A group of people participating in a workshop, one person is holding a ball while smiling at a computer with other people in the background also hold a ball which make vibrations
Unlimited Connects at Watershed. Photo by Jon Aitken.

Who wants to Participate?

Last year we commissioned four new projects which either have participation at their core or use elements of participatory practice in the creation of a new performance or artwork.  Ahead of our next call out Fiona Slater, Programme Coordinator at Shape, explains what Unlimited look for in a participatory arts project and what to consider when putting one together.

So what is a participatory arts project?

For Unlimited a participatory project is all about collaboration; bringing people together to share ideas, experiences and expertise. It may mean that the lead artist is unclear what the end point of the project will look like but is clear about how individual participants can help guide or divert the journey there.

Participatory projects could take the form of workshops, discussion groups or creative sessions and whilst there may not be a showcase or ‘audience’ for the sessions we hope the conversations and learning that come out of the process will be shared more widely.

So if that’s a broad remit for a participatory project what are some of the other considerations?

Who are you working with?

Unlimited funds work which is creatively-led by disabled people but we recognise the importance of providing opportunities for everyone to come together to experience great work by disabled artists and join the debate on equality, access and inclusion in the arts.

Ensuring disabled artists’ work is embedded in the arts sector (our key aim) needs to be a team effort and by opening up conversations to disabled and non-disabled people we hope to harness the diversity of opinions, skills and support needed to see that cultural shift.

In his Unlimited commission ‘A Very Queer Nazi Faust’, Vince Laws aims to highlight issues around the cuts to disability benefits and ultimately seek a change in government policy. To meet such ambitious aims Vince wants ‘as many people as possible to feel they are part of a bigger creative project’ which explores these hard hitting themes through a series of workshops building up to an ‘experimental participatory happening’ at Norwich Arts Centre in September 2018.

Through a series of informal drop-in sessions and using actors ‘cast over social media’, A Very Queer Nazi Faust will open up each element of the creative process to a community of disabled and non-disabled people in and around the Norfolk area, building a network which will continue to collaborate and advocate for change following ‘the happening’.

At other times it may be important to work with a smaller, distinct group of people; creating a safe place for people from marginalised groups, commonly excluded from the conversation, to come together in a supportive and familiar environment.

In the creation of ‘Man on a Bench Fairytale’ lead artist David Tovey will be working with a Manchester based organisations for people in poverty or facing homelessness.

During a series of workshops participants will help create costumes from discarded materials and clothes. David is keen to pass on skills which enable people, who have experienced similar barriers and discrimination to himself, to build confidence and feel part of a performance piece and wider discussion about the visibility of homeless people. 

How are you working with them?

For Felix Peckitt and his commission The Goldilocks Mixer participation, co-creation and technology will be central to the creation of a new installation which explores how sound can welcome or isolate people in public spaces.

Through a series of tech workshops and hackathons disabled and non-disabled participants will co-design and develop the look, feel and function of a sonic installation. The installation will in-turn be co-curated by audience members who will be invited to create an environment which feels sonically ‘just right’.

Felix will be utilising the skills of a creative team from Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and Touretteshero, who bring a wealth of knowledge and experience around Inclusive Design practice and creating collaborative and accessible environments.

Where are you working with them?

Providing an accessible physical space for people to come together is an important element of any participatory project but the online sphere is also an invaluable space to meet and continue conversations.

Neal Pike has formed ‘TENTACLES’; a group of disabled writers in the Nottingham area who will meet to share and develop their work. As Neal explains; “Poetry has enabled me to communicate, given me the confidence to perform on stage, and allowed me to rationalise the thoughts in my head. Now I want to lead a network to enable others to benefit.”

Alongside this he will be creating a series of workshops online via YouTube which means people unable to join sessions are still able to participate in the programme.

If you are an emerging disabled artist with an idea for a participatory project look out for our next call-out for commissioning awards this September.