Training through conversations

Back when everything kicked off, in April 2014, at my first meeting with a commissioned artist, they voiced the desire to find out more about ways of making their work accessible to a wider audience.  Right then, it became clear to me that beyond providing funding for projects, Unlimited is able to support its artists with training and networking, which will have long term implications on their future creations and careers.

With the Unlimited Festival creeping up, and a number of showcases for R&D projects, we identified the need for artists to think about ways of making the most of these opportunities.

So – a two part training day was planned, with the first half looking at Making the Most of Showcasing, and the second half at Making Accessible Work.

Because of the wealth of knowledge already present within Unlimited, it felt important to organise an event focused on exchange and conversations.  Guests from the Battersea Arts Centre, Farnham Maltings, Artsadmin and the British Council contributed to the morning round tables, and guests from Graeae, Shape, as well as independent producers and makers fed into the afternoon.

I had the pleasure to roam around from table to table, delving in different conversations, eaves dropping and pitching in.

I got involved in a passionate conversation about job roles in performing arts companies – one way to make the most of showcasing work is being clear on who is in charge of which aspects, enabling the producers and artistic director the availability to speak to audiences and guests during and after the event.

It was great hearing from the British Council about international touring, and how they are doing a lot of work to ensure international delegates will be attending the Unlimited Festival in September. They are pushing conversations about arts by disabled artists across the borders, and while delegates need to question how they might welcome this kind of work and what it requires, it is important for artists to identify what might be the right international context for their work, and how practical limitations might be addressed.

Other discussions focused on the pressures of ‘networking’.  I always advise reticent artists not to think of it in this way – showcases and festivals are all about seeing work together with people that you might potentially work with, and are an opportunity to meet and make friends.  As soppy as this sounds, festivals are about getting to know each other, and the ‘selling’ to a receiving organisation doesn’t happen without that understanding that there are shared objectives.

The afternoon tackled accessibility in the arts.  From working with venues and organisations so that they cater for both artists’ and audiences’ needs, to keeping awareness of access requirements throughout a creative process and letting it influence the work.

While many UK organisations have come a long way the past 30 years to cater for diverse audiences, there’s still a lot of work to be done for accessibility.  From the small (or lack of) capacity of spaces for wheelchairs in seated auditoriums to the lack of awareness of mental health related disabilities, there are still extensive barriers to overcome.

What I took away from the session was the need to communicate clearly and to insist on the access requirements for artists and audiences, and not let institutions dismiss the requests.  Preparing strong arguments ahead of time, or offering clear and (where possible) low-cost solutions, are helpful ways to approach the matter.  Sharing checklists, manifestos and information to advise the staff at the venue can also be useful.

Preparation is key: thinking of the diversity of access needs of audiences during the creative process can lower the workload to generate audio-description or BSL interpretation.  Working with receiving venues and galleries to find out the audience’s needs before they attend the event or viewing can also make it easier to fulfill their needs.

We went away with pages of notes, new contacts and inspired by everyone’s ideas and generosity.  Most importantly, though, the real work lay in the encounters and conversations that took place: artists getting to know each other and organisations and independent producers hearing about their projects, concerns and ambitions.  The day highlighted the importance of face-to-face interaction, and the strength of networks in an arts ecology that relies on exchange and peer-support.

 

Clara Giraud

Assistant Producer, Unlimited

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