disabilities. The artists do this through producing high quality pieces of art for public exhibition and by using community arts venues to create the works.

Artist Colleen Campbell says she enjoys “drawing on big paper, being with my friends”. For fellow Redstart member Uduehi Imienwarin, it is “using the stencil to make the weather words” that is particularly interesting. Byron McCarthy, meanwhile, says he loves the “purple lightning” and, referring to the research behind the installation, “books on weather”.

Another participant, David Quan, has no speech but likes to do printing using bubble wrap. Gerard Allen is similarly non-verbal, but Cash Aspeek, an inclusive arts specialist who launched the group in 2011, says that his mood and behaviours reflect that he is especially taken by the opportunity to perform with the Redstart group “whenever the opportunity arises”.

Drawing and detailing at Redstart Arts
Drawing and detailing at Redstart Arts

Redstart Arts has a residency at the Deptford Lounge and the Horniman Museum. The group meets weekly and involves up to 10 artists with learning disabilities aged 25 to 29 who collaborate with other artists. For example, local artist Chris Marshall has worked with the group on the weather project, which was mostly funded by the Arts Council.

Sculpture produced for weatherSCAPE by Redstart Arts
Sculpture produced for weatherSCAPE by Redstart Arts

Cash and Chris say the inspiration for “came from the artists in the 6o’s who worked with inflatables and free form events, breaking barriers in terms of art being inclusive, including people and communities”…Redstart Arts have responded to the environment of the Deptford Lounge, they discovered the atrium space at the back of the building and got excited by its height and drama…[and wished] to explore this space to its fullest potential creating floating free forms derived out of our discussions and observations of our local dramatic weather.”

Cash explains how the project is led by the people involved: “They come in with ideas; we have a lot of art materials available and such a lot of room for each artist to express themselves in a way they really want. We do a lot of experimenting with materials and then seeing what people are drawn to, really observing what each person leans towards.”

In 2012, the artists created figures for the Olympics which were displayed on the rooftop of ATP gallery in Deptford. The collective’s next project involves creating discovery boxes – participants’ personal box of made objects for public display – for the Horniman Museum.

* weatherSCAPE can be seen 10am-5pm from Wednesday 22 June to Sunday 3 July at the Atrium, Deptford Lounge, Deptford SE8 4RJ

How cuts affect disabled people: “We’re going backwards – and fast”

Public artwork from DaDaFest in January (photo: DaDaFest)
Public artwork from DaDaFest in January (photo: DaDaFest)

Coverage of the budget has been dominated by a focus on George Osborne’s headline-grabbing sugar tax, although it’s not quite enough to detract from the unfair deal for the embattled social care sector (check Twitter for #carecrisis to get a flavour of the feeling). The chancellor’s other measures are regarded as the ‘last straw’ for disabled people, already being hit by cuts, and he is now under fire from rebellious backbenchers opposing the £4.4bn cuts to disability benefits.

As Ruth Gould, the artistic director of the UK’s biggest disability arts event, DaDaFest, pointed out in an interview I did with her for the Guardian, the latest cuts threaten to make disabled people “more invisible”. The work of disabled artists, as she says, is also at risk, thanks to sharp reductions in funding from local authorities and Arts Council England (Ace).

In 2001, Gould organised a one-off community arts event for Liverpool city council to mark International Disabled Peoples’ Day. As the head of the North West Disability Arts Forum (NWDAF), Gould, who is deaf, argued a single day was inadequate, and designed a groundbreaking week-long festival.

Fifteen years on, DaDaFest is the UK’s biggest disability arts event and Gould its artistic director. The NWDAF eventually adopted the name of the jewel in its crown (“DaDa” refers to the initial letters of each word in the phrase “disability and deaf arts”), so DaDaFest refers to both the festival and its parent charity. Each biennial extravaganza draws 10,000 visitors and participants. It has launched the careers of comedian Laurence Clark and actor Liz Carr, and helped Liverpool win European Capital of Culture 2008.

Last week, as something of a curtain raiser to 2016’s two-week festival in November, DaDaFest held a seminar on the barriers to disability arts for black and minority ethnic people (BME). The awareness raising event complemented DaDaFest’s play, Unsung, recently performed at the Everyman theatre, based on the life of 18th century blind Liverpool poet, abolitionist and disability rights pioneer Edward Rushton.

Gould commends the Arts Council’s Creative Case for Diversity, launched in 2014 to encourage more BME, deaf and disabled people into arts, but fears such efforts are a drop in the ocean. She explains: “We don’t have the disabled people who put people on the stage – the producers, the casting directors, curators, decision makers.” She adds of DaDaFest’s recent BME seminar: “We tried to attract those we see as gatekeepers…[to] look at the barriers and issues and use them to try and influence change by identifying benchmarks that we can reflect onto to see if change if happening.”

Recent figures show just 2% of the arts workforce is disabled, an increase of 0.2% on previous year. With 19% of the UK registered disabled and the employment rate among disabled people at 46% (around 30% lower than the rate among able bodied people), this highlights the poor representation of disabled people in the arts.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

DaDaFest 2016 takes place in November.

Shattering stigma with the power of poetry

KIm Wolf on her birthday, she inspired her brother's poetry (photo: Rogan Wolf)
Kim Wolf on her birthday, she inspired her brother’s poetry (photo: Rogan Wolf)

A poetry exhibition opening today aims to challenge attitudes about learning disability and mental ill-health.

The learning disability poems are partly a tribute to the late Kim Wolf, who had Down’s syndrome; the collection includes writing inspired by her and which reflects her perspective on life.

A collaboration between Kim’s brother, former mental health social worker and poet Rogan Wolf, and disability charity United Response, the exhibition, entitled Dignity and Light, aims to “address and challenge the stigma and stereotypes and fears still associated with learning disability and – even more – with mental ill health”. As Rogan explains: “If I can see what life is actually like for you, then I am more likely to recognise and not just dismiss you”.

The poetry has been “written with, by and about people with learning disabilities and mental health needs” (United Response explains more of the background to the project here).

Newborn Kim Wolf, who partly inspired a new poetry project (photo: Rogan Wolf)
Kim Wolf pictured as a newborn; she partly inspired a new poetry project (photo: Rogan Wolf)

The poems, part of the Poems for project that supplies poem-posters for public display free of charge, are on display at Bristol’s Paintworks from today until Thursday. The collection will then be available online, as an illustrated book and, it is hoped, used in schools to raise awareness.

Rogan says of the project’s aims: “There is still this common urge to treat people who are in some way ‘different’ as dangerous aliens, or objects of scorn or mockery, people we need to keep separate. Thus, learning disability and mental ill-health are both experienced by a minority of people in our society and, though the experiences are very different, the stigmatisation both can meet is the same. It cripples lives. It shuts them off.”

While acknowledging that poems are no substitute for policy or resources, Rogan says “they can connect and can enlighten”: “Politicians keep emphasising the urgency of the need for better mental health services and better understanding – I suspect to relatively little effect. There is a crisis here and it just continues. And reports keep emphasising the need for better mental health education and resources in schools, so that children already struggling can seek help at an early stage…[the poems] can help children who are struggling recognise what might be happening and what might help.”

The collections draw on poetry written or collected over the last four decades including through Rogan’s work, personal connections, creative writing workshops and the Postcards from the Edge project run by United Response.

The poem “Other People” by Shiraz, who is supported by United Response, was part of the postcards campaign: “People are like apples or eggs. They look all right on the surface, but you don’t know what’s going on inside.”

In another poem, “A father to his son (with Down’s syndrome)”, the author, John Mclorinan, describes his child as “wonderfully irreverent, irrelevant, inappropriate, spontaneous, topsy turvey, upside down. vulnerable, perceptive, aware, eager to communicate, willing to please”.

The collections that launch today, writes United Response’s director of policy Diane Lightfoot in the illustrated book that contains them, “shine a light on those who too often remain unseen in the shadows and on the fringes of our society”.

The poem below is by Rogan, written from the perspective of his late sister Kim. The poet explains: “We often went out together. Some of the words and phrases above are Kim’s own. Somehow she had to make sense of the way people looked at her, in the street, or when she entered a public room.”

Shall we go for a walk ?
When I go for a walk people look round at me.
Will you come too ?
Will you hold my hand ?
They look round at me. There’s something wrong.
Will you come too ?
Perhaps I’ll put my ear-phones in and play my music extra loud.
I am going for a walk. What’s wrong ?
Will you come too ?
Will you hold my hand ?

poems-for-bridges-to-disability-poster-inviteA4 copy

* See Poemsfor.org to read more or read about the exhibition opening times here.

Arts festival uses digital tech for social inclusion

Participants promoting their festival. Photo: Stephen Candy
Participants promoting their festival. Photo: Stephen Candy
A few images here from an innovative digital arts festival due to take place this weekend (10-12 July). The interactive event, which I wrote about today for the Guardian’s online social care pages, will feature giant portraits of learning disabled people projected onto buildings, a game played with an accessible mapping app and an inclusive, high-tech design workshop to re-imagine a town centre.

Creating percussion sounds for the music element of the festival. Photo: Annalees Lim.
Creating percussion sounds for the music element of the festival. Photo: Annalees Lim.
Mixing music for the festival. Photo: Annalees Lim .
Mixing music for the festival. Photo: Annalees Lim .
SprungDigi crew member mixing SprungDigi theme song. Photo: Stephen Candy.
SprungDigi crew member mixing SprungDigi theme song. Photo: Stephen Candy.

People with learning disabilities will help stage the innovative art installations and music and dance performances that they have created alongside digital and community arts practitioners. The inaugural SprungDigi Festival in Horsham, West Sussex, runs from Friday until Sunday.

The name of the free event reflects the concept that digital technology and online activity can be a springboard to social inclusion. The aim is to ensure that people with learning disabilities are more visible and feel more connected to their local areas. Read the rest of the piece here and check this festival page for more information about the weekend.

Social inclusion, sewing patterns and silver linings

Social inclusion: being "more busy" with people, places and projects is vital
Social inclusion: being “more busy” with people, places and projects is vital

“More busy”. This quote from Kelvin Burke of Rocket Artists reflects what people with learning disabilities need in order to be more included in society; people want to be busier with opportunities to do, make and see more things, to have more time to spend with people (incidentally, that’s people who hang out with you by choice and because they share your interests, not simply because they’re paid to support you).

Kelvin shared his words at a Tate Modern seminar on inclusive arts that I was involved in earlier this week. The event’s title – “a research discussion bringing together practitioners and academics to explore issues around inclusive arts practice” – doesn’t do it full justice.

This engaging, creative, interactive, collaborative and fun event (yes, fun! There was golden ink! Stickers! Sewing patterns! And cake – both drawn and real!) encouraged participants (academics as well as artists and performers with learning disabilities and without) to explore the barriers to social inclusion, within the context of the arts sector.

People on the table I chaired talked about what stopped them from being more involved in society as well as what needs to happen to change that.

Although these issues are something I’ve looked at before (see, this piece or an opinion piece here about the unequal treatment of learning disabled people), until Monday I’d not explored them with marker pens, golden ink, coloured stickers, gargantuan Post-it notes, A4 size speech bubbles and dressmaking patterns.

But there’s a first time for everything (and now I only ever want to write in golden ink).

More seriously, the method and materials were necessary if the discussion about access and inclusion was to be accessible and inclusive, so everyone had an equal opportunity to contribute thoughts, words, doodles and designs.

I can’t faithfully describe all the challenges and solutions identified in a room buzzing with the ideas of around 50 people, but a few ideas are captured in the images on this page. (unfortunately I wasn’t able to take a shot of the “Bolloxometer” designed, I believe, to slice through meaningless rhetoric purveyed by those in authority, but I’m first in the queue for this should it ever go into production).

Segment of a sewing pattern for a coat, decorated with hopes and solutions for the future for people with learning disabilities
Segment of a sewing pattern for a coat, decorated with hopes and solutions for the future for people with learning disabilities
People with learning disabilities should be seen as people first, with potential and talents, rather than being defined by their support needs
Another segment of the coat pattern, reflecting how people with learning disabilities should be seen as people first, rather than being defined by their support needs
One idea to help celebrate differences...
One idea to help celebrate differences…

Time was, however, a big theme for discussion. Those who work with people who have learning disabilities said they wanted more time for sustainable projects (rather than be caught in commissioners’ and grant-makers’ short-term funding cycles). People with learning disabilities said they wanted more time to do things they enjoy, as Kelvin said.

Words like “equality”, “access”, “value” and “listen” cropped up a lot. As did the importance of celebrating differences and valuing people for what they can do, not defining them by what they can’t. While the challenge of funding and cuts (both to social care and the arts sector) was a major concern, people were generally unwilling to focus on money alone as a problem or solution, when so much rests on changing the perception of people with learning disabilities.

Barriers to people with learning disabilities being included in society
Barriers to people with learning disabilities being included in society

Rocket Artists performed towards the end of the day, captured in this lovely shot shared on Twitter by Brighton arts organisation Phoenix:

The event also included the launch of a thought-provoking and beautifully produced new book, Inclusive Arts Practice. Authored by the University of Brighton’s Alice Fox (also artistic director of Rocket Artists) and Hannah Macpherson, it was created through interviews with and guidance from learning-disabled and non-learning-disabled artists. The book looks at inclusive arts – defined as “creative collaborations between leaning disabled and non-learning-disabled artists” – and its “socially transformative potential for collaborators and audiences”.

It addresses difficult questions, such as the differences between art therapy, occupational therapy and inclusive arts and clearly sets out the practical steps to create more collaborative art. The book acknowledges the fact that the term inclusive arts “presupposes exclusion” and asks how such collaborations between artists of different abilities can have real, cultural value (something I’ve blogged about before and which the Creative Minds project is exploring).

The book makes a persuasive case for everyone to have a cultural life in their communities; Southbank Centre director Jude Kelly, for example, comments in the book on how “we believe in cultural rights as a profound part of human rights”. Creative collaborations with the use of time, trust, skills and choice, are presented as “a force for societal good”:

“People with learning disabilities tend to be undervalued members of society, are much more likely to live in poverty, and are much more likely to suffer hate crime than their non-disabled counterparts. It is estimated that around 1.5 million people in the UK have a learning disability and over 3,000 of these people have spent over a year in an ‘assessment centre’, often a long way from family, and which is not designed to be a permanent residence. Many people with learning disabilities do not have access to any regular creative leisure activity outside their residential environment, despite the proven benefits of such activities for health, well-being and resilience…”

Inclusive arts can make audiences “feel differently about the people whose work they see and they can feel differently about themselves”, that is one powerful message in Inclusive Arts Practice.

Which is why the inclusive arts movement has an important place when it comes to equality for people with a learning disability. “We want greater powers to be seen, to vote, to be included, have the same opportunities in social life, education and employment as everyone else,” as campaigner Gary Bourlet says, or as the rights set out in the campaigning LB Bill show).

As for the sewing pattern that everyone contributed to on the day, one stylish spark made the beautiful observation that the final garment, emblazoned with words and images setting out some ways to break down social barriers, should have a sliver lining; the team from Brighton now plans to make the dream coat a real life action mac.

I can’t wait to see it.

Photographs offer fresh perspective on disability

Alliance by Tim Beale
Alliance by Tim Beale

Depictions of friendship, cityscapes and natural images are among the powerful photographs in an international arts competition reflecting the world from a disabled person’s perspective.

Photographers with Down’s syndrome from the UK, Greece, Japan, New Zealand and America have entered the Down’s Syndrome Association’s annual My Perspective competition which, this year, challenged people with the learning disability to go behind the lens.

As the association says: “In years gone by, people with Down’s syndrome were photographed as exhibits; the viewer was not supposed to see the person, just the difference. The Down’s syndrome Association’s My Perspective competition turns the camera around and gives people with Down’s syndrome the chance to show the world from their point of view.”

I’m sharing some of the 25 shortlisted images in the competition, which was launched in 2010, here (more can be seen here) and the winner will be announced on 11 June by a panel of judges including photographer Richard Bailey, curator of the groundbreaking Shifting Perspectives project.

The pictures reflect a beautifully wide range of subjects.

Ready for a ride, by Daniel Harrison
Ready for a ride, by Daniel Harrison
Coco by Kyle McKay
Coco by Kyle McKay
Blue Body, by Rory Davies
Blue Body, by Rory Davies
The Old Tree, by Emily Buck-
The Old Tree, by Emily Buck-
The Park, by Takis Koumentakis
The Park, by Takis Koumentakis
Swimming with frogs, by Klay Green
Swimming with frogs, by Klay Green
Cheeky Robin, by Steven Padmore
Cheeky Robin, by Steven Padmore
Shadow Stories, by Lillie Davies
Shadow Stories, by Lillie Davies
Hello, by Takeo Niikura
Hello, by Takeo Niikura

Crowdsourced art project maps our democratic history

Digital art project Democracy Street allows users to share pictures taken on mobiles.
Digital art project Democracy Street allows mobile users to share pictures reflecting the country’s parliamentary history.

With the election a few weeks away, democracy is the timely subject of a new digital art project designed to shed light on Britain’s parliamentary history.

Democracy Street is curated by artist Jon Adams who has Asperger’s syndrome – a form of autism – and I wanted to briefly mention the crowdsourced project today, on World Autism Awareness Day. Adams’ work focuses “on arts sciences and creativity as a person with Aspergers, including synaesthesia, systemising and sequencing”.

Participants in Democracy Street can use mobiles to take photos that contribute to the digital project.
Participants in Democracy Street can use mobiles to take photos that contribute to the digital project.

The Houses of Parliament have commissioned the project with support from The Speaker’s Art Fund and Arts Council England. A mobile web app allows users to explore and discover streets that have a connection to democracy and upload their own images. Images can include, for example, streets that share the same name as a Parliamentarian or that reflect events in democratic history. Adams will use the data generated by users to create new artistic maps of the UK and as users upload information, it appears on the web app, so you can see the crowdsourced project developing in real time.

The participatory scheme also coincides with the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and the 750th birthday of Parliament.

More information here.