Emotions were running high at the Tate Exchange on our last day, although there was a sense of calmness in the air this morning.
Today was a quiet day for a selection of schools whose students who are on the autistic spectrum to come and have a day of relaxation - creating and engage with the artwork through making, painting and generally getting their hands dirty! Once every school had arrived so many wonderful activities started to take place in the main space.
A subject that linked all the creative work made by students this week was the Rauschenberg exhibition. By looking at all the creative responses and outcomes made by the students, I could observe the methods they used to translate what Rauschenberg pieces meant to them. Through this I gained an insight into how they perceive art.
I had the privilege of joining in a music lesson with Ickburgh School. Ickburgh is a mixed special school for pupils with severe or profound and multiple learning difficulties. I observed and understood just how important it was for the students to be in the company of people they knew to enjoy and have fun - there was a sense of security which had a comforting effect on them.
Being immersed with so many children with different disabilities, I sometimes felt quite useless, not knowing how to react as an equal, not knowing if the children could register what I was saying. It was quite difficult knowing what’s right and what’s wrong - not knowing if my actions were a threat, or if my presence affected them in a certain way. I felt like I learnt a great deal from all the students, especially when it came to communication and figuring out how to adapt my learning methods to break down the barriers and make students feel comfortable in my presence.
I had a very interesting chat with one of the learning support staff (LSA’s) from Tree House School, a non-maintained special school and sixth form for children aged 4 to 19 that have autism. She was telling me that they use a technique called Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) as a method of teaching children with autism. She also added, "ABA is much more than an intervention for children with autism. It can be used to help with anything from treating eating disorders to traffic control."
Sitting at the art table with the pupils I could see how LSA’s had to be quick on their feet and use different prompts as a way of communicating to them. One of the LSA’s mentioned that students use motivational tools, as a process of learning.
Conversations with AND and Tate staff
As I was trying to capture the views of all parties involved throughout the process I also managed to have a chat with those who were a key part of this project, the staff from A New Direction and Tate.
Lynne, a freelancer and member of the AND Artsmark team, told me about her experience:
Before I came I was a little unsure of what my role was going to be in and amongst a busy event. I knew I had a good relationship with the schools, but I didn’t know how proactive I was going to be in responding to the needs of the schools. I could have easily miscalculated the experience. I have found that the event has grown quite organically - I feel it’s about listening, looking and engaging your senses. It's had a momentum and energy of its own and that I think is what should be respected.
In terms of the young people, sometimes it took a bit of time for the students to acclimatise, but the event showed that it was about trying new things and meeting each other. We've been able to create new relationships, adding new dimensions and making the schools feel comfortable in the space. Even for the teachers it has been incredibly valuable to make new contacts between schools, and nothing has felt pre-planned which is what has felt nice. There’s been a sense of freedom.
It has just shown me that listening and being able to speak with professionals, and the children especially, can open many doors to making an opportunity fully inclusive and can lead in major improvement for other sectors.
Alice, Senior Schools Programmes Manager at AND tells me about her experience:
It has been a big learning experience for AND and the Tate to learn about working with special schools. The residency focused on adapting and creating new ways with future connections.
I felt a sense of openness but also risk-taking. Everyone seemed to trust each other, including schools, tutors and AND staff.
Tate Exchange is about connecting people together with art and culture and showcasing art in new ways. I felt ANDInclusive at Tate Exchange was a chance to celebrate special schools and challenge our thoughts and public preconceptions. It was about creating spaces that schools could feel like they could claim for themselves.
What was especially important was having a space for voices to be heard and giving everyone an equal platform and opportunities for them to emerge and develop as young people. From this event, I’ve picked up that it has been a particularly valuable and a comforting experience for the staff and parents of the schools to bond and create connections with other schools, as well as for the parents to get to know one another and share similar experiences. For them, it is about having a space for collaboration and avocation and understanding how important it is for both schools and parents to have that support network they can come to and build on.
Chris from The Complete Works, a school that works one-to-one with students and hires creative artists to teach curricular subjects, tells me:
We find that teaching our students by inviting in people from other creative industries can present us with varying background strengths. It makes the students easily motivated. Even though the event has come to an end it has opened up a new chapter with a solid foundation that can be built upon!
Erin, who founded Arts Media People, a company who produce cultural campaigns and live events for public engagement, and who also works at the Tate, rounds up her views of ANDInclusive at the Tate Exchange, ending a successful week::
A New Direction and Studio Wayne McGregor programmed an ambitious week of creativity, noise, laughter and joyful music where pupils led the way! They made rich connections with the Rauschenberg exhibition as a catalyst and for many participants from the special schools all visiting this week, it will have been their first visit out of school and to a cultural institution. Hugely important has been the welcome, the visibility of this work through Tate Exchange and placing the focus on inclusion front and centre in the building this week.
Personal experiences, challenges and insights
Being given the opportunity to blog about such an exciting and full on event, combined with my own personal struggles, I feel it has enabled me to express my views in a completely new and different way than what I’m used to.
I felt I could bring a unique perspective with a fresh approach to blogging, which has also led to gaining interesting design ideas from insights I have developed through one-on-ones with students.
I believe that gaining individuals insights are such an important experience and can be used as a valuable tool for further development for creating a fully inclusive arts sector. This week gave me an insight into experiencing the barriers some students face on a day to day basis, especially in such a public and busy environment. It was lovely to engage with so many schools and children with so many abilities - it’s opened my eyes to much more than just what and how art can inspire and influence on so many levels.
As a designer with a disability, being given the opportunity to feedback and give my perspectives on things, and being so close to these schools and pupils has opened my eyes to the array of possibilities people have - not just the students, but all the staff, helpers and carers too. It’s made me think about the many ways art, culture and individuals’ different engagement encounters, can be a collaborative experience to create quite a powerful opportunity with a very personal and unique narrative.
Chatting to a close friend, who shares a similar passion for inclusion in the arts, she tells me that, “if we start to question how different types of mediums and technologies can break down the barriers to people that have a range of visible and non-visible impairments, then it can be a valuable tool and lesson to us all that if the environment around us can be designed in an innovative and inclusive way then everyone can benefit.”
One big thing that I’ve taken from this event are the personal insights students have taught me with pastoral care too. Even though I haven’t spent time with absolutely every student that came through the doors, I’ve slowly learnt about each individual and how beneficial an experience like this can be to parties involved. I think it’s so crucial for the development of society for everyone to be involved, as it can unlock many doors and can make us learn and question the barriers and the often perceived uncomfortable nature of communicating with children with special needs.
What I loved, when talking to Lynne is that she said it has become visible. Disability has become visible. I loved that because it can make sense in so many ways and sums up this week beautifully!
I’ll miss spending time with the students, as I feel I’ve gained and learnt so much from them. Overall it has been a very valuable insight which I’ll cherish forever.
Find out more about ANDInclusive at Tate Exchange
Image credit: all photos taken by Roger Brown for A New Direction