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Disability Meets Digital

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Disability Meets Digital March 21st 2013 – Aidan Moesby

Sometimes when I don’t know where I’m going I follow someone who looks like they know where they are going. Coming out of Piccadilly Manchester there are absolutely no signs to point the way to Future Everything so I start following someone with a Future Everything tote bag. My hunch pays off. Successfully navigating the not particularly accessible rotary doors I find myself in a throng of people. Everyone is connected to a digital device. It is a little overwhelming. I ask if this is the queue or are we just randomly standing in a line. I was assured it was a queue. But then after a few moments I ask what am I queuing for because I wasn’t sure, the lack of signs and helpers who knew saw me stand in 3 separate queues before I successfully registered. My first impressions were of somewhere and something not very accessible and not very equal. The irony was not lost.

The main thrust of the unconference was ‘how do we ensure that disabled people are not left even further behind in the digital world?’. The proceedings opened with a brief introduction from Alison Smith from Pesky People before Brad Gilbin from Film Victoria talked via skype about Accessibility in Gaming. This theme was echoed by Lynsey Graham from Blitz Games Studio. I’m not much of a gamer but both speakers were accomplished enough to hold an audience and keep it entertaining and engaged. I also learned a lot which was an added bonus.

The story from Victoria, Australia is really positive. State funding is tied into accessibility yet it has surprisingly been an industry lead initiative. In fact it makes sense on so many levels. Placing accessibility at the front of the design process is a no brainer, retro-fitted adaptations that increase accessibility rarely work seamlessly. As an industry professional said ‘We just want people to be able to use our game – it’s good design.’

Solutions around accessibility include being able to alter colour and contrast (colour blindness), remappable controls, difficulty levels that cater for those with Learning Difficulties to have an authentic experience, subtitles – colours, fonts, sizes and separate tracks for audio and video and sound effects. Cues within the game should be both visual and aural. Publishers Ubisoft do it as standard but surprisingly seizure testing is not mandatory.

Lynsey was talking from a similar viewpoint. However she introduced an additional aspect to gaming – that of community. Many games operate on global levels, where you meet, collaborate or battle with people or characters from other countries. Communities are created, socialising occurs in the virtual world which can move into the real world. Gaming also offers opportunities for relaxation, escapism and role play. Indeed play is often over looked or neglected once we enter adulthood. There is also plenty of anecdotal evidence where gaming has been successfully used in rehabilitation, for example word games for people experiencing early onset dementia or stroke. These games seem to enhance the activity of pathways within the brain or partially arrest some of the degenerative processes affecting the brain and cognition. 

We then explored how digital media can be used to challenge bad practice or discrimination for those with disabilities. There are assumptions made in the wider population that blind people do not go out, or disabled people do not have friends and why on earth would ‘they’ want to go and see *place your own cultural event here* anyway?

Samantha Chisnall writes for Pesky People and takes people/organisations to task when they get it wrong but also issues praise when it is due. For example some venues do a two for one deal so the PA (or helpful friend) can go for free, others don’t. Some venues offer dedicated seating or space, yet even at those that do the availability is sometimes appallingly low.  Very often the problem lies with the fact that it is rarely anyone’s specific responsibility so invariably it just doesn’t get dealt with.

Social media offers an opportunity we haven’t had before. We can highlight and campaign like never before. We do have a voice. However, good as it is to advocate best practice, we also need to think that in the wider society people tend to get paid for their knowledge and expertise. When we highlight bad practice and suggest a ‘different’ or ‘better’ way are we not being a consultant and don’t they usually come at a hefty cost? Being disabled does not make us unprofessional, nor should there be an expectation that we are always the volunteer and never the paid expert.

Chris Hammond from Full Circle Arts treated us to a whirlwind tour of the diverse activities that the team are involved with. Full Circle have a Tinkerer in Residence who has been making the digital world very real. I would like to point you to their website http://www.fullcirclearts.co.uk/ because that would do much more justice than the limited space here. They have been working on real life design projects that impact on peoples lives in an immediate way. They have been working with Hack Labs and Fab Labs utilising open source and wikis to affect positive change. Again the disparity of digital take up and accessibility of digital media for disabled people was highlighted. At this point someone ‘outed’ themselves as being from the DWP and a sharp intake of collective breath was heard.

Finally for the morning speakers a representative of Talking Birds presented their ‘Difference Engine’ which was essentially an app for text captioning on a mobile phone screen. It has live editing and audio capabilities. For me however, this was much more of a sales pitch and tweaking opportunity for the developers and I had difficulty engaging with this within the wider context of the day.

The afternoon was going to be the Unconference part of the day, which for me represented the majority of the reason why I had wanted to attend. I like Open Space Technology and provocations. It seems a much more natural and relaxed way of meeting people in a semi structured space and talking round a subject of interest. This has taken the sting out of ‘networking’ as you are meeting in neutral environment without the schmooze factor.

After introducing ourselves within the large group several provocations were put forward. However as the morning had overrun several of the afternoon sessions were cut short. In another oversight the sessions were not time managed so there was only one ‘rotation’. Unless you were a ‘butterfly’ this limited the number of discussions you could sit in on and the subjects you could explore.

Topics discussed included
• ‘Museums and Galleries – Accessibility’ which explored the provision to make venues accessible within the constraints of finance and pragmatism.
• Accessible Events – looking at applications which provide information on accessible events and information on venues
• Applications – exploring some apps in development around accessibility
• Making the web accessible – what do you need to consider when building a site.
More information on these will be available on the Pesky People website if you want to explore them further  http://www.peskypeople.co.uk/. The day ended with a collective feedback and verbal evaluation session. The consensus was that it had been a successful day with lots of new connections made and many people feeling inspired and empowered.

As a first conference of this style, within this context, it showed that we still have much to do about accessibility and equality in the digital world. Perhaps it highlights the limitations of trying to cover too much ground in a single day, though the optimism of the organisers cannot be faulted.  

The over arching event is billed as ‘Future Everything is a summit of Ideas and Digital Invention – Exploring the interface between technology, society and culture, it is the crucible that allows artists, technologists and future thinkers to share, innovate and interact.’ From a purely personal viewpoint, though also there blogging for the Art House, I felt that there was a lack of art and creativity represented in the Disability meets Digital 13 day conference. I would have preferred less speakers and a keynote in the morning and after lunch with the majority of time dedicated to the Unconference. This way you can self select who and with what you engage – you are much more an active participant rather than a passive viewer. Surely this is what the day was, after all, advocating.
 
Aidan Moesby

http://aidanmoesby.co.uk/

Posted by Elinor Unwin, 10 April 2013

Last modified by Elinor Unwin, 10 April 2013

Volunteering is good!

I have been volunteering at the Art House since July 2012, throughout my time I’ve had fun working as part of a team and have enjoyed the roles I’ve been offered to undertake. As an artist myself it’s been a perfect environment for me to volunteer at. I’ve loved talking and getting to know other artists, talking to artist who have studios here, setting up for Artwalks and just being part of the team at the Art House. I like to think I make a difference and being part of the something that’s making a difference is very satisfying.

Volunteering can be a great way to meet new people, socialise and gain more confidence and experience. You can learn and develop new skills, challenge yourself and get training in the area you would like to work in. It also helps when trying to make contacts for possible employment. A volunteer also benefits themselves because they get to see how their contribution has made a difference.

I have found that the advantage of volunteering is having the opportunity to try things out; to be pushed and learn new outcomes about myself.  

Before volunteering at the Art House I did other voluntary work at Scope Awake Mentoring Service. This involved me working with individuals requiring support, providing guidance, encouragement and enabling disabled or disadvantaged people to achieve goals through mentoring. Being a mentor made me more self aware about my own life, my issues, opportunities and what I want in life and inspired me to help others who are in need of support.

I contacted the Art House about the voluntary opportunities available there. I was very interested in what they had to offer and eight months on I have finally gained paid employment. Having learnt new skills and experience, the Art House has played a big part in me gaining this new job.

I do believe volunteering has made me a happier person.

Claire Cooper 

Posted by Elinor Unwin, 10 April 2013

Last modified by Elinor Unwin, 10 April 2013

Everyone in Our Society is in Our Culture: Censoring artwork and protecting the public

‘I gotta divide my emotions into wrong and right’ says Ani d’Franco in her song 'Shameless'.

Do we have a quiet instinct to protect ‘the public’ from disabled artists? I’m not Andrea Dworkin but censorship crossed my desk today, and these are my thoughts from inside the Art House.

We run an evening affordable art fair, stalls galore with Xmas presents plus mulled wine, twinkly lights and mince pies. It’s a lot of fun. Artists tell us it’s a great opportunity for them to develop new skills and build new networks.

During that evening studio holders also open their studios to the public. This year we had an interesting conversation that got us mulling about how we are can accidently censor other people’s lives.

One of our artists asked for advice on making the most of opening her studio. Due to the festive event some wondered if her work would be inappropriate. The work deals directly with her experience of her mental ill-health. We also had an artist approach us after the event to say they thought it was inappropriate that she had opened her studio when ‘the public’ was in the building- albeit they didn’t mention that they were personally offended. Complaints can feel like failure to both the staff and the artist, and that’s hard for us all. But they can be the beginning of a conversation.
 
It’s not the first time- once an artist wanted to show a painting in our foyer, exploring her relationship with her sexuality. Some wondered if this was inappropriate. At that artists’ talk the audience were intrigued, reflecting on their own reactions- no offence recorded. They understood the art work as exploring ideas and experiences that they had never considered before. It is also the exhibition that has sold the most work, which could be seen as validation from a wider audience. In truth we had more complaints about the scary music from a film piece- because it disrupted people working. It seems ‘the public’ doesn’t mind being asked to think.

None of our complainants said they were complaining on their own behalf, but in case ‘the public’ are offended. Have we quietly bought into the idea that we should ‘protect the public’ from their own emotions? I do wonder how they drew this conclusion. The complainants must have had an emotional reaction to the work it in this way. There is no objective line here, only subjective judgements by individuals. We’ve all had that experience of crying at the banal TV programme or laughing at something inappropriate- so I’m afraid we can’t predict which work will divide your reactions into wrong or right.

I also wasn’t clear what the complainants thought may happen to ‘the public’. What impact could be so strong that we would remove work about a person’s life- you could say- erase their life from our cultural experience, our perception of what society is? Someone once told me that they found nice, clean disabilities easier to cope with and this appears similar- anything with fluids or emotions was too unpredictable: don’t work with children, dogs or people with messy disabilities….?

As an organisation dedicated to equality in the visual arts we shouldn’t ever be saying we will protect people from art work and therefore excluding the lives of others. But we should also be prepared to assist people in thinking through work that creates difficult emotions, if they would like- we should respond to the complaint as an opening for discussion. We should be saying “ I know this is new/hard/different for you but artists come through many experiences, and those are experiences of our society. And everyone in our society is in our culture.

Anne Cunningham

Posted by Elinor Unwin, 4 February 2013

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 18 February 2013

Factoring in Flexibility: Equality in Business

If a customer is unable to use our facilities due to something as serious as being admitted to hospital for a lengthy period of time should they then still be invoiced for a service they are not able to access?

At the Art House there are long term studios and short term studios available to lease. The long term studios are subject to a 12 month contract which in some respects is a short period of time but if a studio holder becomes unwell during this period it can seem like a long period. The Short Term studios are available for a lease of up to 3 months but these are in high demand.

Previously a studio holder became seriously unwell during their contractual period and due to their illness they were unable to access the leased facilities at The Art House for a long period of time.

If a contract was in place then technically the rent for the studio should have been invoiced in line with the contractual agreement. This may seem unfair for the customer to pay for something they are unable to use / access. However, if the studio is under contract it is unavailable to lease to another party and would then result in a loss of income for the organisation. Income needed to support other charitable activities.

There may also be other consequences for the studio holder such as if the studio holder is unable to earn and therefore make payments over that period of time then the outstanding amount would build as monies owed to the company. Is it then fair for the organisation to ask for this amount to be re-paid knowing that the person was unwell, on reduced income (sometimes having lost benefits due to being in hospital) and unable to access the facilities but also that the organisation was unable to lease the facilities to another party as there is already a contract in place?

Maybe one solution would be that if any such event should occur where a studio holder becomes seriously poorly and due to this illness could not access the facilities for a long period of time, for example one month or longer, that a mutual agreement is reached where only a percentage of this time is to be invoiced.

Another solution could be that if it is known before a contract is entered into that a studio holder is likely to suffer from a period of long term illness would it be prudent to agree to a shorter term contract. 

 

Rosie Dewsbury

Posted by Elinor Unwin, 4 February 2013

Last modified by Elinor Unwin, 4 February 2013

Volunteering and equality

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I have a friend who used to volunteer with a local arts organisation, but has now stopped as he fears that if he continues to do so he may lose his benefits. The explanation for this being that if he is able to volunteer he may be deemed fit to work, despite being able to take time off when he needs it in his voluntary position, which wouldn’t be possible in paid employment.

As a relatively new member of staff I have had this in mind when carrying out an aspect of my role, recruiting and managing volunteers. I want to ensure that the voluntary roles we offer are of value but am also unsure how to navigate the variety of needs, vulnerabilities, strengths and expectations people may have when they offer their time to help us. In their first meeting with us, a prospective volunteer can understandably come across as extremely capable, flexible and willing to do any task we may need help with. This first conversation may be a good time to clarify what the volunteer might and might not feel comfortable doing and if any assistance could be given to aid them in carrying out particular tasks. I am aware however that this conversation may throw up fairly personal details that may be difficult to disclose so early on in the relationship.  It also might be difficult for the volunteer to identify what they are happy or capable of doing.  

The purpose of voluntary work should ideally be mutually beneficial, to the organisation and the individual. The advantage of volunteering, as opposed to paid work, is the built-in flexibility, allowing a person to take time off or go at their own pace, but also to try things out, push themselves and develop skills in a supportive environment. If not entirely successful, the consequences are less significant. Yet for me building this flexibility in has proved more challenging than first expected. It takes time to get to know people, the way they work best, what they find rewarding and what they find difficult. I am also trying to develop my ability to read and respond to these things in the way I manage volunteers’ workloads.

On a practical level, is it better to approach the relationships I develop with volunteers with an open and responsive outlook, looking to create a bespoke role that meets the needs of the individual? Or would it be of greater benefit to both parties to be almost less personal, ask the same of all volunteers and require them to let us know if there will be any issues with that? This may be less judgmental and patronising, but could let certain things go unnoticed and foster a less positive experience for both of us.

The individual circumstances of my friend who stopped volunteering may have not been taken into account but of course more time and resources would be required to do this. In my view it is always better to try to acknowledge the subtleties of the individual circumstance. The recent changes to the welfare system seem to me to have been detrimental to the culture of volunteering. I wonder if it has contributed to people’s reluctance to talk about their personal situation, what they need help with and what they want to achieve. If so this would surely feed on itself, possibly create further suspicion and fear of being misunderstood. By extension could this reduce the number of successful voluntary placements that do genuinely lead to paid employment or, more importantly, mutually beneficial contributions?   

 

Helen Deevy

Posted by Elinor Unwin, 4 February 2013

Last modified by Elinor Unwin, 4 February 2013

What are the alternatives?

I am currently assisting an artist in scribing a Grant for the Arts application, through the Arts Council England Access Fund. On reading the artist’s blog I’ve been introduced to the particular barriers society creates for those with a disability. This artist spends most of their time in their home. This has significant impacts on their artistic practice, not only in terms of adapting art practice to their situation, but also how they are able to interact with the art world.

 
Through my work at The Art House, I see the immense value that this interaction with the art world has on a daily basis. Whether it’s attending other artists’ exhibitions, networking events, training opportunities, exhibition previews of their own work, or a host of other events. The chance to meet with other artists and art professionals allows for peer exchange, creative dialogue, shared experience, a support network and an opportunity to share and evaluate your own work. This in turn can lead to a whole host of opportunities, as well as inform the development of artistic practice.
 
What many of us take for granted and often put off to another day, others are not able to engage in on a regular basis. So what is the answer? How do individual artists who face difficulties in leaving their homes gain the advantages that such activity can bring?
 
If only we knew and had the perfect formula! 
 
The artist in question has been proactive in sharing their work and experience as a way to generate this useful peer exchange. They have done this mainly through traditional online platforms, such as publishing their own website, posting a profile on a number of visual arts organisations websites and setting up several blogs. 
 
But are there more possibilities, or alternatives? Is there something out there that would allow these artists to be transported into the art world more directly?
 
We’re keen to know, so please share thoughts, ideas and experiences.  
 
Elinor Unwin
Project Manager - Artists in Wakefield

Posted by Elinor Unwin, 30 May 2012

Last modified by Elinor Unwin, 30 May 2012

Make Mistakes: the New Work is Now

We’ve been talking a lot recently about artist’s studios. What are they for? How do communities work when people are different? How do you create a space for individuals and groups? We’ve been talking to different people and supporting them to talk to each other: artists, architects and staff.

 
Whilst our conversations are still in progress, it reminds me of the importance of discussion, dialogue, discourse. It is part of the creative process: understanding how we think, why we think what we think- creating that moment where we realise what else we could think. I’ve remembered that Art is not just about the act of making, but the preparation of the maker to act.
 
One of the conversations we have had is about being rational and if this is the most important thing in a conversation that will stimulate change:
  • Is being rational the same as being professional?
  • What if you are less able to communicate with someone, should they or you be excluded?
  • Is challenge from other people a problem in an artist community?
  • Is the challenge an individual or the result of two individuals coming together?
  • what is normal communication?
  • What type of differences will be accepted/not accepted?
  • How do we listen to challenge that feels irrational?
  • How do we negotiate difference as part of what creates our work: artist and non-artist?
For me it is about how we find a place for disruption in our lives- embrace challenge as part of a creative, development experience. It may feel out of control at times, it may even make us angry. Change does have an emotional element and believing in equality is not the same as being ready for what it throws at you.
 
The word ‘quo’ means ‘said’: status quo means: what we say the status is. We can all say where the status lies, if we choose to do so. So it is up to us all, disabled, non-disabled and undefined, to define status through our interactions with each other. Easy said. Hard won.
 
My experience of building inclusive communities tells me that we can’t just drive ahead, planned and focused on our track- knowing what we want inclusion to look like. Steaming ahead is not progress. Innovation and creativity don’t steam ahead, like Ivor the Engine climbing the Welsh Valleys. We have to listen, roll back, steam forward, divert, roll forward and this makes progress. Equality is not defined in advance, it is a passionate aspiration. Equality doesn’t happen because we want it to, it happens because we take risks , make mistakes and find new ways to work.

Posted by Elinor Unwin, 3 May 2012

Last modified by Elinor Unwin, 3 May 2012

Art for All

As an artist and creative educator I think that looking, exploring, thinking and making Art is something that should be an essential part of our lives.

It helps us to think about our world, our responses and relationships with it. It helps us to think about ourselves, our feelings, our past, our future. It helps us to be inspired, create, to think in new ways, to question, and take risks.

We all respond to art in different ways through our own experiences. I think we should all take more time to experience Art, it helps us to enrich our learning, and our lives.

A visit to an art gallery, to make at home, to write a story, to dance; exploring, thinking, making, art is fun, it challenges and helps us to think and be individuals.

It's never too late to enjoy and experience Art. I work with many families working together to look, create, explore, enjoy Art and can see the lasting impact it has, taking discussions and making into the home, reaching everyone.

I say.............make Art accessible for all!

LAURA SLATER

The Art House offers Art for All:

Currently running a range of Art activities accessible for children, families and adults in our Pop-up shop in the Ridings Shopping Centre in Wakefield over the Easter Holidays

http://www.facebook.com/events/202269479883637/

For more information about our program of activity:

http://the-arthouse.org.uk/view/get-involved

Posted by Elinor Unwin, 3 May 2012

Last modified by Elinor Unwin, 3 May 2012

Good News! We've Been Awarded ACE Capital Funding

Plans for The Art House to develop Drury Lane Library as 33 artists’ studios and spaces for the public to access Art has taken another step forward. Arts Council England announced today (Thursday 29th March) that it has awarded a grant as part of its new large-scale capital funding programme.
 
To read the full press release click here.
 

Posted by Elinor Unwin, 3 May 2012

Last modified by Elinor Unwin, 3 May 2012

Overcoming obstacles

I started working here at The Art House at the beginning of November, and there was a few things of which I first noticed and it just made me think, life is what you make of it. You can become whatever you want, as long as there is passion and commitment you are destined for success.

 
The specific thing that got me thinking was when I first noticed somebody with a disability, yet they made it possible for themselves to do what it was in life that they wanted. They did this by putting their mind to it, and making something that nobody would of ever thought possible. But by shear determination, it was made a reality. 
 
No man will succeed unless he is ready to face and overcome difficulties and prepared to assume responsibilities.
 
William J. H. Boetcker
 
Through me seeing a number of artists with some form of disability and make a success out of anything they set their mind to, it hits home that you can become anything you want to by putting your mind to it. 
 
As a community, when we see somebody succeed there a mixed emotions. But from my prospective and during my time here at The Art House, every time that something has become a success, it has been complete positivity surrounding that success from everybody, which opened my eyes a bit to see that it is a fantastic group of people here involved with The Art House. 
 
Here are a few tips on overcoming obstacles:
 
Listen to your gut instinct, Listen to your gut, it often knows what to do.
 
Change your attitude towards the situation, Evaluate your attitudes and see if a change in the way you are looking at the situation might help to overcome the obstacle
 
Never give up, I’m sure you will have heard the quote ‘winners never quit and quitters never win’ this quote is so true, you may have to back up and turn around but you can never stop trying to get past the current obstacle.
 
Start over, when all else fails, star over at the beginning!
 
Joe Manning
Apprentice  

Posted by Elinor Unwin, 3 May 2012

Last modified by Elinor Unwin, 3 May 2012

Outside Insight

I recently asked an artist if they were aware of the project Outside In. I wondered if that artist identified with this project which aims ‘to provide a platform for artists who find it difficult to access the art world’ for reasons of mental health, disability or social circumstance. The artist backed away from me, almost recoiling in horror at the mention that they might be associated with the genre. I was taken aback by the artist’s response and wondered why such a strong reaction to what seemed to me to be an opportunity for the artist to show their work within a new forum. I discovered that the origins of this genre stem from Art Brut, ‘a label created by French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture; Dubuffet focused particularly on art by insane-asylum inmates.’ Wikipedia.
 
The term Outsider Art however would seem to have a broader meaning but I wonder if the associations with Art Brut, asylums, mental health or disability presented a barrier for the artist I spoke to? Why should an artist feel insulted or embarrassed to be associated with ‘outsider art’? For some perhaps it is viewed as ‘2nd rate’. Many outsider artists have not come through traditional routes of art education and have no formal training, but equally this could apply to non-‘outsider artists’. Does this mean their work has any less substance/meaning? What exactly is an outsider artist then? If it’s simply an artist who works outside of the mainstream then surely that applies to a high proportion of artists also?. Is it a combination of being outside the ‘mainstream’ plus other factors? Looking through a list of notable historical Outsider Artists I noted certain characteristics and similarities in their circumstances; solitary, institutionalized, fantasy, isolation, secretive, seclusion, mental health issues, disability. It also occurred to me that these artists were creating their art for reasons other than notoriety or to become accepted in the ‘mainstream’. It was part of their make-up, a compulsion and their art was not necessarily being created to be shared or viewed by others. Their work was subsequently ‘discovered’ by someone else who then brought that artists work to a mainstream audience.
 
I recently had the opportunity to speak to a few artists who have become involved in the ‘Outside in’ project. A commonality for each of these artists was their wish to share their work, for it to be viewed and appreciated by an audience of peers and the public. The Outside In project provides this opportunity for ‘outsider artists’ alone. I still question why the need for differentiation between outsider artists and non-outsider artists. The Art House strives for equality, creating opportunities for all artists however I wonder if there is some security for some artists to belong within a specific confined genre. Showing their work amongst comparable peers? I don’t know if this is a fair supposition to make but I wonder then if this makes the task of providing equality of opportunities harder to achieve if some artists prefer the ‘security’ of belonging to a specific group. Do they perhaps consider this provides them with a better chance of reaching mainstream audiences but why should it? I guess my conclusion is that we need forums, platforms and opportunities presented in alternative ways in order that the individual can make a choice to take part, get involved in the way that best suits them.
 
Lisa Noyce
 
The Art House Administrator

Posted by Elinor Unwin, 3 May 2012

Last modified by Elinor Unwin, 3 May 2012

Amongst the Nerves of the Art World

How are we fulfilling our artistic policy, our reasons for being? Indeed, are we fulfilling this obligation?

 
The Art House is here to serve artists and, as they are the antennae through which creativity is transmitted, the objects and concepts that constitute art. This paradoxical role, of an organisation wielding power yet subservient to its members, means we can never lose sight of these basic tenets; there must be some accountability.
 
It is within the opinions of the members, the artists that The Art House was created for, that the answer lies. To this end several members were canvassed for their opinion on these matters at the recent Affordable Arts and Crafts Fair held here in The Art House.
 
Many of the answers were suitably abstract, considering the un-concreteness of the question. A sense of an artistic community was a recurrent observation; and what is art without its communities? All the conceptualised movements that we narrate art history through, from the renaissance to the impressionists, were built around community interaction. The notion of the artist as a solitary figure is a strong one and yet it is rare for an artist to be completely isolated. Institutions like the Académie Française and the Royal Academy of Art, whilst at times seeming outdated forces for a conservative spirit, have provided artists with communal support for centuries. In this most venerable of traditions The Art House has followed. In a society that is intensely ambivalent about art, the artist’s place is extremely insecure. Counteracting this insecurity The Art House, as a community, provides its members with the confidence to legitimise their own self-identity as an artist.
 
Art history tells us that the coming together of those endeavouring to create is a basic need. This was recognised in the feedback given by the artists exhibiting at the Art Fair. The Art Walks and Fairs were seen as an opportunity for this kind of interaction, especially by many of the members who do not have a studio at The Art House. Peer mentoring sessions were also acknowledged as being a helpful initiative in this vein. And lastly the building itself was lauded for its communal possibilities. Not only by providing working studios in close proximity to each other but also in being an ever present hub for connection, a centre around which the community can define its identity.  
 
 
Steven Chambers - Volunteer at The Art House

Posted by Elinor Unwin, 3 May 2012

Last modified by Elinor Unwin, 3 May 2012

Elinor Unwin on the Power of Words

We all know how words can have a major impact on our lives. They affect the way we feel about the world, about others and about ourselves. 
 
From Winston Churchill's 'We shall fight them on the beaches...' to Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream...' the spoken word has the power to rally thousands to a cause. In our daily lives a compliment from a friend or co-worker can boost your self esteem, whilst a hurtful comment can bring you down for days.
 
It's not just the spoken word. The written word too carries great meaning. Books can transport you to another time and place, inform and alter your perceptions of the world. I have read stories that have brought me to tears, as well as ones that have made me rock with laughter. I've also been inspired to find out more about a subject.
 
I was therefore surprised how unaware we can be with our use of everyday language. From using the word 'walk' instead of 'move', 'write down' instead of 'record or communicate' we can unknowingly exclude people from an event or activity. The filling in of forms too, is something many of us take for granted. Not everyone is comfortable with this or has the necessary skills to do this. We should therefore look at other ways of collecting information that overcome these barriers, to ensure we do not alienate. 
 
As providers of a service, we should all look at how we communicate and consider the words we use.  In joining The Art House staff this is something I have come to address. I by no means get it right all the time, but I’m certainly more aware – reminding myself as often as I can, “Think before you communicate”.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 8 February 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 12 February 2012