A sunny Sunday and the perfect day for a carnival! My partner and 3 year old in tow, I headed off to Horsham Park in West Sussex. Horsham Carnival goes by the name of Sparks In the Park and this year has been included as part of the London 2012 Open Weekend. A celebration of the one year countdown to the olympic and paralympic games, the carnival encouraged local people to ‘Shout Out’ about the themes they cared about. Local guides groups chose Water Aid as their theme of choice and had created beautiful coloured flags that were used in the carnival procession.
There was also a big shout out about disability, and peace and love too, if the songs emanating from the Blue Touch Paper Horn were anything to go by. The song had been created by members of The Strawford Centre who have been involved at every stage of the Blue Touch Paper project. The aim of the project is to make carnival accessible and the song, costumes and dance were the culmination of skills learned from collaborations with carnival professionals over the last year. I have to say the song was incredibly catchy and I have enjoyed listening to it through the website too.
If you want to know more about Blue Touch Paper you would do well to visit their very accessible website www.btpcarnival.co.uk There is an Easy Read tab at the top of every page, concise and informative text, and lots of photos to take you through the ideas, objectives and creations of this journey. There are also a couple of videos showing the collaborative processes of designing and creating different aspects of the carnival, and also the planning and design of the website itself - a great learning tool for any organisation looking to engage in an accessible and empowering way! I have to say though that on a personal note, the key feature of the website was the map – I would have been quite literally, lost without it!
Horsham Park itself is massive and we enjoyed exploring the quieter sections, such as the maze and the pond area, when the whirl and bustle started to get too much. Fortunately the funfair which had some of the fastest most terrifying rides I have ever seen was situated to one side of the main fete/carnival areas allowing those who wanted to, to give it a miss. It also avoided it overshadowing the less commercial nature of the rest of the event. I was grateful and pleasantly surprised to find that the central area had been set up around an area with good paths. This was a relief after toughing it through the grass on my hand cycle (next time I will check the battery before leaving home!). Everything had been well spaced out, so despite the huge number of people, the event felt lively but not squashy or claustrophobic.
There were separate sections for the sporting displays and competitions (part of Set4Success) and as an athlete I was encouraged to see so many young people engaging in so many different sports. As we waited for the parade to arrive we lay back in the grass and enjoyed watching young people having some real belly-laughs whilst enjoying a game of volleyball. It was all quite idyllic really. My only disappointment on the sporting front was that there were no disability sports on offer or, as far as I could tell, any provision for disabled athletes to take part - a shame really. I would have thought it would have tied in nicely with the accessible carnival theme, the London 2012 celebration, an opportunity to increase public awareness around disabled people, and for promoting opportunities for disabled young people to participate in sport. The apparent lack of inclusion became more bizarre when I spotted fellow Paralympian, Sascha Kindred, revealing anecdotes of his swimming career on the main stage! So, I’m not really sure what happened there - a bit of a missed opportunity.
Still, the sheer size of the event was impressive and in general there had obviously been a lot of thought into accessibility and inclusion. The layout of the event really worked well, so a big pat on the back to the team that thought that through so successfully. However, a bigger thanks and congratulations has to go to all those involved in Blue Touch Paper who have developed the ground-breaking and wonderful map that allowed me to arrive informed and reassured. This is really a great legacy from the project, and it is hoped that accessible maps like this will be used at all festivals and large public events in the future.
Designed with disabled people this is an electronic map of the location with key areas and facilities marked by symbols and/or photos. When a symbol is clicked on, text appears giving further details. An example is: ”Good View From Here Last Updated by Helotrix on Jul 12 This would be a good place to see the carnival as it is normally less crowded and you have more space.” Until this day out I hadn’t really realised how much I felt the inherent anxiety of making a journey out to an unknown destination and not knowing what barriers I might find when I got there. From this map I was able to plan in advance where I could find free and accessible parking, where I would find my colleague Suzanne Bull to quiz her over her role with BTP and Accentuate, and a photo of the cafe serving refreshments and which had an accessible toilet! Brilliant!!!! This is as close to being there as you can get, a real first- hand perspective from other disabled people.
So, all in all it was a really enjoyable day. There is no way I could do justice to the colour and vibrancy of it all so I do recommend having a look at the BTP website and seeing the photos posted on there from the day, and indeed from the project as a whole. It was all a bit of a whirl and the BTP carnival participants were fairly preoccupied so I didn’t get much opportunity to find out their feelings on it all. However I know Suzanne has been busy interviewing them all so I would be keen to hear more from her on what she has learned. Perhaps a blog response on that note would be possible?
On 14th July Mandeville School played host to a massive celebration of the work produced by artists, paralympians and students from all 14 schools who have taken part in Driving Inspiration. The day consisted of a frenetic hive of activity: exhibitions, performances and workshops giving 350 students an incredible opportunity to get an idea of the breadth and excitement of the project.
I went along to work with some of the children to give them an opportunity to blog on DAO [http://www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/Accentuate-blog?item=983&itemoffset=2 ] about their experience of being part of Driving Inspiration and to talk to artists and teachers to get their impressions of the benefits of the program.
One of the obvious benefits is providing non-disabled students a real experience of working with disabled people. A typical comment from a young lad seems to sum up a lot of what the program has been about: “You don’t have to treat [disabled people] like you feel sorry for them or anything. You can treat them like a normal person.” I got a strong sense of how in a down-to-earth way through experience of working with disabled artists and sportspeople, Driving Inspiration is giving these children a unique – if individualised - opportunity to see another side to the sterotypes promulgated by the press and media about what disability and impairment mean to those of us who live with it.
Kat – a teacher from Beaconsfield School explained to me how working with artists and sportspeople had impacted on her work with students from Beaconsfield School: “I think what’s been interesting is that the project is that has given the children the chance to learn practical things about art-making and the Paralympics, but also about wider issues about how people develop resilience and adapt to their circumstances. It has been an eye opener at different times and has been really useful in turns of their learning.”
From the other side of the coin artist Anya Ustaszewski, talked about how Driving Inspiration had given her encouragement about a change in perspective: “It’s been very useful to have had the chance to talk to students about disability. I had a pretty lousy time at school. If disability was spoken about at all it was euphemistically. It was always in terms of being ‘the special needs kids from the special needs unit.’ This project has given me an angle on how attitudes have changed; how much more open you can be with children in talking frankly about disability.”
Another achievement of Driving Inspiration has been the cross curricular format the programme has developed. It challenges the conventional way education works, by cutting everything into isolated subjects and gives a much more realistic experience of how the world works in combining processes. So for example a music score created in one series of workshops, inspired art-making in another set of workshops. The music and art were then used as a starting point for choreography with dance students. And finally T-shirts were printed of two of the central images worn by the dancers.
The day itself felt very enjoyable if chaotic. All the students I spoke to got something out of the art and sports activities. At the same time they have also taken on board some real-life experience of how impairment impacts on individuals lives. There may or may not be revelations, but it is a starting point for breaking down the fear that difference engenders. Driving Inspiration is having a big impact and will continue to be a unique opportunity to give schools the chance to engage with disabled artists and break through taboos.
Driving Inspiration schools children blog about their experience of the celebration day at Mandeville School on 14 July 2011
Driving Inspiration is an accentuate project that has been sending disabled artists and sports personalities into 14 schools across the South East over the last year. On 14th July a celebration day was held at Mandeville school showcasing work from all the schools. On the day children from the schools that took part wrote blog entries looking back at the work they had done as well as reflecting on the day itself.
Students from Cressex Community School
Names: Aroosa Ali, Ella & Sarish
Dance - We have been working with Sign Dance Collective for the past few months. We’ve experienced different types of dance moves which involve sign language. We’ve enjoyed ourselves & had an amazing experience with the staff. We really liked the band because they gave us more confidence with their music. The members off staff and artists were Laura, David, Jacob, Francesca and Isolte. They helped us with our ideas & helped us improve our dance. We really enjoyed their inspirations & it gave us more ideas on how we can be inspired by music.
The band was amazing they played good music that went really well with our dances. They were really kind & helped us improve our work. Overall I think we’ve had a wonderful experience which we will never forget & we are very thankful to all members of staff who have helped us during our experience with Sign Dance Collective.
Art: We think the art was amazing. The work was so beautiful. Christine Wilkinson was a great help & she inspired us as artists. We are very thankful for all her help & her art work has inspired students to progress in the world of art. Her work was outstanding. She showed us art work that we hadn’t seen before & she was an amazing help. Her shirt designs were very unique & everybody liked them.
The best part of the whole experience was being a part of Sign Dance Collective & bringing all our work together as one team. We’ve had so much fun & cannot wait until our performance this evening. Thank You very much for everything we really appreciate it.
Students from Mandeville School
Hello we are Irena Rowlinson and Danielle Webb, we are from the Mandeville upper school and we are the music ambassador for driving inspiration. As we write this we are wearing green t-shirts with amazing designs from some of the local primary schools. Schools from all over the south of England have come to our school to participate in the events all about the Paralympics. Some activities include sitting volleyball, rowing machines, wheelchair basketball, sign language dance and police and fire brigade.
When we first arrived at 9am, all in all it seemed very hectic. Teachers were running around trying to organise, based on our first impression we never thought the day would be so successful! Our job was to assist staff in organisation and to help people (aka, schools/ helpers) to find their way. Whilst doing this we were able to observe some of the activities taking place. The children really enjoyed talking and taking part in something with Paralympians.
If there’s one thing that we’ve learnt from this day it’s that even though people have disabilities you should keep an open mind because they are all interesting people who to have different experiences to share!!
My name is Rikki. Today I did wheel chair basketball for the first time. It was a lot harder than I thought as you could not use your legs for a lot of the work which was a new experience for me. I also found it a fun and enjoyable experience to find out how some people live.
What I have had to do today is look after and do some drill sitting down with the kids that were not in the wheelchair at that moment, so I decided to get them passing while sitting down on chairs then I got them to try and shoot. Most of the kids I talked to found it harder than they thought it would be and thought it was different not being able to use their legs. They all had a great time trying something new and I know they would all like too come and do them again.
If I got the chance to learn to play professional wheelchair basketball I would not pass the opportunity as it is a great experience and would recommend anyone to give it a try. But it also made me think of how other people have less choice in the way they live and don’t like to share how they are as some people do not respect them. So I believe if they can show how they live; that they can still do the same stuff as able bodied people that people will respect them more and treat them normally. ☺
We’re Katie.N. Rothery and Courtney Green. We were chosen as music ambassadors for the day. It’s been a bit hectic but everything seems to be going well, we have shown many important people and schools from around the country around the school today. There are a variety of different schools here and they all seem to be having fun and getting involved in the activities, as are we. We found the wheelchair basketball really fun but it showed us how we take for granted our abled bodies. Also, we thought that the people here which were signing/interpreting for the day are incredible and are gifted as they have had to learn a whole new language, which many people wouldn’t take the time to learn.
One thing or rather one song which has been in our heads all day is a piece we sing in our choir at Mandeville called ‘Can you hear me?’ By Bob Chilcott .This particular song describes the feelings of deaf and visually impaired people it says “my worlds a quiet one but it’s enough for me, I hear you through your hands the movement sets me free”. It really made us realise that communication comes in many different forms. We have loved today and we even got a free, wonderful t-shirt! We are really proud to have been a part of this and will remember it.
Hello my name is Ethan and today I have been helping kids from a variety of schools do wheelchair basketball. As the first set of kids entered the room I could see the excitement exploding from each and every one of them. First we started with a practise game of simple passing which they took very well and seemed to increase their confidence. After around five minutes they were ready for more of a challenge, we lined them up opposite the basketball hoop we got them to shoot in different directions and that was pretty much it. It was good. I leanrt that it’s hard to live to with a disability, but it brings strength as well.
Hello, my name is Amber Cox I am a year 10 student, I have enjoyed the experience today watching and assisting other schools from all over the south east working as a team. A smile was constantly spread across my face from watching the schools taking part in a variety of activities that were going on throughout the day; pupils were trying new things that they have never done before and enjoying the experience. I was on hand to help anyone that needed it, offering refreshments, touring them around the school premises, making friends and communicating with pupils and staff. A majority of primary schools and secondary schools featured in a performance they had choreographed themselves, everyone enjoyed watching these… the sports hall was full!
The school was bursting with a positive atmosphere wherever you went; the pupils and staff enjoyed themselves, with thanks to the weather staying nice and sunny for us throughout the entire day as well. Many pupils enjoyed meeting Paralympic stars and looked up to them as role models. My overall experience of the day was exciting, positive, a little challenging and slightly nerve racking at times but I would be more than happy to help if Mandeville host another one of these days.
Students from Beaconsfield School
We are Kieran, James, Sam,and James. We have been working with Caroline Cardus and Rachel Gadsden during the driving inspiration project. We have been making banners about the Paralympics. We have used many different materials such as gold leaf and paint. We are hoping that these banners are going to be used around the school.
This project has helped us understand more about the Paralympics. We didn’t always realise the importance of the Paralympics but this project has helped us understand that the Paralympics is just as big an experience as the Olympics. We all found the process very enjoyable because we all learnt something from it such as art. We are all very glad we were chosen to do this project. Dont dream your life.live your dreams.
We are Ryan, Nathan and Emily and we have been involved in the Driving Inspiration program. We have been working with Rachel and Caroline creating large scale art work and smaller banner pieces. We have also used the computers to edit the pieces and add different effects to them.
It has been a very enjoyable experience to be involved with different types of art work and people. We have created the pieces by lying on large sheets of paper and drawing the outline of ourselves in different Paralympic and Olympic sports positions. We have painted them with different colours and added gold leaf to make the art work eye catching and unique. We have been constructing these pieces since November 2010.
Students from Cottesloe School
We’re Billie, Jess and Tayla. We had the opportunity to work with a deaf choreographer Mark Smith for Driving Inspiration. He helped to create a dance to show some of the sports from Paralympics and Olympics. Our music came from Mandeville school and we also work with students from Overstone primary school.
One of the local schools from our area listened to the music Mandeville has created and they made art work showing their thoughts. We used these drawings to inspire our movements in the dance. We also included a few of the drawings on our t-shirts for the performance. Without the artwork or music we wouldn’t of had this much inspiration to create the choreography in the dance.
When we first met Mark we were amazed at his talent, the way he had so much passion for dance. He was a great influence on us and we enjoyed working with him. We hope that other schools have the opportunity to work with people like mark.
Students from Pent Valley School
My name is Dan. I’ve been working with Gary Thomas doing the film-making since last term. It’s been really fun. I’ve been learning some new things on the camera - like charging up the camera using the computer.
Today I’ve been doing some handball, rowing and watching the performances. I’ve spent this afternoon interviewing people like Naomi Riches, Paralympic rower, Isolte Avila from Signdance and some of the teachers who’ve been doing Driving Inspiration. It’s been a really good experience
I like interviewing people. I like holding cameras.
Hi I am Joanne and my school is Rye College I am in year 8. I enjoyed the netball and the volley ball. The art work was really good and so were the dance performances. It was a really good day out and I would like to do it again. Most of the primary school performed stuff which they had made up themselves.
As arts-practitioner and sports-goer, these respective arenas of ‘blood, sweat and tears’, have both, played significant roles in my 40-odd(!) years on this planet, and are inextricably linked to my lifestyle and identity. If, as I believe, we are born as blank pages, to be shaded by our every experience, much of my biography would be given over to doing art and watching sport. Theatre is my art of choice, whilst Ipswich Town Football Town are my sporting albatross.
In crude terms, I make a meagre living though art, whilst blowing much of my ‘not so’ disposable income watching sport. Unfortunately, it’s not the other way round. I would be a good deal richer, and slightly more refined. However, due to a complete lack of sporting prowess I was destined to inhabit a humble artist’s garret, rather than enjoying the excess and vulgarity of a palatial ‘Hello magazine’ pad.
I try not to think about, or quantify the time, energy and money spent following football for fear that intervention may be required to ‘cure’ me. Watching grown men haplessly kick a pigs-bladder around a muddy field, could well be interpreted as a self-fulfilling desire for disappointment, an eroticisation of the non-disabled form or simply a chronic waste of time. Having undergone a number of unsuccessful and pointless ‘interventions’ in my past – leg-straightening, voice improving, buoyancy aiding - this particular one may actually have real benefit. In the meantime, I shall continue to spend Saturdays traipsing around the country, witnessing sad spectacles I would never contemplate taking part in myself. Where are ‘the men in white coats’ when you need them!
In many ways, it is the apparent senselessness of finding yourself stranded at Doncaster station at midnight following another tepid defeat that keeps me hooked. Sport, and the associated experiences, have an immediacy and transiency that allows us to escape our daily grind or worries, or in the case of Doncaster incident, replace these with a completely fresh set of interesting problems and hurdles. Rather than worrying about money we hurl abuse at hapless referees, rather than upsetting the applecart at work we jump around like 4-year olds when the ball hits the back of a net. We are offered the chance to forget, to shout and to escape, lost in a visceral soap opera being played out in real time, infinite in possibilities. And, of course, we are part of a crowd, a community with all that can entail; collective strength, anonymity, devolving responsibility, hysteria and camaraderie.
Arts too is ‘infinite in possibilities’, but as an artist my work is about making sense of the world I inhabit, saying what is important to me and attempting to impact on the enormous world around me. I am, to a certain extent, controlling the possibilities, picking and choosing the materials and means that will best convey my message. Good art is introspective, soul searching and, dare I say it, brave. It is the individual drawing back from the crowd, putting their marker in the sand, saying ‘this is what I believe; this is what I stand for.’
I have been asked to make theatre about my sporting passions; a marriage made in heaven, enjoyment under the auspices of work. However, despite my best endeavours, I have singularly failed to connect these two passions which fulfil such different roles in my life. They operate in different parts of my psyche – one part needing to be lost in the crowd, the other needing to step away from the crowd. They appear mutually exclusive, and yet equally important and to my day-to-day life. An actor friend has a clause in his contracts stating that he will not perform while Wales are playing Rugby Union. Unfortunately, my relative lack of artistic success precludes such riders in my own contract negotiations.
Whilst writing this article I put a Sports v Arts question on Facebook. In straightforward terms, Art won 12-10, whilst the debate provoked pearls of wisdom including, ‘need you ask’, ‘art is coveted and hoarded as a commodity’, ‘sport divides people into winners and losers….in art everyone’s a winner’, ‘good sport is art’, ‘spart’, ‘each can be uplifting or tedious’, ‘I’d like to hear a gallery crowd singing ‘Who’s the sculpture in the black…’, ‘coffee is better than tea…except for old people’ . Of course, the beauty of the world we live is the subtle shading, interweaving and fluidity of our ideas, identities and preferences. Art and sport are not mutually exclusive, and interact with people on numerous different levels, and play crucial roles in enabling us to make sense, and enjoy the world around us.
Who would ask such a daft question as, ‘Which is better – Sport or Art?’!
Accentuate has had a busy January, catching up with our projects after the Christmas break, meeting with the Our View Core Group and attending events.
One exciting opportunity to showcase Accentuate and the organisations we work with was a visit by Andy Hunt to Surrey and Kent. Andy Hunt is the Chief Executive of the British Olympic Association (BOA). Accentuate was given the opportunity to present to him during his visit to the impressive Surrey Sports Park. Surrey County Council provided a very inspiring programme of activity, including an international flag project presented by local schools.
Surrey is also a hotspot for high-quality disability arts organisations, and Emma took great pleasure in introducing StopGAP as part of her presentation. StopGAP are part of the Accentuate leadership project, Sync South East. They have also been commissioned as part of the Accentuate project Celebrate and Commission.
StopGAP performed The Voices Within Ourselves. This is the first piece Anna Pearce and Hannah Sampson dance together as StopGAP apprentices, choreographed by StopGAP’s Chris Pavia (a dancer with Down’s Syndrome). This ‘work-in-progress’ was first created over a two-week period in October 2010. The Voices Within Ourselves creates a ghostly atmosphere, where an invisible figure trails a lonely woman in a dark forest. The shadowy presence builds to torment her, and in her anxiety, the search to uncover ‘the presence’ begins…
January appears to have been an excellent month for Accentuate to explore one of our key aims: to influence decision makers at the highest level. The visit by Andy Hunt provided a great opportunity to put this into practice. Emma’s presentation set the work of Accentuate in a regional and national context, and explored our main objective of creating a cultural shift.
Accentuate also had another opportunity to do this when Esther and Emma met with Damian Collins the MP for Folkestone. Damian Collins is also Chairman of the Conservative Arts and Creative Industries Network, which was launched in May 2009. The Network brings together individuals who work in the arts and creative industries with the Culture Ministerial team, MPs, and senior figures in the Conservative party involved in developing policy in this area.
This meeting was instigated by Screen South to talk about the broad spectrum of their work and provided Accentuate with an excellent opportunity to talk about some of the detail of our projects. Esther and Emma felt pleased that Mr Collins was enthusiastic about the programme and could see the potential benefits and learning. We hope he will continue to be interested in Accentuate and this will be just one of many discussions.
Emma and Esther are also looking forward to attending the Campaign! event in early February at the Houses of Parliament. There will be a series of events where the young people who have been working with the Accentuate project Campaign! will present their campaigns to a panel of decision makers, including MP’s and Ministers.
We are very excited that at all levels we are setting out to influence those who may be able to bring about change and the cultural shift we are seeking. Watch this space...
When is language offensive and when is it too PC (if there is such a thing)?
I have a friend who works in an office where a colleague was disciplined for putting up a poster advertising 'a girls' night out' as this was both excluding men and self-diminishing for woman-kind. I thought I was pretty pc until I heard that!
In a former work role I was advised I shouldn't use the word 'lady' and that 'woman' was more appropriate. I find this quite difficult as I was brought up to see the word 'woman' as rude and 'lady' as polite. It was nothing to do with suggesting 'ladies' were fragile beings who needed protecting and pampering and who had no rights or real worth. It is not something I find particularly offensive but should I respect that others do and tailor my language accordingly?
My children tell me 'Spaz' is back in the playground as is 'retard', and 'gay' is still an insult being thrown about by kids. My heart sinks and I can't help but blame American comedies which seem to bandy these terms around all over the place.
We have to consider how we define ourselves. What words do we use? What words do others use? I have in the past been told I would only qualify for a benefit if I was 'wheelchair-bound'. When I asked what this constituted I was told it was being unable to get out of your wheelchair (as if it was going to somehow morph itself onto my bottom permanently). I was frustrated and somewhat baffled by the use and interpretation of this word being the deciding factor in my entitlement to support.
I am often told I shouldn't get so hung up on language and that people don't mean to offend, but I feel myself boiling inside. Are they right? Should I just chill out about it all? Does language really matter?
Definitions can either divide us or unite us in our search for identity and validation. But it's not easy. How long is the piece of string we use to tackle ideas around the discrimination we face. I am referring here to the Social Model of Disability which challenges the idea that we 'have disabilities.'
As people with impairments - we are disabled by the barriers that prevent us from taking a full and equal part in society. We live with disability in our day-to-day struggle to combat discrimination - but it is a mark of the barriers society presents - not something we actively possess.
Since the successful Our View meeting at Channel 4 on 8 November I have been thinking about the conundrums Accentuate faces in steering the 15 projects and making a cultural shift in perceptions. Getting my head around the problem we face in finding points of commonality between two very different agendas - Sport and Arts - has been at the heart of it.
We talked through issues that arose from the Channel 4 documentary Inside Incredible Athletes. The documentary made a general concession to the medical model idea of 'having a disability' - albeit using inside stories of the athletes themselves and their quest for excellence. The sports agenda is changing - as more inclusion happens in specific competitions - but it is still rooted in framing and categorising by limitation. So the body itself becomes the marker by which individuals seek to push their boundaries and achieve 'personal best.' Possessing and utilising the deficit model (ie identification through loss) is a key qualification for entering any specific competition.
But the most interesting thing about the discussions that took place on 8 November, was thinking about what values would underpin the games if the Paralympics were to suddenly be reinvented now. You have to remember that the ideas which formed Paralympics were fermented in the aftermath of World War II. Their founder was a German Jewish neurologist Ludwig Guttmann - who was forced to flee to Britain in 1939. Guttmann's initial pioneering work was with veterans with spinal cord injuries.
Stoke Mandeville was dedicated to rehabilitation. So with ideas of therapeutic intervention and motivation as the basis for the games - the whole notion of the Paralympics being a 'Parallel' sports programme was innovatory in 1960 when the first games were held alongside the Olympics in Rome. During those decades the priority was focussed on physical impairment; it was about raising levels of self-esteem; and creating positive role models when disability meant a total lack of self-determination. But if you think about it, the 'Para' in the Paralympics was a nod towards an idea of inclusion and access.
We still fight those battles now - but there has been some shift in understanding. There would now be much more meaningful talk about inclusion and access at the heart of any endeavour to establish new programmes of sports activity. Individuals would be categorised by their level of competitive excellence, rather than specific impairment. There would be a far bigger challenge to the notion of segregating competitors by the level to which you are deemed to possess an impairment. 'Deemed' being the operative word - as judgements by their nature can never get away from degrees of subjectivity.
I think the Arts can help inspire Disability Sport to reflect on any baggage it carries. Sure the Arts are about achieving personal best in some sense. But the drive to make quality art is not about achieving a cure to attain the perfect body - which is at the root of the hangover that media representation portrays when covering Disability Sport.
Why does someone with an impairment have to be labelled 'incredible' in order to take part in a sports competition? Isn't it about the fact that everyone is unique in some ways - and that difference is inspiring? Which brings me to Jon Adams 'Look About.' In his initial question on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/vsa123#!/topic.php?uid=188111380901&topic=20830 Jon has approached the Social Model from another approach. He asks 'Where do you see the biggest 'faults' involving Deaf and disabled artists in the Arts landscape?' The Social Model emphasises the 'fault' that lies with society rather than with the individual - but can we be so blase?
From a personal perspective - living with M.E. means I am disabled by the stresses of living in a competitive society. I can easily forget my own name, such is the impact that being placed in a competitive situation has. With M.E. comes a cortisol imbalance that places the body in a perpetual state of fight or flight. And one of the key barriers is the impact this has on the function of memory.
The irony of thinking about Disability Sport is that competition is an access issue for me because of the levels stress it induces. An adjunct to the notion of being disabled by society, would be that I am disabled by competitive values in society. But it is up to me - not society to manage the impact of stress on my impairment. I am lucky to work in disability arts where individuals will often accommodate stress as a factor in my accessing working relationships. But the variables are so great wouldn't there be something faintly ridiculous about me expecting society to try to qualify what would be a recommended level of access? At the end of the day whether I 'have a disability' or I am disabled, I just have to get on with it as best I can.
There is a certain stigma attached to the word ‘gun’. The words say more about others misunderstandings and attitudes - and as a person with a hidden disability we all know what that is like.
Shooting is certainly not just about killing anything. – do people put that connotation on archery for example? Its interesting to me that people don’t look below the surface on the skills level – they just assume guns hurt people which like anything (including words) in the wrong hands can cause harm. People hurt people.
I am not of the ‘hunting shooting fishing brigade’, I just know and appreciate the level of skill and dedication of training it takes to hold still enough to put a pellet through a 1mm target centre at 10 meters so I was pleased to be asked to attend the IPC Shooting World Cup which Accentuate had helped to sponsor.
I found myself at Stoke Mandeville ahead of time. The shooting had started and I was asked if I would like to sit in and observe. As it was indoors ‘competition order’ was ‘decided’ using air weapons which meant the only sounds were the slight crack and instantaneous ‘clang’ of the pellet hitting the metal backstop. (I immediately felt I had to gather and started to record snippets of the sound)
The targets were all digitally monitored and displayed on the big screen (very high tech) which slightly distorted the appreciation of how small they were in reality. Each shot showed as a circle superimposed and layered on top or each previous one building quite complex patterns.
This immediately triggered ideas for artwork and I soon found I had some sketches in my pocket that I would take from this to complete later. As more guests were arriving we were shown up to the balcony for a wider panoramic view and conversations.
Then after all had arrived we had a some welcoming words and were split into several different teams to be toured round the ‘ins and outs’ of competitive shooting – and then there were the rules… As a person with Aspergers I like rules – what appeals to me is not just the feeling of ‘safety within a boundary’ – but when you know the rules - you know where you can push and break them.
This is also the stage where ‘disability’ sports and ‘disability’ arts come apart in a disconformity that also unites the two as opposite ends of a spectrum. I will explain: with the arts the ‘social model’ is key. But by necessity with sports have a ‘medical model’ focus. What I found interesting was that every stage, person and item is subject to rules and proofs – some multiply so as we were guided round backstage this became very apparent.
Not only does the gun have to ‘conform’ to sizes, weights, shapes and lengths and power but so does the clothing in minute details. Centimetres, millimetres and grams count and ‘overlaps’ can make a difference.
And then there is the ‘person’ – and this is where it’s diametrically opposite to how we as ‘neu artists’ in the disability cultural scene think. You have to ‘prove’ a physical disability and conform to a rule book several centimetres thick of ‘what is wrong with you’. It’s all prescriptive and defined in detail. Interestingly despite all the rules regulations and definitions it still come s down to someone’s subjective judgement whether you are a ‘category S1 or S2! In the end.
I personally wouldn’t qualify to shoot as a disabled person – I never thought I would hear myself say this but I am not disabled enough and was told “I would have to compete against ‘normal’ shooters” when I expressed an interest.
Everything we think of and hold dear in this ‘Nueuworld’ of deaf and disabled artistry with regards to the ‘person and their work that counts not being defined by “what’s wrong with you” rapidly went out the window.
But more shockingly I agree It has to be like that. It’s this difference between arts and ‘paralympic sports’ that provides us with a commonality to work together. When you scratch beneath the surface you find we are all just people who try to the utmost of our being to do and be the best and to overcome the barriers others or ‘nature’ sets in front of us. Sometimes the opposites do attract.
The tour was over all too quickly and after more conversations over lunch it was time to leave. This day left me deep in thought and somewhat determined to see what could be cross pollinated from the sports to the arts.
There is certainly a need for discernable leadership and self-dedication that’s common to both. You can’t drift even as a member of a team as the responsibility for ‘competing’ - taking part in a ‘team’ effort is down to you.
To be the best or make a change takes time; effort sometimes above and beyond the ‘norm’ and can feel like endlessly swimming against the tide. But lasting change or recognition for your leadership as a prize has to be worth it. But it can only be done in a measured and comparative way and with ‘quality of substance’ discernibly underpinning throughout.
Looking back I learnt some valuable lessons. Not only was the event quality it was high quality, both in the presentation it gave to us and in the way it seemed to be run. This was a totally fascinating hour and the lessons learnt and revelations will feed into my ‘look about’ map and film. More on which another time.
My initial misgivings over the title, with scary reverberations of the deeply patronising film ‘Inside I’m Dancing’, soon receded as a highly-polished and creative documentary revealed the characters amongst, stories behind and challenges facing British Paralympians as they gear up to the London 2012.
The Paralympic movement has come along way since humble beginnings in Stoke Mandeville in 1948, and the programme provided compelling evidence that disabled athletes deserve equal billing with their Olympic counterparts.
As a disabled artist, I have been circumspect at best and dubious at worst, around the Paralympics. The political fissures between disabled sportspeople and artists are well engrained, and each have operated in silos in the past, but London 2012 is seen as an opportunity of bring these two communities together.
Personally, I am fundamentally lazy and totally devoid of any sporting prowess, and could not understand why someone would put themselves through such pain and hard work needed to enter a sporting arena. Politically, I suspected that Paralympic sport was primarily viewed, by a non-disabled audience, as an exercise in overcoming the odds, or worst still, a series of activities rather than elite sporting events. Also, I assumed that those disabled people involved were somehow seeking acceptance, by engaging on the peripheries of non-disabled pursuits and being an adjunct to the main event.
All these notions were roundly and gratifyingly challenged as real people told their stories, explained their motivations and displayed their talents. The personal and political became entwined, and whilst some themes rung true for me as an artist, others inspired a far deeper understanding of those pursuing their sporting dreams. The commonalities were eloquently captured by one Paralympian’s observation that Jimmy Saville was a ‘bit of a twat’ – we do all know the score, after all!
The ‘blood, sweat and tears’ of Paralympians often have different, and added dimensions to those of their non-disabled counterparts, with a trauma or accident providing a turning point for the individuals involved. Their stories feature accidents, medical interventions and life-changing re-evaluations. This could easily have become a ‘pity-fest’ concentrating on damage rather than opportunity, doors shutting rather than opening.
However, fact outweighed sentiment, with real people revealing real experiences as their motivations, choices and ambitions came to life. Medical interventions, operations and expertise were never far from the surface, but once again, my fears were allayed, as the athletes were shown in positions of knowledge and control, rather than as unsuspecting individuals placed under the microscope at the behest of the medical profession, or viewing public.
The focus was on a celebration with beautiful and athletic bodies, stylistically set in iconic places. A game of wheelchair rugby on the Woolwich Ferry, dressage in the Royal Albert Hall set to Swan Lake and football amongst the artefacts of a darkened and deserted British Museum. These landscapes were evocative and thrilling backdrops to the individual and collective endeavours in pursuit of excellence. The imagery was stunning, and promoted disability sport with coffee table elegance.
So, in conclusion, the Olympian ethos, experience and camaraderie came alive as we were placed in the minds and bodies of elite sportspeople as they prepared for 2012. The celebration of the body, in its many and varied forms challenged stereotypes and assumptions – even my own, as a ‘right-on’ disabled man. How these stories will unfold in dramatic conclusions in 2012 has got me hooked. Rarely has sport been presented with such care, honesty and joy, and how gratifying to watch disabled athletes the leading the way. I shall be booking my tickets as soon as possible!
Kristina Veasey visits Creative Landscapes at the English Heritage Open Day events in Hastings, East Sussex
9-12 September 2010 saw the opening of many of our nation’s treasured museums, houses and places of historical interest in a celebration of our national heritage.
On the Sunday afternoon we were headed for the fishing quarter. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the tall, tarred, wooden huts that tower above the shingle beach I must tell you that you are missing a visual treat. The Net Shops are huts built tall to save on space and with the function of providing space for the fishermen’s nets to be dried. The Hastings fishing fleet is unusual in that they launch their boats from the beach as they have traditionally done for centuries.
The Fishermen’s Museum is well worth a visit if you are interested in the history of the fleet and as it was open as part of the Heritage weekend I popped in on my visit. I’m a sucker for anything fish so I enjoyed reading and hearing the collection of oral testimonies of life in the fleet. I lost my partner for some time to a film of sea rescues, and lost my daughter in a large fishing boat.
The welcome in the museum was warm and the artifacts at times interesting, at times unusual and at times comical. A suit made of silver winkles and photos and newspaper clippings charting the antics of Biddy the Tub Man did well to illustrate the buzz and vibe that has centred around The Stade over the years. The more I saw, the more I was falling in love with the place and with such a rich history who could fail but to be inspired.
Sally Booth, Creative Landscape’s artist in residence, has drawn on this heritage to inspire her work over recent months. She worked from a studio opposite the Net Shops and on the beach itself, soaking up the atmosphere and translating it into images, some on balsa wood.
To find out more about how Sally approaches her work, you would do well to read her interview with Colin Hambrook on the Dada-South website When I met Sally on The Stade she was emerging from a timber-framed ‘beach hut’ with walls of semi-transparent screens. From within this drawing tent participants were being encouraged to draw or trace what they could see through the walls directly on to the screens.
My two year old added her scribble at floor level in the spirit of joining in, whilst others of different heights added their own views to the ever growing art work. It was an interesting exercise to take part in as it really encouraged you to look at the detail and form of the things around you, things that you may have otherwise not appreciated in such depth, or even noticed at all. Being almost hidden behind the screens I felt quite voyeuristic as I observed and recorded the activities of other visitors milling around outside.
My partner, not so keen on staying in one place for any amount of time, was not so easily engaged and I had soon lost him to the Net Shop next door where archive films were showing. Having retrieved him we raced a few doors down and slipped into the Shipwreck Museum just before closing.
My partner managed to secure time for me and the little one to have a good nose around by collaring the curator as he shut up shop, and quizzing him on the 1749 Amsterdam shipwreck (still visible at low tide at Bulverhythe). The day was finished perfectly with a fresh fish roll cooked on the beach and eaten whilst perching on an enormous old anchor amongst the boats. We animatedly shared the things we had explored and discovered, and eked out the last of the sunshine and a beautiful day out.
For many people having a day out and it running to plan without any unexpected problems or challenges arising along the way is probably pretty standard fare. However, for disabled people this is often not the case. To go for a day out and not experience any barriers around access, to be welcomed to participate in an interactive art project, and to have been able to appreciate some of our local heritage without any hitches is actually not the norm. So whilst Heritage Open Days may seem like a sure fire enjoyable way to spend a day for most people, I was at first apprehensive.
So, what helped to make this such a positive experience? Making old buildings accessible to all is always going to prove a tricky one. Finding the balance between preserving something from the past (often not physically accessible) with the opportunity to share it with our present and future generations is not an easy task. I know that a lot of organizations in Hastings (and Gosport) came forward to learn how they could make their events more accessible and it is on this enthusiasm that I hope things will build and indeed spread further afield.
The Accentuate program will run for another two years and so the prompting, guidance and encouragement for further steps to be taken should help to establish this way of thinking as ‘the norm’ and see many more improvements in future years... So I would like to thank all those organizations that got involved this year and to reassure them that as far as this disabled visitor is concerned, it is worth the effort you are making and worth building on.
This is an abridged version of Kristina Veasey's blog on the Our View section of the Accentuate website. To read her full report go to www.accentuate-se.org.
To read more about Creative Landscapes go to the project page at www.accentuate-se.org.
Kristina Veasey is a former international athlete with over 10 years experience working both directly and at strategy level with disabled children, young people and adults.
Accentuate is the 2012 Legacy Programme for the South East. Accentuate consists of 15 ambitious projects which represent the arts, film, tourism, business, sport and heritage. All 15 projects aim to promote the talent of deaf and disabled people in whatever area they work in. Accentuate also provides a variety of opportunities for disabled people to take part and to lead.
The inspiration for Accentuate is the Paralympic Movement. This started at Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire and this is the unique heritage for the South East. The home for Accentuate is Screen South, based at their offices in Folkestone.
The scale and ambition of Accentuate means it is necessary to work with a variety of partner organisations who are delivering the 15 projects. Some of these organisations are: Screen South, English Heritage, Museums, Libraries and Archives, Arts Council England South East, Tourism South East, Sport England, www.creativejunction.org.uk">Creative Junction, Buckinghamshire County Council and English Federation of Disability Sports.
Accentuate is funded by Legacy Trust UK, an independent charity whose mission is to support a wide range of innovative cultural and sporting activities, which celebrate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Legacy Tust aims to leave a lasting legacy in communities throughout the United Kingdom. The South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) has also invested significant financial support in Accentuate, as have the regional cultural agencies.
Accentuate believes disabled people must be at the heart of everything we do. Our View helps to ensures this happens. Our View is a diverse group of talented deaf and disabled people who act as an internal steering group as well as have direct relationships with the individual projects.
Our View members and some of the partners delivering the Accentuate projects will be contributing to these pages on DAO to keep you up to date with what’s happening with Accentuate over the coming months.
On 13th July I was invited to the launch of Wheels Of Glory, a new computer game based around the Paralympics. Before attending, I knew very little about how this project had progressed and was curious to see what had been created, how and by whom. The launch was held at the Pinewood Studios and involved a chance to meet those involved and to play the game itself.
Gaming! is an Accentuate project run in partnership with Creative Junction that aims to engage young people in the production of a new interactive computer game celebrating the inspirational story of Stoke Mandeville and the Paralympics. As well as involving disabled and non-disabled young people in its creation it’s wider engagement with people of all ages and abilities who play the game will spread the positive image of participation by disabled people in the mainstream.
The project began in January and has included 18 students from Chalfonts Community College in Buckinghamshire who were studying for a Creative and Media Learning Diploma (examined by AQA-City & Guilds). These students were joined by game designer Tom Scutt who also worked on Tomb Raider and he worked with them to develop their ideas into a tangible reality.
I enjoyed hearing first hand from the students what their brief had been, what ideas they’d had and the decisions they’d made along the way. They talked a lot about team work and opportunity and gave the sense that they had valued and enjoyed the experience.
The students had worked in groups to come up with themes around Paralympic sports and what it takes to be a Paralympian. There were ideas around wheelchair racing and marathons, passing iconic landmarks and avoiding barriers but the idea that was chosen and developed into the final game was around Wheelchair Basketball. This idea may have been inspired by a session the students enjoyed with a local wheelchair basketball team and the enigmatic Ade Adepitan!
The game itself is great! I am of course a little biased as it is based on my former sport but as the students themselves said, they wanted to create something simple and addictive. Reports back from those I have sent a link to have confirmed that it is certainly addictive! Whilst I can’t get off level one I have friends desperate to get beyond level 7.
The premise is that you collect gems as they appear on the court and build up levels of ‘paralympic qualities’ like determination or inspiration or respect etc. You also collect medals and facts about the Paralympics. You are introduced to another player that you compete against and need to avoid crashing in to on higher levels and it is all set within a time limit.
What happens at the end? If I ever get there I will let you know! I have been told that there is still time for feedback and suggestions for any tweaking are welcome. For myself I would like to see the names of the GB Wheelchair Basketball Squads up there (perhaps with their classification points and a little biog as well) and have the opportunity to select one of them to be my named player. I quite fancy putting some of my old team mates through their paces!
The launch event allowed me the opportunity to meet and chat with some of the parents of the students as well as the students themselves. One quite engaging conversation about possible ways people with more restricted upper body mobility might be able to play the game led on to all the amazing and clever types of IT equipment that can be used to aid learning for students with dyslexia. This in turn developed into a wider discussion around the levels of support that many of our children need in order to navigate the style of learning we present in our schools (don’t get me started!). Mulling this over after the event has again raised for me bigger questions around equality and access to education and to opportunity generally.
Surely there is inherent disadvantage and inequality in a system that requires need for and a dependence on parental money, support, energy, time and know-how of ‘the system’ just to get disabled children to the starting line, let alone enabling them to start playing on an (un)even playing field?
There is an assumption that these things are all in place and are in never ending supply. I hear these same things again and again in conversations with parents of disabled children. I know parents who have had to stop working in order to have the time to support their child and fight for statements that cover their child’s needs effectively. Navigating these systems, attending tribunals, meetings with schools, teachers, therapists, doctors, psychologists etc as well as the care, support and nurturing of a child (and probably other siblings) hardly leaves room to hold down a job and deal with the emotional and mental drain and frustration that comes with it all.
How independent and empowered can disabled children feel as they grow into adults if they are witness this scale of upheaval for their parents, other family members and of course themselves? By the time a lot of children get the support they need they have fallen so far behind and established patterns of behaviour in response to not having their needs met that are then very difficult to unlearn.
Opportunity should be a given for all children, not just something for those who have an army of able challengers fighting to get them through. And these opportunities should not be one-off and tick-box either. They need to be sustainable.
Anyway, I digress. The parents and students I met at the launch were charming, engaging and full of enthusiasm for this project and what they had achieved. One student I was introduced to was Jenny Sands who is to be the Our View ambassador for Gaming! Using the skills she is learning in her course she will be making a film to help promote the game and give an introduction to how it was made.
She is at the beginning of this process and will be interviewing the students who created the game about their experiences to inform her work. I look forward to seeing it! If you would like to play the game you can access it through the Create Compete Collaborate website. Good luck and enjoy!
On the last Saturday in July, I spent six hours on trains travelling to and from Stoke Mandeville stadium to observe the Playground to Podium event. I had a programme but had no real idea what I'd discover. I was welcomed by Jess Cook, who was an interesting, informative and inspiring escort. She took me to observe several different groups of disabled children trying out athletic track and field events, wheelchair basketball, table tennis, swimming etc.
I found the approach to disability in terms of sport and working towards the paralympics was very different from my personal and professional perspective. For me in my daily life, the social model approach, while not the answer to everything related to disability, is my preferred approach. Here I found that a person's impairment and level of impairment was the main measure for what sport was appropriate and at what level they competed. The focus here was on competition and striving to be better than others by aiming to do one's best performance possible. With sport, there are objective ways to assess performance, not so with art, which is much more subjective.
I wonder - can we only be successfully active or only successfully artistic? Or is aiming to be both realistic or possible? If we aim to be good at both, does that preclude being excellent at either? And is the main thing, if you are a disabled person, to have the same opportunities as non disabled young people, whether art or sport is your interest? In my experience, disabled children are often steered towards certain activities, based on the assumptions of others about what their capabilities are.
Another issue for me was that inevitably, it is those children who have adult support who will succeed - all the children had been brought to Stoke Mandeville by their parents or guardians. How many children who have the ability to be paralympians but don't have this support will be "spotted" and encouraged?
The speaker for the day was a paralympian snowboarder who held a group of parents and children spell bound with her story and pictures and had three bits of advice, of which I am sorry to say I only remember two: have a plan and never give up.
I took a few photos - no, not of the children but of the accessible loos - just because they were such a good example!
Am I disabled? Am I an artist? Most definitely the former, arguably and intermittently, the latter. As for being a ´disabled artist;’ a minefield of assumptions, perceptions and definitions underlie this seemingly straight-foward description. I have, in the past, just ´got on with it´, without taking the time or care to analyse my real position in this morass of identity politics. However, as I do believe all art has a political dimension, and am supposed to be an artist, I have neglected my duties in not examining my place in the wider context.
My identity starts at home, wallowing amongst the detritus of the places I occupy; the family I am blessed with; the friends I manage to retain; the interests I stubbornly follow; the outward appearances I conjure up; the thoughts I manage to construe and the dubious principles I live by.
Moment to moment my story has unfolded - often mundane, usually bizarre, occasionally exciting - and these moments have cumulated to create the person I now am. The pages are being filled in, and this incomplete ´special interest\' manuscript reveals my identity. \'This One\'s On Me\' (clever, eh?) is hopefully a little way off general release!
A million bizarre and random instances have combined to propel my story thus far, and the journey which I continue to travel; a set of fluid, complex and infinite unknowns and possibilities. The anticipation and discovery of what exists around the next corner, is to my mind, the most compelling reason for continuing on the journey.
However, there are a few constants, anchors which remain fixed no matter how life's rich tapestry unravels. For me, disability is one of these; whatever occurs I am, have been and will always be disabled. The Lourdes option never seemed relevant, appealing or feasible. I ain´t broke, so don´t need fixing. The concept that we require mending, is to varying degrees, ridiculous, offensive, and incredibly psychologically damaging.
The assumption that we need correcting, coupled with the predictable failure of attempts to do so, is a harmful double whammy for young disabled people trying to negotiate their rightful place in an often hostile world. Formative years can be spent desperately clinging onto traces of identity and self-worth, against a backdrop of negative interventions, assumptions and stereotypes.
Growing up many moons ago, I remember many of my non-disabled friends spouting mohicans and associated accoutrements in brash attempts to get noticed. I on the other hand, was being manhandled into callipers, and undergoing elocution lessons for ´the hard of speaking´ in order to prevent me from getting noticed. Needless to say, these interventions were in vain, as my unusual gait and voice patterns won out, and trumped my friends´ unsightly mops in the ´standing out´ stakes!
Cut to some thirty years later, and my formative years are distant memories as I am now besieged by middle age. The anger, self-denial, lack of confidence and confusion of growing up, are largely forgotten chapters. In the main, I care less what the world makes of me, safe in the knowledge, that my own battles, negotiations and interactions, have created an environment that suits me, an identity which fits me.
Obviously buttons still get pushed, injustices still depress, people still infuriate and barriers still exist. However, I am happy in my skin, comfortable in my body, and understand that my disability is part of my DNA, my biography and at the core of who I am. So, I have had little choice and even less inclination to deny or hide my disability, and this realisation has led to liberation and on occasion, celebration.
The experience of disability is consequently present in all my work. New stories, experiences and perspectives should be the lifeblood of the arts, and should consequently place disabled artists, so long ignored or marginalised, at the forefront of creative practice and innovation. Initiatives are being aimed at disabled people, in attempts to redress some of the traditional exclusions, inequalities and scarcity of opportunities. Our part of the deal should be, at the very least, to be upfront, confident and savvy as disabled people and artists.
Much debate has ensued on spreading the net and ensuring inclusion of disabled people in the widest sense, or put another way, finding disabled people who may not yet identify as ´disabled?’ We want to get people on board, whilst not causing offence. Controversy surrounds ´tick-boxing,’ or ´coming out` as disabled in order to benefit from these opportunities and initiatives.
My own view is that a more robust approach is required, with ´disability´ being far more than a convenient currency or accessory which can be produced or hidden when suits. I understand that people have different experiences and journeys, and just as I have chosen my own path, so others have every right to make their own choices, and create their own identities. However the denial of, or apology for disability, does unfortunately preserve the status quo, consolidate inequalities and create less interesting art.
My work does not normally explicitly reference disability, just as I do not normally get up every-day contemplating another morning with a disability. I contemplate the day ahead, from the fuzzy, strange and inconsistent perspective of ´Jamie´, the ingredients of which are many and varied. My experience of, and relationship to disability is essential to this mix, and any attempt at omission would leave me incomplete, and fail to tell the whole story.
Colin Hambrook talks to Talking to Esther Gill, English Heritage Outreach Manager for Creative Landscapes
Talking to Esther Gill, English Heritage Outreach Manager it became apparent that Creative Landscapes aims to fulfil several key aims of accentuate beyond expectations.
Encouraging accessibility and welcoming disabled people is key to the legacy Creative Landscapes intends to embed within Heritage Open Days in Gosport and Hastings in Sussex. Over the next three years this work will be offered as an example of good practice to be set as a precedent to be emulated at Heritage Open Days across England
Esther explained to me that there is a culture around Heritage Open Days that has built up over the past 15 years. Heritage sites – everything from castles and museums to privately owned historical buildings, are encouraged to open their doors for free over a long weekend. This allows people to engage with some of the history that exists on their doorstep - maybe through a workshop, a guided walk – or through doors being opened to sites that are generally closed to the public.
The role of Creative Landscapes is to create possibilities to get over that metaphorical doorstep and to encourage new ways of thinking around accessibility for disabled and deaf people. A programme of creative arts residencies; in sync with audience development will allow alienated sectors of the community the chance to take an equal part in their local heritage.
Less than a lifetime ago, large numbers of disabled and deaf people were locked away and were largely kept out of sight and mind. It was accepted that rights to be part of the local landscape were limited for disabled people. It stands to reason that the larger number of heritage sites will be at the very least, in part, physically inaccessible, with no chance of change without modifications that would be detrimental to the infrastructure of the sites in question.
Within this context, barriers to fully understanding access, exist not only within the owners and proprietors of access sites, but are entrenched within attitudes in local urban councils. If access is thought about at all, it is largely understood in terms of physical access. What would be the point of even beginning to think about access to a 16th century site, for example, that involved having to make a deep descent down narrow and slippery stone steps? Disabled people would be dismissed out of hand. It’s a non-starter.
Changing attitudes takes several lifetimes – so trying to make some change in three years, at local and national level, is a pretty ambitious project for Creative Landscapes to take on board. In terms of welcoming disabled people Esther has seen it as a priority to gain the trust of individuals and groups of disabled and deaf people. Her first priority with Creative Landscapes has been to establish groups looking at ways of addressing access to Heritage Open Days events and taking part in creative arts residencies with deaf and disabled artists.
Liz Porter was employed as a Disability Advisor is to liaise with the steering groups and the commissioned disabled and deaf artists - looking at what can be done to improve access at heritage events. Having a disabled person in place has created a sense of trust that Creative Landscapes is committed to the values of welcoming disabled and deaf people. Her appointment meant that work on the brand, could begin to happen properly.
One of her first tasks was to comment on the brief for the Disability and Inclusion Member of the Heritage Open Days Steering Group. This clarified the steering group members’ roles in advising on access and advocating on behalf of the project within local networks of groups of deaf and disabled people.
Workshops in Gosport and Hastings in March 2010 had a focus on thinking about what can be done to improve access in specific scenarios at local heritage sites. People are involved in the steering groups because they represent cultural organisations or access organisations. But including disabled and deaf people in decision-making is fundamental to the values of Creative Landscapes. To this aim Disability Inclusion members were co-opted on to the steering groups.
These workshops were a first step in making sure local groups are registered and become part of national database. Linking with the National Scheme offers an online profile. Local groups get insurance cover and become part of a national scheme
The ambition is to use the experience of Creative Landscapes to influence HODs events at a national level; to look and think about building access provision into the development process; to encourage other groups to take access on board and become a model for other areas.
Creative Landscapes wants to encourage local communities and property owners to open up their historic sites in an accessible way. The process is about getting people to think about cultural and intellectual access; to think about how you can display things in different ways to make them accessible.
Three years is a short time to embed the achievements of the programme. Esther envisages that the work of the Creative Landscapes project will need to extend beyond 2012.
Heritage Open Days can show people what’s possible. Creative Landscapes will be a model to demonstrate what is possible. The programme is reaching out to local disabled and deaf people; giving individuals an opportunity to try something different. Local heritage is a tangible and grounded way of doing that. It is an accessible starting point because everybody can talk about some aspect of local life.
Creative Landscapes is about disability projects happening on the ground. It is about what artistic and cultural experiences local deaf and disabled people can have with connection to their local heritage.
Creative Landscapes has now commissioned deaf and disabled artists to create artwork, which will be showcased at Heritage Open Day events. Mandie Saw has been engaged to run a programme of participatory events in Gosport from May until September 2010.
To date Mandie has run a series of successful workshops with a group of mental health service users in partnership with the Discovery Centre in Gosport – with another three set to happen in July - advertised through the Discovery Centre brochure. It is interesting that several individuals have signed up who do not belong to an established disability or mental health group.
Mandie will create some of her own work in response to the work being made, which will be put on display during the Heritage Open Days planned for September. She is also on the Sync Programme. Esther Gill is pleased that leadership development and career development have both come together for Mandie out of Accentuate - so she can use this activity to develop her own practice.
Sally Booth and Lynn Weddle have likewise been commissioned to run participatory events in Hastings from June - September 2010. Again they will be making their own work in response around the Stade area of the town and in partnership with the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery and The Stade Education Project.
The Heritage Open Day programme in Hastings and Gosport from 9-12 September 2010 will begin to be more accessible. The important thing is to be clear about access – and what can and can’t be offered. Generally there will much more access information about all events.
There will be some BSL interpreted events. Creative Landscapes will be hiring ramps and some events will provide alternative printed information. There will also be more information about transport available. More coming from Our View soon!