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> > > > Creative Minds South West: Theatre and Storytelling Presentations

Katie Keeler Co-Executive Producer of Theatre Bristol reflects on the Creative Minds conference in Bristol on Tuesday 14 October 2014 attended by learning disabled artists from across the UK, workers who support learning-disabled artists and a bunch of non-specialist industry types.

During the day I got to: listen to a presentation by Firebird Theatre; watch a film by dance & film artist Lisa May Thomas with GDance Young Company called Walls of Freedom; learn (again from GDance) about the Simpson Board, a non verbal choreographic tool; watch King of the Goblins and Jack’s Review by OpenStoryTellers; listen to a presentations from Diverse City Remix Gold and JUMPcuts, complete with short films; heard a call for revolution from the Creative Minds Brighton Steering Group; and exchanged information and ideas with colleagues.

The thing that impressed me most at the conference is to do with intention. Others have said this but I still think it is worth shouting about. Almost every practitioner talked about the intention behind their art. They all knew what they wanted to do and why. You don’t see this everywhere. Some were angry. All were passionate. No one was boring. Again, you don’t see this everywhere. I did not have to shout “gah – make something that means something to someone”.

I think another sign of quality work is the quality of the process. I heard some great examples of this and think the time, care and proper teamwork demonstrated by a number of companies is an inspiration to everyone working in the industry. A good process leads to meaningful work and life. 

This does not mean that making art is therapy for learning disabled artists. It means that if you do it right – making and sharing art can (and should) be good for you. Good for everyone. What’s the point otherwise?

In our delegate pack, we were given Ground Rules for talking about performance. I don’t think anyone in the room needed these rules. Everyone was so damn nice and polite. I’m used to people being a bit jealous if someone else makes a good piece of work. Should we whip up a bit more competitive spirit? Does wanting to win give you an edge? Actually, scrap this thought – there are no prizes in this game. I was just overwhelmed by friendliness.

I don’t think anyone at the event gave a really good answer to the question “how do you know if your work is good?” which is not uncommon but I suppose the fact that Creative Minds exists suggests that critical discourse is a bit thin on the ground for learning disabled artists and I agree with Lyn Gardner in her call for proper evaluation, critical self-awareness and outside input.

I love the idea from Diverse City of creating more opportunity for peer to peer assessment and I really love the cry of “we can take criticism” from the Creative Minds Brighton Steering Group.

For meaningful critical dialogue, perhaps we first need a stronger community and/or a more integrated arts scene and/or more confidence. 

I head some good approaches to making high quality work and my favourite was from Firebird (I am a bit biased) who talked a lot about the importance of collaboration. Along with all the other benefits of talent, experience, support etc – it makes them critical friends. It puts them in the world.

I also heard a desire to break into the mainstream. I salute this ambition and see it happening a little bit. If this desire is about critical friends, audiences and resources – go for it. If it is about validation – I wonder if there is a better way.  The gatekeepers to the major institutions are often behind the curve. Breaking the rules and finding new ways of working – defining success on your own terms – this is the task of the artist. 

Katie Keeler is Co-Executive Producer of Theatre Bristol. 

Theatre Bristol’s aim is to create the conditions whereby the most exciting theatre can be made and experienced by artists and audiences.

Our central ethos is that when you share stuff, everyone gets better; and our activity focuses on sharing good information, culturing strong networks, being open and listening to the sector, encouraging independent and alternative thinking, and testing out new models of working through producing and commissioning on behalf of the theatre sector.

Our small team of producers follow their curiosity, individually and collectively, to work for the benefit of artists to make great art.