Looking at access and engagement issues through an Engage Everyone Residency at Dundee Contemporary Arts. Based in the print room at DCA making work in response to conversations – physical, spatial, forensic from the perspective of an artist with a ‘disabilty’


How ‘Open’ is Open

Before I get to the crux of what I have to say I want to make it perfectly clear that I think Shape Arts do some amazing work in the areas of Disability and Equality. However I was a little dismayed to read a call for submissions with a £10 fee.

As a fulltime self-employed artist I have witnessed an increase in Pay to Display opportunities. In a similar way the number of unpaid/or very poorly paid internships has increased and thankfully we are moving to limit and legislate these.

In which other areas would you pay to do what you do – as it is we have seen opportunities decrease and fees shrinking in tandem for freelance artists.

Bodies funded and sponsored then requiring submission fees wether selected to exhibit or not– what does this cover? Is that not already covered by Arts Council England or other partnerships and sponsorships? If not then why not, why should the artist bare the cost? Shape does fantastic work but what I am surprised at is that, and if I may use a Twitter hash tag – The Hardest Hit – are being asked to pay again. All I am asking is if you are going to the lengths of having an art exhibition then please – put the artist first.

Then again artists are responsible for the cost of getting their work to and from the collection points – again expenses to be met by the artist – and then have the luxury of a 40% commission on sales. Are we not trying to be professional artists and support them – surely some of that support must be in curating and showing work that can be supported practically and financially or we merely contribute to maintaining the status quo. Pallant House and their Outside In Biennial of Outsider Art is a shining example of putting the artist first. I wonder why this model cannot be replicated elsewhere – or in this case particularly.

I wonder about the motivation in general for submission fees, what does that say about where we place artists in the art world and society as a whole?

This is the beginning of a dialogue for me. I have not mentioned things such as wanting to show my work in context, being proactive about who I show with and where, how does showing in a particular exhibition develop not just my career but my practice?

I would be interested to hear your views on ‘Pay to Display’

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A Slight Diversion

Work in the arts is a bit like the old bus cliche. Sure enough the barren times relented and now I find myself going from Dundee to Leeds and Wakefield with regularity – I have almost forgotten what home looks and feels like.

I came to Wakefield to The Art House – a fantastic building designed with access in mind – there is a exhibition space, 2 floors of artists studios and 3 flats. It’s a fantastic resource. And it’s an amazing organisation – clearly focussed on equality and quality.

My exhibition opens today. I hate installing, i find it a really difficult part of being an artist. Hanging, spatial awarenesss, measuring – non of my strong points. I have become better at self curation – though i think having an external critical (friendly) eye cast over your intended show is invaluable.

It is the quiet panic. I know today will fly over with too much to do. I still have to prepare an artists talk – the Art House is part of the Wakefield Art Walk which has been gaining momentum over the last few months. Then there is the whole talking about your work, This seems to be becoming the norm – having just done one for DCA about my residency.

And then it’s over – the work is out there – it has to breathe on its’ own.

Then I am doing another new thing for me – sitting on an interview panel – which i am finding the whole process fascinating – before going home for a couple days and preparing for Dundee again.


What is it about galleries and disabilities?

People with disabilities negotiate space differently depending upon their impairment. –

Before I go any furtheri need to make a necessary comment about language – the disability world is fraught in terms of language all i need to say is that my terms may be incorrect but my heart is in the right place and i am talking from within the circle rather than without – Phew! Back to the art!

So people negotiate space differently. For wheel chair access we can see that it needs to be a minimum of 75cm for a door. But for hidden impairments? I engage with my space differently to a blind or deaf person perhaps – the ‘feel’ the psychological aspect of the space is paramount for me. Where are the doors, windows, high ceilings, do the walls move, is that wall actually a door. All these and more impact on wether or not i even enter a space or how i feel about those spaces. And i’m not even in the gallery yet!

Galleries are not known for their riots or public disorder or as unsafe environments – but that depends entirely on your perspective. Big spaces can be intimidating, small spaces can be claustrophobic – one size doesn’t fit all. All i know is that i need to create a safety matrix as i go around the varying spaces.

I haven’t even got to how relevant is contemporary art, generic gallery visitors, stereotypical disabled people and their lack of interest in culture because they are too busy being isolated on their sink estates in their low achievement high rises. Well wake up to the real world – that’s a stereotype – there’s plenty of high functioning socially engaged disabled people too. What about them and their cultural appetite. Where do we go?

Why don’t people with disabilities engage with contemporary art spaces.?The people of dundee are being quite quiet on this one at the moment.


A Brief Introduction

Why don’t more people with disabilities access cultural venues? A quick search of Project Unedited for the keyword ‘Disabilty’ shows four entries – so even here people with disabilities are not accessing, exploring or expressing cultural worlds.

Disability isn’t sexy no matter how you couch it. There is still inherent and widespread stigma attched to it. From my personal viewpoint and experience this is particularly relevant with hidden disabilities – and dare i even mention it – Mental Health.

I don’t want to be labled a ‘disabled’ artist. I am an artist with a disability and i want my work to stand by it’s own merit with my peers and contemporaries. I don’t seek tokenism or inclusion through quota. I don’t want to get into the whole disability arts thing because this is not the right forum to grasp those particular nettles.

So Engage Scotland are looking at access. I am fortunate enough to have gained one of the residencies. And hats off to DCA who have brought artists in rather than consultants and trainers.(although i also happen to be both the latter as far as mental health goes).

I could assume why more people don’t access the venue in particular or culture in general – it would be easy to say – Oh! it’s econnomics, we can’t afford to. Or ‘What relevance has contemporary art to my life?’

I have had my first week in Dundee, I am beginning conversations and some thoughts are emerging. One month is not a long time to make a hard wired change but it is long enough to begin to instill a creative process of adaptive change.