Home for Waifs and Strays have announced a new open call in partnership with disability led arts organisation DASH and The Herbert Museum & Art Gallery in Coventry. Live Screen will produce a new platform for 4 artists who find it difficult to leave their homes because of a physical/mental impairment or disability.


The commissioned pieces will be live streamed from the artists’ homes and projected onto a large screen at the Herbert Museum & Art Gallery on 16 March 2018.

Each selected artist will receive mentoring from an individual who has experience working in the arts and with disabled artists. The mentors are consultant Mandy Fowler, artist Tanya Rabbe-Webber, artist and producer Ben Fredericks and New Art West Midlands Director Craig Ashley.

Each artist will also receive a fee of £1000 plus help towards accessibility costs and materials.

More detail on the project and application process can be found here.

Applications close at midnight on 10 December 2017.

Home for Waifs and Strays have just announced a new open call in partnership with disability led arts organisation DASH and The Herbert Museum & Art Gallery in Coventry.

Room7 curators

Room7 is a new curatorial collective that has arisen from the MA in Art History and Curating at the University of Birmingham. Its members come from Staffordshire and the Black Country, as well as Leicester, London, Peterborough, Denmark and Latvia.

FLUX, their first exhibition together, opens on 2 June at Centrala and features work by artists from across the region: Mark Houghton, James Lomax, Anna Parker and Zoe Robertson. The exhibition runs until 10 June. The exhibition has been developed in partnership with the University of Birmingham and Grand Union.

We spoke to Room7 to find out more about their aspirations for the project.

 

 

Room7 curators

 

 

Can you tell me about the process of developing the exhibition, both logistically and thematically?

An open call was sent out by Grand Union in the summer of 2016, asking for submissions of art works made in any media that was to be exhibited as part of a new collaboration between Grand Union and the University of Birmingham.

We began developing the exhibition by creating a long-list of submissions that we felt would complement and respond each other, in relation to multidisciplinary practices. Alongside this, the themes of body and its relationship to space and tactility manifested as the key themes of the exhibition. Even though the call out was for West Midlands artists we had submissions from most parts of the UK, making the selection process about logistics as well as artistic practice.

We are proud to say that we supported artists in the production of new work for FLUX.

How did you select the artists and what are the relationships between their different practices?

We went on studio visits that helped us to narrow down our selection and find out more about physical and practical aspects of the artworks, as well as meeting artists to develop relationships. We found fascinating the fact that our short listed artists all worked in different media and professions, which would make for an interesting dialogue within the gallery space. For example, this is the first time Intervention Architecture has been a part of an art exhibition.

You are producing a publication for the exhibition. What are your aspirations for this text?

We worked with Rope Press to develop a handout and poster for the exhibition. The handout offers a short introduction to each artist along with an exhibition statement. In producing written material about the artists it has been important to us to merge the artists’ own conceptions with our interpretations as a curatorial collective. This relationship has created opportunities for learning and an exploration of individual practices, and it is our hope that the handout will reflect this process.

We are currently also working with graphic designer Mollie Wade to produce a catalogue; the catalogue is thought of as an ‘echo’ of the whole project, and will be published shortly after the exhibition closes.
It is thought to be an extension of the visual and written interpretation of the exhibition and the work we have been doing with the artists. A big part of our ethos as a collective is to offer opportunities to young artists and professionals. Mollie has recently graduated from the University of Lincoln, and it is therefore a great pleasure for us to work with her and help her develop her portfolio as well.

Tell me more about the symposium you have planned on the final day of the exhibition.

The idea of hosting a symposium came quite naturally to us. Forming our collective we had to think about how we wanted to define our practice and an important part of that was to make the art available on multiple platforms. Thanks to generous funding from the University of Birmingham we were able to realise this idea.

Hosting a symposium has made us able to invite interesting speakers and of course present a platform for our four artists to express their ideas and thoughts on the project, and thereby the symposium will acts as an extension of the dialogue presented in FLUX. We will aim for an informal atmosphere where everyone can participate in discussions and debates about the contemporary art scene in the West
Midlands.

The symposium is hosted in Centrala on the 10 June and will start at 5pm. The programme includes a workshop and talks by Cheryl Jones, Director at Grand Union, and Craig Ashley, Director of New Art West Midlands. Tickets are sold via Eventbrite.

Room7 are:
Aelita Galevska: Liepaja, Latvia
Bethany Williams: Peterborough, UK
Jessica Pollington: London, UK
Katrine Stenum: Aarhus, Denmark
Laura Bishop: Staffordshire, UK
Stephen Kirk: The Black Country, UK
Olivia Myatt: Leicester, UK

 

Room7 is a new curatorial collective that has arisen from the MA in Art History and Curating at the University of Birmingham. We speak to Room7 to find out more about their aspirations for their first exhibition FLUX.

Anna Berndtson, Self Stress Relief (Performance, 2015). Image Hannah Levy.

Disability, diversity and the institutional gatekeepers of the mainstream.

Ahead of next month’s Awkward Bastards II symposium at mac birmingham, New Art West Midlands’ Director Craig Ashley shares his thoughts in praise of awkwardness and on making a creative case for diversity for our region and beyond.

Anna Berndtson, Self Stress Relief (Performance, 2015). Image Hannah Levy.

On Thursday 12 March 2015 the eagerly anticipated Awkward Bastards symposium arrived at the Midlands Arts Centre (mac) in Birmingham. Commissioned by the Disability Arts organisation DASH to rethink ideas around diversity, the event took place in mac’s main theatre auditorium with accompanying exhibitions and performances happening across the busy public spaces and galleries of the arts centre. With contributions from artists, academics, curators and historians, the programme explored different perspectives on the current state of Disability Arts, and the wider subject of diversity in the mainstream.

In planning the symposium with my co-organiser and collaborator Mike Layward, Director at DASH, we set about foregrounding a conversation about what constitutes the mainstream, and how it is constituted in the realm of the arts and culture. We talked at length about the absence of Disability Arts from the institutionally-shaped canon of artistic movements, and the problems with defining oneself as a disabled artist – the perceived challenges such an association might present, and the possible barriers that may inadvertently be put in place.

At the same time I was developing a retrospective exhibition of the work of the Manchester-based artist Qasim Riza Shaheen, which showed at mac in the autumn of 2014.  The curatorial approach explored ‘awkwardness’ as an alternative critical framework in which to situate a body of work that had been largely classified and typecast as queer.  Awkwardness presented an opportunity to readdress the artist’s work without the baggage of a highly loaded term, and to consider it more in relation to an engagement with the audience – a difficult transaction or encounter within the mainstream, rather than a limited and unchallenging position outside of it.

Awkwardness therefore appealed as an alternative starting point for a symposium tasked with rethinking ideas around diversity.  This shift or transference of focus, from the difference or impairment of the artist to the audience and the passively observed conventions of the mainstream arts experience, was a critical point to locate in the debate.  The social quality of awkwardness seemed to us to be readily aligned with the social model of disability – a recognition that disability is an unhelpful construct of society, rather than an objective diagnosis of psychological, physical or sensory ability relative to the external world in which we live.  Extended to the wider territory of diversity in the arts, and appropriated as a social model for the purpose of this discussion, awkwardness provided the neutral ground upon which to begin a new conversation, one that reflected upon and scrutinised the societally-defined context of the arts environment, alongside the concerns of artists that were centred largely on identity, self-definition and classification.

We felt there was a question around legitimacy that also needed to be framed as part of the conversation, to acknowledge the historical context of exclusion and subsequent civil rights action in Britain during the post-war period.  In his appropriately provocative symposium title, Awkward Bastards, Mike Layward referenced legitimacy, or rather a perception that groups or individuals operating outside of the mainstream were considered in some way illegitimate, or otherwise implicated as bastards by the establishment.

Our public-facing arts organisations and agencies, acting as intermediaries between the artist and the audience, tend also to be the institutional gatekeepers, tastemakers and trendsetters with a significant and collective influence upon the mainstream.  Is it possible, we wondered, to dispel the perceived correlation between legitimacy and the mainstream, or is it necessary to continue to broaden the mainstream to include the last of the outsiders?

For those who had travelled to attend Awkward Bastards from across the UK, as well as the many viewers online who had tuned in to receive the live broadcast, there were perhaps no real surprises amongst the evidence and experiences presented throughout the day.  Speakers echoed time and again the widely-held view that there is still much work to be done in creating equitable opportunities around leadership and access in the arts, as indeed there is across society more generally.

However, despite the familiar and persisting challenges associated with diversity in the cultural industries, the overarching tone of the symposium was a hopeful one.  A shared sense of optimism accompanied the difficult conversations about representation and inclusion, and mainstream arts organisations were positively acknowledged on the whole for continuing their work in beginning to shift the institutional ground in relation to matters of gender, race, class and disability.  Slow though it may be, progress was happening and seen to be happening on a number of fronts.

Referred to frequently on the day was Arts Council England’s Creative Case for Diversity, an initiative that speaks about the need for diversity in the mainstream.  The Creative Case, the shortened name by which it has become known, has located diversity as a strategic goal for each of the 684 arts organisations currently in receipt of regular funding – the National Portfolio Organisations and Major Partner Museums.  Between 2015 and 2018 diversity is firmly cited by Arts Council as ‘a key issue in relation to the programming and audiences, leadership and workforce of all our funded organisations.’[1]

In the introduction to her short presentation about her own personal history of diversity in the arts, connected to the Blk Art Group and the Black arts movement in the UK, the artist and curator Marlene Smith declared her belief in revolution and made the following provocation: ‘It is an open secret that our cultural infrastructure was founded upon and still rests on a tower of elitism. In the UK we cling for dear life to the old order, pay lip service to the notion of change and quake in our boots at the thought and consequences of revolution.’[2]

Whether the Creative Case will be effective in helping to bring about a revolution, and demolish the so-called ‘elitist tower’, remains to be seen.  Clearly it will take some time to measure the impact of the current endeavours in affecting change, and navigate the resistance that it will face.  Nevertheless, the determination of Arts Council and others to address diversity at a national and strategic level is surely a good thing.  From the artists and the artworks commissioned, to staff and the contractors employed, there appears now to be a concerted effort to move beyond a superficial addressing of diversity – a move away from the purely project-based model that would often see activity delivered by and for ‘diverse groups’ in isolation, to an earnest dialogue that recognises the value of a wider set of perspectives and cultural experiences as integral and mutually beneficial.

This is perhaps an overly optimistic note on which to end.  Events such as Awkward Bastards all too often conclude in a positive manner with groups of likeminded people agreeing cheerfully that the world is a slightly better place than it was at the beginning of the day.  As a sector and as a society, we do need to be watchful and vigilant, to be certain that progress continues to be made, but also to ensure that the intricacies and complexities of culture – not just its reductive facets and features – are acknowledged, respected and made visible.  The sentiment of the Japanese author and novelist Jun’ichirō Tanizaki resonates here. In his 1933 essay In Praise of ShadowsI [3], the reader is invited to consider the nuanced qualities between light and darkness, and to appreciate the subtleties within the shade.  While these passive observations allow us to monitor change from a distance, there is a need for activism and intervention too – and here the merits of awkwardness as a catalyst for change should be recognised and applauded. By taking a position of awkwardness, we are empowered to ask difficult questions, to challenge the legitimate ground where it is assumed or outmoded, and to propose alternative territories for the mainstream.

In Praise of Awkwardness is one of 3 essays featured in The Incorrigibles: Perspectives on Disability Visual Arts in the 20th and 21st Centuries, a new publication from DASH available to purchase here. DASH Director Mike Layward has served on the Advisory Group committee for New Art West Midlands since November 2016.

[1] Arts Council England. 2014. Creative Case for Diversity 2015-18. [Online]. [Accessed 2 June 2016]. Available from: http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/

[2] Smith, M. 2015. Rethinking Diversity. [Online]. 12 March, mac (Midlands Arts Centre), Birmingham. Awkward Bastards symposium. DASH and mac. [Accessed 2 June 2016]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2F-uw0yJPpc

[3] Tanizaki, J. 1933. In Praise of Shadows. London: Vintage Classics.

Ahead of next month’s Awkward Bastards II symposium at mac birmingham, Craig Ashley shares thoughts in praise of awkwardness and the creative case for diversity for our region and beyond.