We have initiated an open and exploratory approach to diversity and excellence in the visual arts through dialogues with curators, visual art organisations, artists and galleries. We are working with them to explore ways in which artistic collaborations with people who have complex needs can be integrated into mainstream cultural activities, events and exhibitions rather than in education and/or access settings.
During phase 1, a research and development project between June and October 2009, the Director conducted in depth conversations with Aspex Gallery; Turner Contemporary and Modern Art Oxford, that researched whether and how inclusive curatorial initiatives can be built into mainstream programming whilst maintaining standards of excellence in exhibiting, theoretical debate and actions. Workshops involving our Studio participants supported these ‘conversations’ introducing key staff to working and engaging with people who have severe communication and intellectual disabilities.
These critical dialogues were recorded and evaluated and are being with other national and regional visual arts organizations. Themes explored included:
• Non-verbal communication – what this is and the potential of visual art to both work with and develop new artist–led approaches that explore this through collaborations and events
• How to work with augmentative communication systems to enable better communication and access
• Terms used in disability services and contexts
• The inherent complexities of inclusive practice and its values alongside and in conjunction with the current emphasis on judgement and excellence in visual contemporary art
• The way in which the strengths and particularities of organisations can inform innovative (and possibly long-term) inclusive practices based on making art rather than providing access
• knowledge exchange that provides better understanding of the social care sector and its structures, support networks and funding mechanisms
Phase II: Collaborations
Our aim over the three years to 2015 is to establish at least 3 inclusive collaborations with mainstream partner organizations - to produce a number of artworks, projects and/or exhibitions that are the result of inclusive collaborative practice. These will take place regionally and nationally. The collaborations will enable us to broaden the range of people who engage with our work – reaching established visual art audiences who do not normally encounter art of exceptional quality made by and in collaboration with people who have complex needs.