Infinite Melody, Still, Edie Jo Murray.

Infinite Melody, Still, Edie Jo Murray.

The AD:Vantage Leadership Programme is a development programme with a focus on d/Deaf, disabled or neurodivergent people who work in arts, culture or heritage in Coventry. A pilot project funded by Coventry City Council, it has been running since September 2020. The programme has consisted of group learning sessions, workshops, ‘How I Did It’ insights with industry experts, 1-2-1 support and mentoring from a chosen industry specialist. It is based on the producers’ two previous programmes RE:Present and ASTONish which worked to support diversity in all its forms including race, disability, gender and sexuality. The programme has also featured a series of Masterclasses open to the public with speakers including, Andrew Miller MBE, Kris Halpin and Shawanda Corbett and which can be viewed here. 

We caught up with the cohort (artists Ayesha Jones, Jazz Moreton, Helen Kilby Nelson, Hayley Williams-Hindle and Edie Jo Murray) about the experience:

What made you want to apply to the AD:Vantage programme? 

Ayesha Jones: Because I had been struggling with the formal aspects of working within the arts e.g. writing applications, leading meetings at work, organising my workload, understanding what I needed to do and how to execute what needed to do.

Jazz Moreton: I felt a bit lost in a massive art world. Several people recommended that I apply, so I took their advice.

Helen Kilby Nelson: The programme was timely in relation to recent developments in my practice, and I recognised that the opportunity to learn and develop leadership skills would be invaluable to equip me with the tools to ensure I have a sustainable practice.

Hayley Williams-Hindle: It was a timely opportunity, and it came on the back of having had other leadership training in recent years that was aimed at a broader demographic. I felt that I could gain a lot from a training programme like AD:Vantage, that promised to be tailored and mindful of the particular challenges and cultural communication differences that ‘neurodiverse’ and disabled artists live with. There was some trepidation, but also excitement at being part of a pilot project, a new model of nuanced and culturally empathic working practice.

Edie Jo Murray: I was most excited to be connected with other creatives in Coventry. It really helps to have a good network of other artists around you, and sometimes it can be hard to make those connections, especially if you’re not able to attend events in person. I’ve been really grateful for the relationships I’ve made through AD:Vantage.

Motherland, Ayesha Jones.


What has been your biggest take away from the programme?

Ayesha Jones: I think the most useful thing about this process is being exposed to information which helps us understand the structure we are operating in (the arts) and then how we function within that to make it work for us and our goals. The analysing of my past, present and future has helped carve a clearer path and given more meaning to why I am doing what I am doing, rather than just going through the motions. That self awareness and understanding of surroundings naturally facilitates self confidence and clarity.

In order to reach higher positions you need to be exposed to the right information in order to understand how to get there or how to operate when opportunities come your way. As someone who processes information better visually, it was great to have visual tasks and presentations to help absorb the information that was being given.

Jazz Moreton: How important it is to have a good network!

Helen Kilby Nelson: It helped me learn new skills and recognise the skills I already had, and how to use them to their full advantage. My biggest takeaway is valuing myself, time and skills! 

Hayley Williams-Hindle: The reminder that growth and development is a process, and that that is ok!  The take-away for me, apart from all the specific industry nuggets, is a measure of renewed hope – That understanding and integration of ideas and concepts can happen organically when a person centred approach to development is used. I hardly think it’s just my experience, but very often when new material is presented in typical format and settings, there is little consideration given to how that information is absorbed and how it will be integrated and become practical knowledge for the learners, beyond the basics of offering instrumental tools like larger font size or dimmed room lights. For many people, it is the more thoughtful and nuanced work of contextualising and describing that makes information truly useful. I think of it as demonstrating the world building of the ‘insider’. Programmes like this serve to expand hope that true accessibility is possible where there is a will to work out what that means for each person.

Edie Jo Murray: That the biggest challenges for me are different to what I thought they were! This programme fully made me completely reassess who I am and what I want to achieve, and what things I need to work on – in a good way. It’s definitely helped me to (re)define the direction I want to take next.

Pilot I apostrophe. Still003, Helen Kilby Nelson.


How have you/have you collaborated with others on the programme outside the sessions?

Ayesha Jones: I have been speaking with Hayley about how I can support her and her work through my role at the Belgrade Theatre. I also emailed the group for their feedback on an idea I had for work.

Jazz Moreton: Not with my creative practitioner hat on, but we all keep in touch and share advice and support.

Helen Kilby Nelson: Collaboration has mainly been in the form of peer support at the moment. However, there are many crossovers with our practices, and I don’t doubt there are many potential future collaborative opportunities.

Hayley Williams-Hindle: Greater collaboration has been stymied somewhat in our group by being obliged to meet on Zoom rather than in person…We’ve spent a lot of hours in each others’ virtual company over the last few months, but most of us haven’t even met in the flesh yet! Having said that, it’s been wonderful to have consistent time with a small group of brilliant and thoughtful people, and learn about each others’ areas of interest and exploration… There are some collaboration ideas with the different members of the group that I hope will be realised over the next period of time.

Edie Jo Murray: We have talked a lot about what we might do together after the programme – it’s been great to find out the interests we have in common, and how we might be able to support each other’s practices. Keep a look out for an AD:vantage podcast or something similar coming soon I’m sure!

Fascial exploration 4, Hayley Williams-Hindle.


Who have you been mentored by in industry? How have you found that experience?

Ayesha Jones: Lara Ratnaraja, Nicola Shipley as well as artist and photographer Andrew Jackson. It really has helped to give me and my personal practice more direction. and helped spark new ideas. They are helping me finally put in for my first ever solo funding applications.

Jazz Moreton: So far, I’ve had mentoring from Independent Consultant & Curator Mandy Fowler, and I’m also having some with TV Producer and Director Shirley Hunt-Benson because I wanted to split my mentoring across two sectors: Art and Media.

Helen Kilby Nelson: As well as one-to-one’s with Lara, I have also had mentoring from Ruth Catlow at Furtherfield and Mandy Fowler. It was really beneficial to be able to spend time with industry professionals who are outside of my existing network. They have all helped me re-frame how I think and talk about my practice and current projects.

Hayley Williams-Hindle: I was paired with Sonia Boué. I don’t have enough superlatives for this person! Her nuanced empathic support and guidance has been transformative. It’s the first time I’ve had mentoring from someone who also recognises their own neurodivergence. So there is a shorthand there for me – an ease of communication. The usual translation and filtering effort isn’t necessary, and that’s been really enabling and a lot less effortful. Added to which Sonia is a wonderful artist in her own right, and is knowledgeable and experienced in many of the practical aspects of things like funding within the sector – which is still quite new to me. I wish I could keep her on full time! A mentoring relationship, when you find a good fit, is I think one of the most valuable things that anyone can have in their career and development of self.

Edie Jo Murray: I’ve been mentored by Ruth McCullough, Director of Abandon Normal Devices. It’s been great to get her input – particularly as she has really motivated me to pursue a project that I’m really excited about, but kept being pushed to the bottom of the list by other work. Throughout the programme we’ve been able to learn from the experience of loads of interesting industry professionals which has been a real privilege.

Jazz Moreton


It’s an exciting year for Coventry/Warwickshire. What next? What are your plans for the coming year?

Ayesha Jones: I was shortlisted for Unlimited’s next funding round and if I am successful, I will be producing new work on the theme of black female identity and the connection between art and spirituality.

Jazz Moreton: I’ve just completed a BBC New Creatives radio commission (coming to an airwave near you in the spring), and I plan to progress in sound/radio/podcasting/media, which feels far more accessible than it did before I did the AD:vantage course due to Lara’s links with the BBC and her curating Hello Culture.

Helen Kilby Nelson: I will be mainly working on developing new bodies of work,  ‘I Apostrophe S’ and ‘Qwerty’(working title). Funding for the R&D of Qwerty will enable me to be mentored by Ruth Catlow at Furtherfield and artists Doug Fishbone, Antonio Roberts and Simon Poulter. I will also continue to work with the community of Stratford-upon-Avon through to 2022. This is a community initiative to strengthen and develop community connections through creative opportunities and skill sharing for all residents.

Hayley Williams-Hindle: I’ve got a book full of ideas and a brainful more! I have a small CCC/Unlimited commission on ‘Fidgeting over zoom’ which is due to be shown in January as part of the Unlimited Southbank Festival online – which is really exciting. I’m new to public making and am chomping at the bit to see how my ideas land and resonate with others! So plans for this year are to keep having conversations and exploring ideas in this newly open-to-me world of creative opportunity. I’m experimenting at the moment with acrylic and light, and the possibilities of virtual and augmented reality in data visualisation art. I’m hoping to be able to realise a piece this year which is working with additive colour theory to describe a conceptual ‘portrait of a brain’ of an individual using their cognitive skills profile. It will take the form of a chandelier, and is a commemorative and reflective piece to a wonderful neurodivergent woman whose life ended prematurely at the start of 2020. It’s also an iteration of a larger project in development which is using VR to interrogate and celebrate the so-called ‘spikey’ cognitive profile of neurodiversity; challenging the narrative of difference as deficit and visualising the possibilities of complementary skills within groups of people.

The other aspect of my current interest is in somatics – working practically and artistically with embodied memory and place. I hope that 2021 will provide an opportunity to develop some work about the inward biology of the soma, exploring the metaphor of theatre as organism and how this year of pandemic restriction has harmed and stiffened the ‘cultural’ body. I’m further formalising my coaching work too and hope to be in a position to use those skills alongside body work to offer practical support to people who are struggling especially with the particular mental challenges of this crazy year! There’s also some research work in development with Bath University around autism and the cultural sector. So, lots of threads of ‘possible’. I aim to keep lightly pulling on all of those threads, and really hope to be caught right up in the glorious tangle of what Coventry is realising for its year as City of Culture.

Edie Jo Murray: I’ve got loads planned, but unfortunately lots that hasn’t been announced yet so I can’t share too much! Some exciting regional commissions that I’m looking forward to working on, and a personal project that’s still in really early stages – but I hope to start sharing soon!


AD:Vantage has been produced by Helga Henry and Lara Ratnaraja, independent arts consultants who have a particular interest in developing diverse leadership talent in the arts, culture and heritage sectors. AD:Vantage is their third programme in the region designed to transform the diversity of cultural leadership. Their piece on diversity in the arts for New Art West Midlands from October 2017 can be read here. 

AD:Vantage has been funded by Coventry City Council and has worked in partnership with New Art West Midlands, Coventry Biennial and Warwick University. The Advisory Group consisted of Sonia Boué; Mojere Ajayi-Egunjobi; Philippa Cross, Talking Birds; Kim Hackleman, The Belgrade; Becki Morris, Disability Collaborative Network C.I.C and Craig Ashley New Art West Midlands/Coventry University

The AD:Vantage Leadership Programme is a development programme with a focus on d/Deaf, disabled or neurodivergent people who work in arts, culture or heritage in Coventry. A pilot project funded by Coventry City Council, it has been running since September 2020. We caught up with the cohort about the experience.

We are delighted to announce the eight artists selected for our forthcoming Active Reality Research Lab, developed by New Art West Midlands, working with Coventry City of Culture Trust, ARUP and artist Simon Poulter.

We received a large number of excellent applications from all over the region. In our selection, we have chosen artists working across art forms including visual arts, graphic design, performance, sound, bio-art and other hybrid forms of practice. We hope that the artists taking part will be able to learn from each other as much as from the activities they undertake and from the expertise of the facilitation team.

The artists taking part in the lab are: Carol Breen, Matt Eaton, Helen Kilby-Nelson, Namratha Jacob, Edie-Jo Murray, Priti Patel, Rosa Postlethwaite and Laurie Ramsell.

The lab will take place online (or partly on-site should government restrictions permit and should artists feel comfortable to be on site in Coventry physically) from 13-17 July 2020.

We are delighted to announce the eight artists selected for our forthcoming Active Reality Research Lab, developed by New Art West Midlands, working with Coventry City of Culture Trust, ARUP and artist Simon Poulter.

Rupi Dhillon, Jharu, 2019. Still from performance, duration : 9 mins

We are delighted to announce that 10 artists and curators have been selected for our 2019 round of Studio Visits, an initiative as part of our professional development programme run in collaboration with The New Art Gallery Walsall.


Rupi Dhillon, Jharu, 2019. Still from performance, duration : 9 mins


We are especially pleased that this is the first year independent curators have been selected to receive studio visits, that this is the first year artists have been selected as studio visitors and that we have been able to facilitate a number of open slot nominations from applicants. Each of these visits will take place in the coming weeks and we hope they will be particularly useful and fruitful conversations.

Artists Rupi Dhillon and Karen McLean will be visited by London-based artists Matthew Krishanu and Hew Locke respectively. Mixed media artist Leanne O’Connor will be visited by artist Mark Murphy and digital specialist Edie Jo Murray will be visited by artist and PhD candidate Sarah Walden. Birmingham-based curators Aly Grimes and Josephine Reichert will be visited by Irini Papadimitriou, Creative Director of FutureEverything and Ned McConnell, Curator at David Roberts Art Foundation respectively. Ned will also meet with artist Andrew Gillespie. Emalee Beddoes-Davis, curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, will meet with artists Joyce Treasure and Bernadette Kerrigan, while Charlie Fellowes of Edel Assanti will visit Sarah Taylor Silverwood.

Applications were selected by a panel including Deborah Robinson and Hannah Anderson of The New Art Gallery Walsall and Anneka French, co-ordinator at New Art West Midlands, in conjunction with the relevant studio visitor.

We are delighted to announce that 10 artists and curators have been selected for our 2019 round of Studio Visits, an initiative as part of our professional development programme run in collaboration with The New Art Gallery Walsall.

Edie Jo Murray, Perpetuation (2019), CGI Animation, Image © the artist

Opening at the Herbert Art Gallery this evening, Wonder features new commissions and existing work by artists based predominantly in the West Midlands. The exhibition is rooted in a sense of play and interactivity by way of site-specific painting, animation, light installation and collections-inspired augmented reality works. We speak to invited curator Dr Rachel Marsden about the development of the exhibition.


Ben Javens, Helping Hand (2019), Ink on Paper, Image © the artist


Can you tell me more about the premise of Wonder?

I was bought in to curate the exhibition in January this year. The exhibition was originally developed from the idea of fairy tales and the fact that the Herbert usually has a family-friendly summer exhibition targeted at early years. This was the first consideration as part of the project’s development.

One of the reasons I wanted to speak to you about Wonder is the regional interest in the artists that have been selected. Could you tell me more about these selections?

Julia Snowdin had already been commissioned to make an installation called Light Pavilion which is a sensory light canopy largely for early years. Thinking about those who might have additional sensory needs and disabilities was a part of the show. The gallery had also had conversations with Ben Javens who is a local illustrator and a lot of his work looks at the idea of storytelling and folktales. Because both Julia and Ben are local, regional artists, for me that became another trigger to frame the exhibition in a way that honoured and supported emerging regional artists. Serendipitously, as it worked out, when I was thinking about the theme in a multi-age range context, translating to adults too, the artists I started to think about were already networked to each other without me realising. Antonio Roberts, who I’ve worked with previously, had worked with Edie Jo Murray who is very much an emerging digital practitioner. She’d been working with an organisation called Ludic Rooms in Coventry, who are also supporting the professional development of Julia.

We wanted a balance of analogue and digital – a sense of the physical/material in some works versus the digital/alternative realities in others. I bought in Lucy McLaughlan who creates large-scale public murals. These are quite abstract but always informed by the site and space she’s in. She’s taking imprints of Coventry for this project and both her and Ben knew each other too. The networked relationships have made this quite holistic in a sense – it feels a supportive environment. And also having the budget through which to support their practice appropriately is really key.

There are also more female than male artists represented here. This is important to me. Going beyond gender equity links to the recent Freelands Foundation report looking at that balance. It’s important to have that, and the breadth of the artists, at the back of your mind. Edie sees herself as neurodiverse and she is really happy to speak about her experiences through her practice with audiences. Another important point to highlight is the individuality of each artist but also that collective voice of what they can share together through the network which is the West Midlands itself.

Lucy McLauchlan, Marrakesh (2016), Photo © Ian Cox

Are all the works new commissions?

The only artist who is not local is Davy & Kristin McGuire – Studio McGuire – who were originally included in Hull as part of City of Culture 2017. We wanted to bring them in as a link to Coventry’s City of Culture in 2021. They are pre-existing works which speak more to the adult audience in their diorama work using projection and shadow play. The rest of the works are actually all new commissions and it’s been brilliant to have the opportunity to do that and also to trust them with the ideas and themes we’ve provided to act as a starting point for new works.

I’m also interested to see where this process takes them beyond this exhibition, as part of a longer journey within their practice. For instance, for Edie, this opportunity has allowed her to collaborate with Secret Knock Zine – a free low-fi print zine specific to arts and culture across Coventry distributed across venues. Through this experience, she has also been taken on by Instagram beta testing, creating new face filters for trial. She’s created one for the exhibition which uses butterflies from the natural sciences collection. That future focus is important. Additionally, there are brilliant technicians at the gallery that have been able to honour the ambition of what the artists want to do, especially with Ben’s large installation.

Edie Jo Murray, Perpetuation (2019), CGI Animation, Image © the artist

Will there be a programme of events that will draw out some the concerns of the exhibition?

One of the key aspects has been the collaboration with Secret Knock Zine. For the third issue, they have been working with Edie quite closely, are showcasing all the artists’ works, I’ve written a text and they are also working with us for the launch party, running zine making workshops, thinking about how we share this content digitally, making limited edition prints – all activating the work in a different way. There’s a huge early years programme throughout the summer, a curator’s talk in July and we have Ludic Rooms coming to do a project called Wonder and Web which is looking at how we physically network space and how that happens online. Julia is doing a number of events because she really wants feedback on audience interaction with her Light Pavilion, to see how all age ranges respond. For her, this has been a pivotal opportunity to create something so large for public play/use.

What do you think you have learned from the experience of working on this project?

It’s been a fun opportunity to get involved in the West Midlands again and to see what everybody’s been doing and to be able to give that support to create new work. But also it highlights some of the socio-cultural priorities of the artists right now – what they’re interested in and what matters to them.

I was saying to somebody yesterday, it’s been 10 years since I curated my first proper exhibition. So to think about the artists’ priorities and the organisational priorities in that period – how the voice of the digital is so normal now – is considered in every part of the show, from the interpretation and marketing to the artists’ works themselves. It’s a language that you need to know and that we will need to know more and more. The show will be live streamed at the opening and half way through, there are a lot of pre-recorded interviews and further online content, social media of course and then there are Edie’s augmented reality works that explore the gallery’s collection. There are many layers of digital content that just didn’t exist 10 years ago. That’s been a real point of clarity for me – to see that shift.

Wonder is open to the public until 15 September 2019. A programme of events accompanies the exhibition. 



Wonder, an exhibition designed around play and interaction featuring new commissions from a number of West Midlands-based artists, opens this evening in Coventry. We catch up with its curator Dr Rachel Marsden to find out more.