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Blog - Learning Disabled Art Studios

ActionSpace and its growth across London …


Mid July Jennifer and Tanya visited ActionSpace in London and here they talk about their visit … ActionSpace started life in the 1960s, with its focus always on learning disabled people. It was in 2001 when it became purely visual arts, with the studio programme going now for 10 years, with five studios across London. The studios are in mainstream art complex’s like Studio Voltaire, Cockpit Arts and ACAVA, and it is important for ActionSpace to be part of the wider contemporary arts scene (something we seem to be hearing a lot from disability arts studios). The benefits of this include skills sharing with other studios, inspiration for the artists and getting frequent material donations.

Tanya, Sharon, Jackie and Lisa looking at Sharon’s work and her first use drawing on an iPad

There are 65 artists attending weekly, with a further artists outside of this through outreach work in day centres and schools. Over 40% of the artists who attend ActionSpace are non-verbal, so the plans that the artists arrive with are crucial in learning about interaction. The studio setup each week also helps with artist’s anxiety levels, and everyone feeling at ease. Every week the facilitators write session reports for each artist (with images) so that the rest of the staff team can see developments, think about opportunities and learn about any issues. Easy read letters are often sent home to carers/family members too, so they are aware of progress, special projects and so on.

A small portrait drawing rests in the hands of the artist

Miriam painting a portrait of her friend

Siobhan Stewart is the Pastoral Care Coordinator who has recently trained as a counselor, which she says has helped with learning about boundaries. This role is varied but Siobhan looks at care related issues, communication, behavioral issues, group dynamics, and settling new artists in to the studios. As Siobhan has a long standing relationship with all the artists, if someone is triggered then the issues can be dealt with quickly – so in our eyes this role would be essential in any studio of this kind!

ActionSpace are an Arts Council England NPO, but the Directors Sheryll and Barbara constantly have to find other funding for projects and external work. If individuals are selected for projects, funding is sought in discussion with that person’s family/carers. However, as with other studios we have visited, payments to artists continues to be an issue for work sold, or work carried out, so we will continue to research into this area throughout this project. There is a definite fear from all about artists benefits being cut or taken away.

Tanya chatting about portraiture with artist Jackie

Finally, ActionSpace are currently developing the peer support side of their work, so artists are giving critique to one another and supporting each other at exhibitions. Whilst in the studio we saw artists Thompson Hall and Ian Wornast definitely working in this manner, which seemed a very supportive role for one another. More of this please!

Andrew drawing on the iPad with Tanya

Tanya says of the two-day visit: “It was truly a joyous experience to enter the Cockpit studio and to be embraced as one of the artists in the studio. I came armed with my mobile studio – easel and giant iPad – and as I set up in a tiny corner… I completely felt at home! I watched for a little while as the artists and artist’s facilitator (Lisa Brown) set about their own creative practices. Then I was invited to share my work and found much common ground on which to instigate micro-collaborations with several of the artists. On the Friday we joined the artists at their bi-monthly session at the Royal Academy of Arts, and again I found myself absorbed by the artists interpretations of the Summer Show exhibition.

For me, the Pastoral Care Coordinator role seemed truly embedded into the social model of disability. I often find myself thinking about how to manage this role within ArtStudio01 and would like to look deeper into the effects that this role could have within our studio. Funding would need to be sought for this.”

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