Creative Minds North

Creative Minds brings together learning disabled artists and performers and a range of people from the wider arts world to look at quality, leadership, inclusion and collaboration. On 15 June Outside In’s Artist Coordinator Hannah Whitlock attended the fourth Creative Minds conference, which was held in Manchester. In this blog post Hannah shares her experience of the conference.

Creative Minds North is the fourth regional disability led conference in the UK produced by Carousel and Venture Arts in collaboration with organisations across the region: Mind The Gap, DIY Theatre, Lawnmower Theatre, Tin Arts, More Music, Dark Horse Theatre, Blue Room at the Bluecoat Gallery, Prism Arts and Headway Arts.

The conference discussed in various ways, how art is created by learning disabled people and the way this art is talked about, created and presented.

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An introduction to the conference

There were key questions that the conference wanted to look at answering, these were:

– How do we create great art?

– What does the term professional mean?

– How can the work be best described and discussed?

– How can we help the wider arts world to commission work?

The Creative Minds conference was the busiest I’ve been to, it was great to meet new artists, organisations and be a part of a conference entirely led by the artists.

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Artist Horace Lindezey with questions from the conference attendees

Throughout the day there were various talks by groups and workshops to sign up for. The first workshop I attended was run by Mind the Gap Theatre Group called ‘What is good art?’ This was an interactive exploration of what we mean by great art and how people respond to criticism.

During this workshop we observed a scene created by Mind The Gap performers that represented the difficulties of giving and receiving criticism, particularly in relation to learning disability arts. Together we explored and question what we mean by ‘great art’ and how we can give and respond to criticism in a productive and useful way. Here we were able to reflect on how important it is to be honest with feedback. The performers often feel patronised when given feedback which is often ‘fake’ to ‘not hurt their feelings’. The message I took from this, was to ask questions, give your honest feedback, what did you like? what could be better? It is important to treat everyone the same.

A highlight during the conference was hearing from Jez Colborne, an actor and musician. He told us of all the different projects and theatre productions that he has been involved with. “Look at my ability, not my disability!” Jez performed his music, some inspired by his love of protesting, such as ‘Fight for your Right’ and ‘Sound of the Sirens’

Here is the music videos for Jez’s song ‘I’m Me’:

Sarah Gordy gave a powerful presentation around challenging the media. She thinks there should be a more positive reflection of people with learning disabilities within what the media portrays. Most television programme focus on the problem that disability may bring, she hopes to see that in the future there are roles for people with learning disabilities where they don’t focus on the disability at all. Sarah Gordy is an actor who has featured in Upstairs Downstairs and Call the Midwife.

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Sarah Gordy gives her presentation

In the afternoon I attended ‘Breaking down the walls’ workshop led by Venture Arts and The Blue Room. This workshop focused on re-thinking contemporary visual arts spaces to be more inclusive of work by learning disabled artists and discussions around the labeling of the work.

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A gallery installation in the ‘Breaking Down the Walls’ workshop

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Work created during the ‘Breaking Down the Walls’ workshop

Overall, the conference raised some important points, from galleries to be more accessible for everyone and that then reflecting that the language used in galleries should be for everyone. Amanda Sutton from Venture Arts shared that we have a responsibility to show art in galleries for the public to see. At Outside In, we want to challenge the art world with what is normally shown in art galleries. I think there is a long way to go to implement changes, for people to value this work alongside traditional art. During the day there was a space where this can be discussed openly as equals, and we heard from those affected. It was a day to celebrate the greatness of art, in different forms, to come together and tackle these issues for the greater good. Karen Flood from First Step passionately told the audience “Believe in yourself. Don’t let people knock you down. We can do it together”.

Visit the Creative Minds website

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