*Please note. (small d for deaf not big D is how the deaf participant identifies). We are voices of many.
(Written in third person is part of Elinor’s ND vocabulary and traits, she flips between they, we, I, her, she).
Magical Women was developed in mentoring sessions with Disability Arts Online’s Trish Wheatley and Colin Hambrook. Elinor’s idea was to bring people who badly crave an art studio space but are excluded due to not fitting into either camp in the disability or mainstream arts spaces. Considered “too high functioning” from many disability arts studios and arts community centres, they will often remain isolated at home. Their art is often unseen and after a while it may be rarely made.
It was Trish who recommended that she consider leading it. Many people mistake Elinor’s processing delay as lack of skills, (especially during interviews). It wasn’t until she witnessed discrimination towards other “high functioning” autistic artists that made her develop this neglected space.
Lack of accepting art studios
Shared experiences of isolation, rejection and exclusion are consistent experiences of female artists on the autistic spectrum or other ND traits.
Art studios are often too expensive for autistic and ND female artists. Many have reduced employment opportunities due to their ND traits and because they are also survivors of domestic abuse, violence or any type of bullying, this can result in social anxiety. Navigating the systems that work to their disadvantage can be tremendously exhausting for ND/autistic people. The perception that they are high functioning fails to consider their access needs which can be damaging and harmful to their wellbeing and self-worth.
Impact of financial hardship and discrimination
Many intersectional ND female artists who identify as Disabled are often “othered” within their own communities. For this reason, many will identify as Outsider artists. Yet because they are deemed “high functioning” they fall through the gaps.
Financial, social and communication barriers mean that ND female artists stop making art. Their shared experiences of exclusion and isolation have a detrimental effect on their art practice and they lack the opportunity to show work to wider and more diverse audiences.
These same artists crave belonging to express themselves in ways of their choosing. A space that makes them feel strong and where they can experience being in solidarity with other artists. Elinor wanted to create spaces where artists can think for themselves as themselves without being rushed.
Whilst many autistic/ND artists enjoy solitude, they also want to make art in shared spaces. But the the risk of being excluded or shut down is often too great. This happens because other people or artists often experience ND artists as difficult. challenging, awkward or “wrong”.
Free to think for yourself as yourself
Autistic/ADHD female groups on social media share a common thread. They are regarded as “negative” or “complaining” when they are not. Greta Thunberg experienced it when she was calling for environmental rights.
There is little recognition around how hard it is to be ND in a NT structured world for communication and interaction as well as physical structures, systems and environments and rarely do people quite understand how tough it is for single mothers or female artists who are often told to watch their “tone”.
No one asks us whether we could lead a workshop to teach the skills we use during heightened overwhelm. There aren’t any stimming workshops out there, or spaces to honour the power of being an introvert or being able to apologise to pavements when we trip up on them.
The closest I could find to stimming was TRE (Tension and Trauma Releasing exercises….. that assist the body in releasing deep muscular patterns of stress, tension and trauma)… So, basically, stimming… (something doctors and so called professionals have tried to prevent an autistic person from doing and thus reinforcing tension and trauma in our lives…)
So what does a ND led space look like?
With their funding, Magical Women can now discover what ND led spaces look like for themselves as they are the ones leading it. They provide spaces where ND artists can think for themselves as themselves. Artists can also be believed and trusted when sharing their stories, experiences and art.
Funding also supports the leading ND artist of Magical Women to be paid and the many other ND artists who will be paid for artist development and other artistic opportunities and contributions. Only 15% autistic population are in full time paid employment nationwide, and 9% in part time paid employment nationwide (Autistica, 2019). Magical Women exist to provide lived in professional and peer mentoring to develop ND leadership in the arts.
The Power is in the Seeing
It was attending Colin’s reading and his performance at the Phoenix in Brighton last year that deeply moved Elinor. It made her want to mirror a similar shared experience here in London for ND audiences particularly providing platforms to ND female artists who are less invested in.
Processing delay is welcome here
Elinor, who leads Magical Women, uses wrong words all the time, she has phonological dyslexia and dyscalculia. Talking is a risk for Elinor, but she does it anyway. It can be incredibly difficult to exist in the world. Since talking is an incredible risk for most ND people, Magical Women seeks to address this barrier by creating empowering and accessible spaces to remove that risk.
The Power in Gathering and Sharing Collectively
Ultimately, what Magical Women provide in our workshops is time. What feels incredibly slow, dragging and “argh” to a neurotypical is relaxing for a neurodivergent. 2.5 hours goes by incredibly quickly because the focus is entirely on the art. It is also a relaxed workshop.
As one Magical Women participant, Michelle Rodrigues echoes,
“I created this piece during the Magical Women online gathering on 25/03/20 (Making Space for Art Workshop) during the Covid-19 lockdown. During this period of isolation I am reminded of just how much we rely on being in communion with others. Personally, I realised how my creativity flourishes in the presence of others.”
“It has been restorative to be able to gather online in the virtual company of others: to create together and witness the collective unconscious emerge. My intention is to hold on to this remembering of our interconnectedness and our need for communion.”
Relaxed and Active Spaces for Artists
In workshops over Zoom, the focus is not on small talk or chit chat, but the work, the art, the looking at and seeing into what has been created. Participants are offered tools for their practice long after the sessions. They go away and make more art independently and there is a deeper commitment to their art practice.
This gathering is far from the splintered and distant experience described by many Zoom articles. Instead, quite the opposite is happening as discovered by participants of the workshops.
A sense of belonging
Recently a deaf participant who was too unwell to participate fully and yet wanted to be part of the sharing expressed:
“I loved seeing everyone’s art (that felt vulnerable for everyone to share). It was a gracious sharing wasn’t it? It felt safe.”
Making art drives connection
If Covid19 had never happened, this participant would never have been able to participate in our space. She is also based in another part of the UK. She also uses a wheelchair and describes how art has driven her to connect with other artists:
“I absolutely adore your ethos and you definitely provide a very important and otherwise neglected space. I really appreciate it, and also you – you are pioneering and brave, and in so being make the people around you braver. Really well done on getting the extra funding.”
It has been the attendance to her art practice in our workshops that this participant has developed her unique style. Discovering a space to talk and process information as a ND has reaffirmed her strength. (Dismissed at work but is greatly acknowledged and respected by Magical Women participants.) She is now writing a book.
What does ND Leadership look like?
Magical Women Art Workshops provide a space for ND artists to honour each other, to express our individual expressions and also provide us with space to “come out of our shells” as Magical Women contributor, Maddie Millet explains. She believes her return to making art is a direct result of her artist development with Magical Women.
“Magical Women has definitely made me braver.”
She now considers herself a leader because Magical Women gave her space to examine what that meant for her.
“Examining what being a leader was during the Artist Talk gave me time to recognise perhaps I was one already. And why not? Who says I can’t be?”
She reflects on her own leadership skills that have shone out since her artist talk to new and wider audiences through Magical Women,
“It is a slow unfurling. It takes trust and it takes time.”
So what do ND led art workshops look like?
Making Space for Art participant, Michelle Rodrigues answers:
“I am really appreciative of the Making Space for Art sessions run by Magical Women. The sessions are relaxed. It feels so heartening to be in a virtual community space making art alongside other likeminded women.The atmosphere is so supportive when we gather together at the end of a session to share our work. It always amazes me to see that there tends to be a thread, running through the pieces created in the group space. (Even though we don’t have a set theme and we can’t even see what the others are doing.)It feels like such a supportive, non judgemental and non-competitive space for neurodivergent women who want to explore their creativity or deepen their existing creative practice. Initially, I had some uncertainty about joining, because I don’t have a diagnosis. I was worried that I’d be invading a space that wasn’t created for me. My doubts have vanished completely over these past months of taking part in the group.I feel so at home here, supported and seen for who I am. Being part of the Magical Women community is really helping me to embrace my own neurodivergent traits. To not feel like they’re parts of me that need to remain hidden behind a mask.”
Journeying in MW workshops is a transcendent experience. The space is available to honour yourself and each other as artists. Making art alongside other artists in a relaxed space offers you an opportunity to focus on your art practice.
Our final Making Space for Art in the series takes place on Wednesday 20th May at 10:00am and costs £5 to attend a 2.5 hour relaxed workshop before a 3 week break, then we shall resume on the 17th June 2020.
Our Magical Journeys workshops take place on Sunday 24th May at 10:00am and cost £10 to attend a 2.5 hour relaxed workshop. (Open to all participants).
Magical Women will be relaunching on a new website (same weblink, different platform space soon)
Contact us for more information.