Artwork for podcast Changing The World
World Changers: Becoming an ‘Irregular’ Art School
Episode 721st September 2022 • Changing The World • University of Leeds
00:00:00 00:20:47

Share Episode

Shownotes

Becoming an ‘Irregular’ Art School: Collaborating with learning disabled artists to innovate inclusive arts development and education

A new project at the University of Leeds is seeking to boost the recognition and celebration of learning disabled artists. Working closely with Leeds-based disability art studio Pyramid, it’s investigating ways to better support their professional artistic development. Lead researcher Jade French outlines the innovative and experimental ways the project brings together the worlds of arts practice and social care support.

Transcripts

Simone:

Research that changes lives.

Simone:

Four simple words, inspiring researchers at the University

Simone:

of Leeds to reshape the world.

Simone:

I am Professor Simone Buitendijk, since arriving at the University

Simone:

in 2020 as Vice-Chancellor.

Simone:

I've been amazed by the passion, creativity and ingenuity of the

Simone:

research community to make a difference.

Lucy:

Having the opportunity to exercise choice is really key to palliative care

Lucy:

and that individualised care that supports the person in the last few months of life.

Cristina:

We need to learn from the mistakes that we've made and we

Cristina:

need to learn from the instances where prevention atrocities work.

Leah:

I think the COVID-19 pandemic actually forced us to become a

Leah:

little bit more digitally literate.

Leah:

Although I do think we still have some room to kind of, continue growing.

Simone:

One of my priorities has been to learn more about the sheer

Simone:

range of research carried out by early career researchers at Leeds.

Simone:

They are the new generation of world changers people working tirelessly

Simone:

with communities and academics around the world on finding solutions to

Simone:

seemingly intractable problems.

Simone:

Over the course of this podcast series, I will be in conversation

Simone:

with those researchers.

Simone:

Join me as our World Changers described new discoveries and

Simone:

approaches that will make the world a better and more equitable place

Simone:

to live.

Simone:

It's about research that changes lives.

Simone:

Welcome to this latest World Changers podcast.

Simone:

In this edition, we will be exploring ways artists with learning disabilities

Simone:

can be brought into the mainstream arts world.

Simone:

The last two decades have seen a growth in inclusive arts practice.

Simone:

Last year, collective of learning disabled and Neurodivergent

Simone:

artists were nominated for the Turner Prize.

Simone:

Despite that notable achievement, many learning disabled artists

Simone:

still experienced barriers and inequalities.

Simone:

Joining me to explore this topic is Dr.

Simone:

Jade French, lecturer from the School of Fine Arts,

Simone:

History of Arts and Cultural Studies at Leeds.

Simone:

Jade is a world changer who's leading research around the development

Simone:

of what she describes as an irregular art school at the University.

Simone:

The aim of the research is to identify ways of supporting the professional

Simone:

development, of learning disabled artists and to help them get established.

Simone:

Jade, thank you for joining me on the podcast.

Jade:

Hi. Thank you so much.

Simone:

Hi. Thanks for being here.

Simone:

Maybe I can start by asking you about

Simone:

the definition of inclusive art practice.

Simone:

Can you describe what it is and how it's done?

Jade:

Yeah, of course.

Jade:

So interestingly,

Jade:

there's little kind of consolidated knowledge about

Jade:

when and how inclusive arts practice came around.

Jade:

But essentially, inclusive arts practice is a term used to describe

Jade:

the artwork and creative practice of learning disabled artists,

Jade:

and that is increasingly been taking place, particularly in the visual

Jade:

and performing arts.

Jade:

But crucially, this practice happened with the support

Jade:

of professional facilitators.

Jade:

So typically this means that artists without learning

Jade:

disabilities support learning disabled artists to create that work.

Jade:

And what that support and collaboration looks like can vary enormously.

Simone:

Can you describe for me the kind of issues or maybe even stigma,

Simone:

probably that learning disabled artists may face

Simone:

and how that could be in the way of getting their work recognised?

Jade:

Sure.

Jade:

So learning disabled sources continue to face

Jade:

a range of kind of obstacles and inequalities.

Jade:

So just to give a few examples, learning disabled artists

Jade:

often require the buy in and support of various arts and care professionals.

Jade:

And this support can be challenging to put into place and maintain.

Jade:

And it also kind of requires that the people supporting them

Jade:

see the value of that art in the first place.

Jade:

Also, lots of learning

Jade:

disabled artists also have to create their art within an art group context

Jade:

and lots of inclusive art studios, you know, they’re very group orientated.

Jade:

And what this means is that artists sometimes struggle to develop their

Jade:

individual practice or their individual profile beyond their studio group.

Jade:

And finally, I can know the kind of core inequality

Jade:

that I've certainly witnessed is around access to arts education,

Jade:

so lots of artists that you might encounter

Jade:

practicing contemporary art have been to art school, typically

Jade:

within a university and studying art in higher education,

Jade:

you know, it isn't just about getting that qualification in hand.

Jade:

You know, universities offer cool places where artists experiment

Jade:

with the practice and they generate peer groups of artists.

Jade:

And these form kind of core networks that artists use for their careers.

Jade:

I still collaborate with people that I met on my degree when I went to university.

Jade:

So at the moment,

Jade:

learning disabled artists do miss out on those kind of opportunity.

Simone:

Yeah, that's fascinating.

Simone:

I never really thought about that, but I do get it.

Simone:

What do you think is the biggest impediment or can you not say that?

Simone:

Is it either the fact that indeed their individual work

Simone:

is not being recognised, which I can imagine would be a great

Simone:

barrier to an artist's development?

Simone:

Or is it the fact that they miss out on those opportunities that that non-

Simone:

learning disabled artists

Simone:

almost naturally gets when they're going through these programs?

Jade:

Yeah, I think definitely more recently, it's a mixture between how support

Jade:

and care packages intersect with being an artist and also learning

Jade:

disabled artists, accessing those kind of established networks of artists.

Jade:

Like I said, art schools being one of them within universities

Jade:

and also artist led spaces

Jade:

being another which is one of the things we're looking at for my research.

Jade:

I'm really curious to find out how you got drawn into this

Jade:

area of research, what's in your life, your background led you to

Jade:

to research this particularly interesting area?

Jade:

It's a question I really get commonly asked as well.

Jade:

You know, how did you end up doing this work?

Jade:

So when I left school, I, I really wanted to work in the arts.

Jade:

I really wanted to be an artist.

Jade:

So I went and did a degree in photography and art,

Jade:

and then to kind of make ends meet while doing my degree

Jade:

and just after my degree, I needed kind of flexible work

Jade:

that I could do and I ended up getting a job

Jade:

as a support worker for learning disabled people.

Jade:

And at that time, I should say,

Jade:

being an artist and doing support work, they felt worlds apart.

Jade:

They felt completely separate in my mind.

Simone:

Yeah.

Jade:

And one day I was working in a day service,

Jade:

which is a place lots of learning

Jade:

disabled people go to spend their time during the day,

Jade:

and one of the arts and crafts people that ran sessions didn't turn up.

Jade:

And the care manager came over and said, “Oh, Jade, don't you study art.

Jade:

Don't you have a degree in art?

Jade:

Can you just do something with the residents? They're all here.

Jade:

They're all gathered round, you know, in the room, ready to do something.”

Jade:

And of course, you know, panic, panic, panic.

Jade:

One earth should I do?

Jade:

And eventually I ran a session and I absolutely loved it.

Jade:

And it's that moment where those pieces kind of clicked into place for me.

Jade:

I was like, okay, this is what I think I want to do.

Simone:

It's a wonderful story that's really great and it just shows

Simone:

how serendipitous and lot of those choices are for everybody.

Simone:

That's that's brilliant.

Simone:

So that was a while ago.

Jade:

Yeah. So that was around 2006.

Jade:

And critically at that time in 2001,

Jade:

there was a big white paper in the UK

Jade:

called Valuing People, and that was the first white paper

Jade:

from the UK government that really looked at

Jade:

thinking about support for learning disabled people in new ways.

Jade:

And a big a big part of that was personalisation.

Jade:

And that really looked at how do we personalise services

Jade:

for people and how do we make sure people are leading their own services, too?

Simone:

Yeah, that's that's clearly key how people and leading their own services

Simone:

and that's also part of your research, isn't it.

Simone:

So this may actually be a good point to tell me a bit about the research

Simone:

you're doing and and what you're hoping to achieve with it?

Jade:

As you mentioned in the introduction, the project is called Irregular

Jade:

Art Schools and which is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Jade:

So we began the research in February 2021,

Jade:

and the project essentially is thinking about

Jade:

what does professional development look like and feel like

Jade:

for learning disabled artists living in the Leeds City region?

Jade:

What did they want and what did they need in order to develop

Jade:

that creative practice?

Jade:

So for the project, we wanted to explore how the typical routes

Jade:

for artist development work or perhaps don't work for these artists.

Jade:

So looking at artist led spaces, routes of publishing,

Jade:

higher education, but also thinking about how social class support intersects.

Jade:

And with all these sectors and supports as well.

Jade:

Crucially, the project actually came around through conversations I was having

Jade:

with a local inclusive art studio called Pyramid, which is one of the oldest

Jade:

inclusive art studios in the UK, which I feel makes Leeds

Jade:

a particularly vibrant place for studying inclusive arts.

Simone:

I didn't know that about Leeds.

Simone:

That's actually really, really interesting.

Simone:

And why do you call

Simone:

it a irregular arts school?

Simone:

Why irregular?

Jade:

Yeah, a great question.

Jade:

So there's already interesting

Jade:

book by Professor Roger Slee who was actually appointed

Jade:

as a Diamond Jubilee chair in Disability and inclusion here at Leeds.

Jade:

And his book called The Irregular School,

Jade:

which is kind of like a provocation where he questions

Jade:

why they're continuing to think in terms of the regular school

Jade:

or the special school obstructs progress towards inclusive education.

Jade:

And I guess I came across that book and I shared it with Pyramid,

Jade:

who I work with for the research, and we kind of like the idea

Jade:

of how we might make the University of Leeds

Jade:

and other cultural spaces in Leeds irregular.

Simone:

And how are you going to do that?

Simone:

I really interested in figuring out what you're going to do

Simone:

with the University of Leeds to make it more irregular.

Simone:

I really like a concept, I think it’s brilliant.

Jade:

Yeah, so the research will explore different

Jade:

approaches and contexts for professional development

Jade:

with four learning disabled and neurodivergent artists

Jade:

who are Ria, Liam, Alfie and Victor along with Pyramid staff

Jade:

Alice, another Alice, Pete and James.

Jade:

So the project is split into various strengths and crucially it's

Jade:

an action research project, which means that we're working together

Jade:

to think about problems by actually trying things out in real life

Jade:

and in real time and to feedback from what we’ve learnt.

Jade:

So the first strand is we're actually collaborating with Assembly House,

Jade:

who are an artist gallery and studio space based in Leeds in the Armley area

Jade:

and Assembly House are a really kind of important type of space

Jade:

in most kind of cities and towns in that they're an artists led space.

Jade:

So the really important part of the arts ecology, I've been working with Pyramid

Jade:

and Assembly House since January and essentially we've been supporting artists

Jade:

from these quite different studios, quite contrasting studios, to work together

Jade:

to think about how studio environments might be more inclusive.

Jade:

And then the second strand of the project is going to be based in the school

Jade:

fine art history of art and cultural studies from this September.

Jade:

I'm really excited that we're going to be welcoming those four artists

Jade:

to work alongside our students in our studios at Leeds,

Jade:

and we'll also be doing some workshops with our students to think about.

Jade:

Now, what does it mean to practice in an art school?

Jade:

And you know, as we're going through curriculum redefined,

Jade:

I feel like it's a really kind of valuable opportunity to think through

Jade:

know pedagogically how do we teach art?

Jade:

How do we study art? And how can we do that to include a broader range of learners?

Jade:

And so I'm really excited about that.

Simone:

And I'm wondering.

Simone:

What your take is on this kind of art production

Simone:

and the study of this type of art also possibly, probably

Simone:

I don’t know, being beneficial for non learning disabled artists.

Simone:

Because I notice you mentioned curriculum redefined.

Simone:

I noticed as an educator that often when we're doing things

Simone:

for learning disabled students or other students,

Simone:

those interventions are often quite beneficial.

Simone:

Also for students who don't have those particular issues,

Simone:

is that your expectation?

Simone:

Jade that's when we put particular measures

Simone:

in place to remove barriers for learning

Simone:

disabled artists that those interventions

Simone:

would also benefit artists who may not need them as much?

Jade:

Yeah, so interestingly, lots of the artists that I work with

Jade:

don't always read and write in the traditional sense

Jade:

or even sometimes use like spoken language.

Jade:

So that of course raises some questions about what it means to study art,

Jade:

to even do assessments and participate in kind of education.

Jade:

And I think really interestingly, this is a great thing

Jade:

because I think it enables us to kind of unsettle and to readdress

Jade:

what are we actually teaching, what are we actually learning and

Jade:

what are the ways that we can best assess that within the university context?

Jade:

So I think this will benefit a huge range of learners,

Jade:

not just necessarily the artists from Pyramid.

Jade:

So it tends to be that lots of subjects, not just art,

Jade:

is quite text based and often involves lots of reading and writing,

Jade:

but pedagogically that might not always

Jade:

be the best method depending on what it is

Jade:

your studying.

Jade:

And there's lots of movements across higher education

Jade:

which are looking at things like the un-essay

Jade:

where we're trying to introduce, you know, different ways of assessing work

Jade:

and also supporting students to define their own assessments too.

Jade:

And that's something that I think in my experience,

Jade:

the kind of artists that I work with are extremely adept at.

Jade:

They don't navigate the World all the time through lots of text or lots of reading

Jade:

and are always having to come up with really new

Jade:

and different ways to express themselves.

Jade:

And I think that would benefit lots of people who are at university.

Simone:

And maybe even students in completely different subjects,

Simone:

you can totally imagine engineering students or design students

Simone:

or probably many others who could benefit from different ways of assessing.

Simone:

Have you already seen any outcomes of this collaboration yet?

Simone:

What's your timeline?

Simone:

When can we expect to to be able to see?

Simone:

Or maybe use and touch what's coming out of this?

Jade:

Yeah.

Jade:

So in August

Jade:

this year, we're going to be having a kind of informal exhibition

Jade:

at Assembly House which will share the first strand of the research

Jade:

and what we've learned from collaborating with Assembly House.

Jade:

And then from September, the artists from Pyramid

Jade:

will be working with us in the art school until February,

Jade:

and we're hoping to have some kind of open studio

Jade:

or maybe exhibition or event at the end of that period to share

Jade:

kind of what we've done and what we've learned.

Jade:

So that that's something I'm looking forward to as well.

Simone:

That's really brilliant.

Simone:

Yeah. I can't wait.

Simone:

I’m definately going to come and take a look.

Simone:

So another question I had is this about funding

Simone:

and the support that is needed to make these things happen.

Simone:

And one of the issues

Simone:

that you've identified in your research and in your work is how art

Simone:

and the social care sectors connect to support learning

Simone:

disabled students.

Simone:

But I can also imagine that on occasion these systems are

Simone:

too separate and it's actually not working.

Simone:

Where do you see barriers to funding or maybe other issues

Simone:

that could be in the way of making these initiatives a success?

Jade:

Yeah.

Jade:

So the ideal model for personalisation is that a person's

Jade:

car is led by them and that does require quite a lot of time and investment.

Jade:

So that's increasingly difficult I think, to do in the kind of current landscape

Jade:

that we're in.

Jade:

But I also think there's challenges in how being an artist is understood

Jade:

across different contexts, across all on social care.

Jade:

And this was kind of brilliantly described by one of the artists,

Jade:

as she said “Art isn't just something that I do on a Tuesday morning.

Jade:

Being an artist is who I am.”

Jade:

And I think here we can kind of see these quite different

Jade:

ideas of what it means to be an artist,

Jade:

which has implications, of course, and how that practice might be supported.

Simone:

I can totally see that's a really important point

Simone:

and as as a world changer, because that's what we call the people

Simone:

who've written me these brilliant essays, and you're one of them.

Simone:

And what what could be the wider ramifications of this research?

Simone:

How could you see it go beyond what you're doing right now at the University of Leeds?

Jade:

For me, I would obviously I'd love to see the higher education sector

Jade:

become more inclusive for learning disabled people.

Jade:

Of course, recognising we already do, of course, have disabled staff and students.

Jade:

But there are of course other disabled people because if they have many more

Jade:

significant support needs aren't able at the moment to study at university.

Jade:

So I would love to see that

Jade:

maybe a project like this can show that there are real benefits

Jade:

actually to really try and challenge who's able to kind of study at HE.

Jade:

And although this would kind of be quite a significant investment

Jade:

in disability and maybe more broadly in support services, I think

Jade:

actually the outcomes of that would be those really exciting

Jade:

pedagogical questions which, you know, we discussed.

Jade:

And I guess in terms of research, I would really like to see

Jade:

learning disabled research as being much more prevalent.

Jade:

Often learning disabled people are seen as participants in research

Jade:

rather than as leaders of research with their own agendas.

Jade:

And that's something that I hope that this project was very much came

Jade:

about through the conversations and the urgencies that Pyramid

Jade:

had as an inclusive art studio, and they very much came to me

Jade:

with their challenges to collaborate with me as a researcher.

Jade:

So hopefully like to see more of that happening as well.

Simone:

Yeah, that's so wonderful.

Simone:

What a great vision.

Simone:

And then can, can I ask you as as the final question,

Simone:

where you think the whole area of inclusive arts may be heading?

Simone:

What is your your grand vision for the future?

Simone:

In the ten years that I've done inclusive arts,

Simone:

you know, when I first started, you know, there were lots of studios around

Simone:

supporting this type of work, but people didn't really know they existed.

Simone:

And that artwork wasn't often exhibited in galleries or museums.

Simone:

And now that's certainly changed.

Simone:

And learning disabled artists are winning major art prizes

Simone:

and are exhibiting at biennials and things like that.

Simone:

But where I would like to see things go now, I think is

Simone:

I would look to see different leadership models in the arts sector start to emerge,

Simone:

which are inspired by inclusive arts practice.

Simone:

So I would like to see learning disabled people

Simone:

being paid curators, gallery programmers, managers, directors.

Simone:

And this would again

Simone:

mean we would need to unsettle what we think leadership should look like.

Simone:

And I think that would mean generating different models, perhaps co

Simone:

leadership models or introducing facilitatory roles.

Simone:

But you know, in my experience,

Simone:

inclusion always necessitates radical transformation.

Simone:

Those are, I think, great finishing words for this

Simone:

really interesting conversation.

Simone:

Thank you so much, Jade.

Simone:

And huge compliments on the work you're doing.

Simone:

And I'm really proud that you're part of the University of Leeds

Simone:

and I'm sure you will have many successes in years to come.

Simone:

And I mean, I want to come and visit and see what's happening.

Simone:

So thanks a lot.

Simone:

This was a really great conversation.

Jade:

Thank you so much.

Jade:

Thank you for listening to this podcast from the University of Leeds, to find out

Jade:

more about the work of our early career researchers and to read essays written by

Jade:

World Changer researchers, please go to the World Changers page on the University

Jade:

website, details can be found in the information that accompanies this podcast.

Links