Piloting inclusive arts consultation at Sense Arts

During April and May 2019 I’ve been working with Sense Arts and have created a sensory sculpture in collaboration with the Sense community and Swoomptheeng as part of their inclusive arts consultation.

Below is a blog post written by Stephanie Tyrrell, National Arts Manager who tells us more about Sense Arts.

What’s it all about?
In late 2018, Sense Arts were delighted to get funding from Arts Council of England to develop a strategic arts plan for the next phase of inclusive arts at TouchBase Pears.They want the strategy to reference the ethos and practice that they’re passionate about and showcase to the fullest, the talents of those they’re nurturing through this programme.Their goal is to create artists and participants with complex disabilities as leaders in the sector and to inspire other disabled and non-disabled artists to work more inclusively.

How are we involving the people we support?

“We want the people we support to be at the heart of our arts plan and be a part of an in-depth consultation about what we should do.”

Of course, part of that consultation includes thinking about how we involve with people with complex disabilities in the process, without it being tokenistic, and help them to use their experiences to design what they want from Sense’s arts programme.This gave us a wonderful opportunity to gain insight into what and how people wanted to be involved in art making and for us to pilot some new techniques so everyone can connect and share the experience equally.We were able to reflect and evaluate how people approach new materials, meet artists share with the community, take lead in their own experience, set the pace of their collaboration and define the space they need to connect.The design elements created during the consultation will inform the main visual design of our arts plan and will be turned into a interactive sculpture at TouchBase Pears. This will mean the whole community , including people with complex disabilities can experience the collaborative process and art making at Sense.

How did we do it?

We knew we wanted to worked with artists whose work is sensory, interactive , high quality and most importantly inclusive to everyone. We also wanted to work with local artists and bring in new practices to Sense and TouchBase, so we piloted bringing different artists and their practices together – including music, visual arts and sculpture. The consultation ended up being two parts:

  • The first involved the people we support experiencing and making artwork together with arts collective Swoomptheeng. and their Daance Maast.
  • The second part involved reflecting on that experience with artists Zoe Robertson, who is an award-winning artist who creates experiential and immersive experiences for audience to actively take part in.

The first stage…

Swoomptheeng brought the Dance Maast – a multiplayer, sensory music writing machine for groups to use to collaborate together and play beats! People sat in a circle around the mast and pressed push buttons to trigger sounds and vibrations. Anyone could join in at any time and create their own piece of music. People responded well to the range of sounds, visual feedback and vibrations via subpac vests.

One of our lead artists collaborating with Zoe was Paul Hicken, who is supported by Sense and is a keen visual artist. Paul loved experiencing the Dance Maasst and reflecting on his experience with Zoe. This approach gave him time to meet new people, make music and vibrations, and share what this was like.This process was about valuing everyone’s different contributions in an inclusive way – the very foundation of how we want to approach consultation

The second stage…

Once people had experienced music making together, they then worked with Zoe to capture moments and generate ideas for the inclusive arts plan. Working with Zoe, Paul and the other participants explored different materials, explored art making, and responded to actions and sounds.Paul would indicate his favourite sounds, recognise other people making music with him, play with sounds, then manipulate materials with Zoe to replicate that experience. Zoe will take Paul’s marks and amplify this in the design of the arts plan and on the final sculpture for TouchBase Pears.

What was the end result?

After the two days of consultation, Zoe commented on that she felt a deep sense of connections with participants and with Paul and that there was a strong ‘dialogue’ through making, eye contact and touch

By the end of the two days, we had over 6 metres of work, which will form the main design ideas for the arts plan and inclusive sculpture. We had lots of fantastic feedback.

We hope this piece will demonstrate on investment in promoting creativity and contributions of deafblind and disabled artists. Special thanks to Arts Council of England for supporting the project and thank you to the staff at Sense, TouchBase Pears , Zoe Robertson , Paul Hicken, the Swooptheeng, Sima Gonsai, Ruth Richardson and all of the participants and Sense support staff.

What’s next?

This consultation process, alongside the learning we have from the Sense Arts programmes, will be combined over the next month to create a new strategy for Sense Arts. This will detail what we want to achieve and how we will achieve this.From the consultation we’ve decided to call our plan ‘Space to be Different’. This came about from reflecting on people’s processes and recognising that to connect people with complex disabilities to arts, we need to further evaluate access to arts, create a bigger, bolder space for all contributions to be celebrated and define our methods and processes.

We want to create further visibility and enriching arts and cultural experiences for people with complex disabilities to become artists and creative leaders‘Space to be Different’ will be installed at TouchBase Pears from 27 May, and we’ll be launching the inclusive arts plan on 13 June.