Addressing these barriers and foregrounding the rights of disabled people at the centre of cultural space, highlighted the need for our approach to be personalised to each individual we collaborated with. An example of this can be seen in a programme Autograph developed
for families with children with learning disabilities and autism. Initiated in response to the lack of such provision in the city, we wanted to create a space and community that cared for and celebrated a particularly vulnerable constituency. Working with artist Katriona Beales
, we developed sensory and playful explorations with materials that responded directly to individual interests, curiosities and ways of processing the world – a Super Mario drawing studio, a paddling pool filled with jelly, green screen film sets, bubble machines and more. Over time very intimate relationships between artists, carers and children began to emerge, creating an important outlet and space of personal development in their family lives. They also created a lot of mess, a particular challenge for the infrastructure of cultural spaces, where education rooms simultaneously function as hire spaces that should be wiped clean after each use.
Developing relationships between cultural organisations and the social care sector was another key aspect of fostering the inclusion of disabled people. One example of this was an extensive collaboration between Autograph and Headway East London
, a charity supporting people affected by brain injury. Through Headway’s art studio, we developed an ongoing dialogue about identity and difference, where members use artistic practice as a site of making and re-making identity after injury and in the experience of disability. Sharing these artists’ practices and their work made visible complex life stories and forced us to think differently about issues of vulnerability and care, ability and value systems, the possibilities and barriers for free expression. As a collaboration it began to expand on the radical possibilities for how art and social care can be interwoven.