Holly Thomas shares her experience at Unlimited Connects South West

TB Agent Holly Thomas attended Unlimited Connects South West at Salisbury Arts Centre on 18th October. Here she reflects on her experience.

I recently attended Unlimited Connects for arts sector organisations and individuals, at Salisbury Arts Centre. 

The event was hosted by Wiltshire Creative, a Salisbury based ‘pan-arts’ organisation and Unlimited, an arts commissioning programme enabling new work by disabled artists to reach UK and international audiences. 

Entitled Does Size Matter? the topic for the day was: How can small and large organisations learn from each other? A day of provocations, discussion and encounter, in a relaxed atmosphere. 

The day started with a panel discussion, facilitated by Jo Verrant, senior producer at Unlimited. Jo was joined by; David Dixon (Chapel Arts Studio), Jo Newman (Salisbury Arts Centre) and Shawanda Corbett (Disabled Artist and PhD student)

Questions that were mulled over included:

  • Are small arts and cultural organisations more open to actively making access happen rapidly for disabled artists than larger institutions?
  • Do larger organisations lack flexibility or willingness?
  • How can we learn to scale up change more quickly?

 

The panel discussed:

Physical access and profile:

The panel discussed physical access to buildings, recognising that larger organisations often have the resources and infrastructure to enable such access whereas this can pose a greater challenge for smaller organisations and venues.  The reach and profile of larger organisations was also discussed. 

Organisational culture, risk taking and communication: 

On the flip side it was noted that smaller organisations feel less constrained by funding requirements and bureaucratic processes.  Some disabled artists had experienced a greater ‘diversity of thinking’, a culture of responsiveness, and sense freedom to push boundaries when working in smaller organisations. Engagement tended to be straight forward as individuals within small organisations were in direct conversation with artists about their work rather than information being ‘passed up the chain’ with artists left wondering ‘Who is speaking for me?’.

The panel closed with a discussion around cultures of learning and making mistakes, about exchanges of learning between large and smaller organisations and about an Unlimited initiative where individual disabled artists work alongside specific venues as ‘Agents for Change’. 

 

Pitch and Mix: 

After a short break we were invited to a Pitch and Mix session where five artists pitched their shows to delegates, including programmers from arts organisations.

Jo Mackey from Circumference pitched on behalf of Jamie Beddard from Extraordinary Bodies, for their work Delicate – a circus theatre show about the vulnerability that makes us beautiful, but which we try so hard to hide.  

Bim Ajadi and Anna Beresford pitched Here not herea hip hop film and live dance theatre work written by Jonzi D.

Hot Coals Theatre pitched Knock Knock and spoke about how they use visual Foley, vibration and creative captions to make visual theatre.

Dave Young, the Shouting Mute, pitched Grow Up and Just Love Chocolate – a poetic journey about a young man working out how to live his life.

Byron Vincent presented Instagramming the Apocalypse – a comedic solo performance. ‘Who do you trust when the news is fake, your partner is cheating on you and global politics is an exploding clown car?

I really enjoyed this part of the day and was struck by the diversity of approaches and forms of the work that was pitched.    

The day closed with a facilitated networking session. Whilst many delegates headed off, I was able to  speak with Jo Verrant about my work as a dance artist in Bristol and the work of visually impaired artists in the sector.  

A final surprise game!     

As the day drew to a close, a small group of remaining delegates began to gather around a table.  

I made my way over and participated in a game of ‘Cards for Inclusion‘. 

On the table were three, neatly arranged piles of cards, each with their own category:  What, Where and Barrier. One card from each pile, was then turned over to reveal: 

What – A Guided Tour

Where – In an apartment

Barrier: – We need to move 

It was then our job as to suggest solutions to remove the identified barrier.

Whilst initial suggestions were tentative it was not long before everyone was coming up with ideas:

‘Design the guided tour in a ‘smart apartment’ set up with access technologies that enable participation without the need to move’

‘Could tour guides bring the exhibits to the audience?’  

‘Provide assistance or PA tickets to enable access to the tour’ 

‘Create a virtual tour’ 

‘Consult disabled patrons during the planning of the event about accessibility’

‘ Use a conveyor belt, like the Generation Game!’

This game was for me one of the highlights of day as creative possibilities began to flow and the fear of ‘getting it wrong’ dissipated as each player brought a different suggestion or solution to the table.

What I came away with: 

  • An appreciation of the value of sharing time with other disabled artists and having opportunities to hear about other artists’ work. 
  • Thoughts around visual impairment, access and representation in the arts sector. 
  • Questions about how choices are made around programming within large and small organisations. 
  • The value of games and their potential to dissolve barriers, in their many forms!
  • Then workshops, facilitated networking, artists pitches and a showcase that didn’t happen.
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