As a child I was inspired by ‘Vision On’ – a TV programmed presented by Tony Hart – and I knew that I could be an artist when many around me doubted it. I believe many other people with learning disabilities can achieve success if they have opportunity and the appropriate support.
Unfortunately, this was not a vision shared by my school teachers so I had to take matters into my own hands. While undertaking my youth worker training I completed a community arts course with Shape Arts in London. From there I received a commission from the OSKA BRIGHT film festival to design their awards, which I still do every two years – and more recently the Creative Minds project.
I first got involved with Certitude in 2015 when I collaborated with Jake Meyer and Vaia Paziana – both artists who work at Certitude – to create a Visual Arts Course. Part of this course was to visit galleries and this highlighted to me how social care structures can limit people’s access to galleries – especially for people who can’t get around unsupported.
This was when we decided to set up an open group to give more people the opportunity to enjoy the arts without barriers. We wanted to do something which really delivered arts access in its widest sense. People who attend our events come from all walks of life including individuals who are supported by Certitude, staff, carers, families and people from the wider community.
Our sessions are really informal and focus on generating a shared experience through art and socialising with like-minded people. Once a month we meet at a gallery or museum to explore exhibitions. We often gather in the café first and then walk around the exhibition together exchanging views. After lunch we might focus on one particular area of the exhibition and I try to encourage people to respond to the art in their own way. Where I can I try to provide a new insight to the group, perhaps on the architecture or history of the building or on a specific artist.
At some exhibitions and at end-of-course ‘sharing events’, I bring out my performance persona, Russell, who is easily recognisable from his lab coat and scarf made from pegs. He encourages creative responses from people to the art work around them. People can write down their thoughts and peg them onto the scarf. It helps break down barriers and encourages people to get involved.
As an artist, what I love about these monthly get-togethers is that they demonstrate that art is not always on the wall. It can also be someone’s creative idea – how they feel about something – and sharing this with others. These events feel inclusive and supportive and it’s wonderful to hear and see responses to art from such a diverse group. Sometimes artists create work by themselves or for themselves; I make art by facilitating and creating space for sharing art.
Certitude is a social care provider which offers support to adults with learning disabilities, mental health needs and autism across London.