National disability charity Sense and the RBSA shared the results of groundbreaking research at Touch Base Pears, a community facility run by Sense in the heart of Selly Oak.
The event sought to create a better understanding of how a project exploring art workshop design and delivery has helped not only those with complex communication needs but also the artists involved in the workshops and an exhibition, Connecting Creatively.
Natalie Osbourne, Learning and Engagement Manager at RBSA, spoke about the origins of the partnership between Sense and the RBSA:
‘The research and pilot stage in 2017 enabled Sense to become familiar with working in the gallery and allowed people to see what they can do, rather than what then can’t do.’
The original aim was to create a multi-sensory outreach workshop at the RBSA, accessible to all, including art lovers with complex communication needs. The collaboration evolved, culminating in an exhibition and Natalie described how the project impacted the RBSA.
‘Having an exhibition of the work allowed us to learn how to make the gallery into a multi-sensory environment and everyone experienced the artwork in a new way. The multi-sensory show was enjoyable for everyone. It raised the standard for all visitors and allowed the RBSA to realise how to build such events into the main programme.’
Participants with complex communication needs were able to communicate in new ways through interactive artwork. The creation of workshops proved a welcome challenge to RBSA artists Annette Pugh, Rob Hamp and Karoline Rerrie.
Each took to the stage to deliver stories of what the artwork and the events themselves meant to them. Annette Pugh told of the impact the event had on her work and how she approached the difficulties that faced her when trying to ensure activities would be accessible for all participants.
‘The programme drew on all my experience to fulfil a diverse set of requirements, creating a new piece of work of my own, used to implement the workshops in a cohesive way that offered something different and added to the existing work on show. It was daunting, but by no means negative.’
The overriding theme was the need to think outside the box. A key focus was on the participants’ independence, engagement, physical and emotional well-being, and creating a sense of fulfilment and achievement.
Rob Hamp summarised this perfectly when discussing his work and the tests he faced when he first approached it.
‘The process of creating the art for the exhibition involved breaking down traditional barriers, allowing visitors to touch the work and experience it in a new way that they may not have experienced before.’
Stephanie Tyrell, Inclusive and Sensory Arts Manager at Sense, echoed what Rob and other artists had tried to make so evident.
‘It’s about encouraging group narrative. It’s something we always look to explore with all artists.’
The evening was filled with stories of how the workshops had proved so useful to so many, and how simple it was to make such an impact on so many people’s lives.
But what was also made abundantly clear was the significance and importance of the support staff who make such events possible. Support staff are key to the process of connecting participants with the artists and allowing them to experience art for the first time.
The evening also gave Stephanie Tyrell the chance to demonstrate to the group an activity used by Sense to welcome participants to the workshops and encourage an open atmosphere based around interaction, giving a taste of the work on offer.
The RBSA would like to extend our warmest thanks to all those who attended and shared with us how the workshops had helped either themselves or loved ones. It was a magical evening made only possible through the help of everyone who attended.
By Thomas Taylor