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Ways Of Knowing: New Dance and the importance of movement, creativity and learning for young children

published by The Bluecoat

INHABIT is Bluecoat’s three year programme of new & improvised dance with Liverpool Improvisation Collective, funded by the Esmee Fairbairn ...

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Not so Out of the Blue

In 2005, in response to a white paper called Valuing People (2001), long overdue changes to the way people with learning disabilities were supported to live their lives started to come into effect. Rather than spending most of their time in day centres, the vision was for people to have choice about their lives; and to be visible and valued as part of society.

Liverpool City Council were keen to work with Bluecoat to look at developing a sustainable programme here. We had been working with adults with learning disabilities on a project-to-project basis since 2000.  At the time we were closed for capital development and were keen to use this time to consolidate.

Fast forward 11 years and Bluecoat is prominently featuring three different strands of work by adults with learning disabilities who are involved in what is now a constellation of projects. They are leading workshops for children and curating and commissioning for exhibitions. But how did the journey unfold?

We started meeting with a group of five adults with learning disabilities, with artist Andy Weston, exploring possibilities for an ongoing project. They recruited professional artist facilitators and ran outreach workshops in day centres across Liverpool. Blue Room launched in April 2008 with a membership of 33 people coming weekly for sessions over three days. Arts Council England made all of this possible with valuable seed funding.

Supported by an experienced Artist Facilitator, Blue Room members explore exhibitions in Bluecoat’s gallery, using them as a starting point for discussions and creation of new work. Our programme of contemporary visual arts has provided rich territory. A huge range of concepts are covered, including ground often left untrodden by people with learning disabilities, who may have been deliberately shielded from challenging arenas such as love, death, politics or sex. Blue Room has given members a place to express opinions and feelings, often through their artwork, and make friends with common interests.

Blue Room uses materials and processes to encourage experimentation and skills development. This has included printmaking, sculpture (using traditional and found materials), film, animation, mark making, installation, performance art, drawing and painting. They often work collaboratively with each other and sometimes with visiting artists who have included Sonia Boyce, David Blandy, Wendell McShine, Laurence Payot, Anne Harild and currently Dave Evans.

Some Blue Room members expressed an interest in volunteering so we supported them to help with family art sessions. This gave members a chance to use their skills and meet new people. Some of our members really loved it. At the time we were working with the Everyman and Playhouse Theatres in “The Pad”, a disused shop unit on Scargreen Avenue in Norris Green, where we ran arts activities for children and young people from the local area. We piloted a project there with Blue Room members supporting art clubs for children aged 6-11. Members’ confidence quickly grew and they enjoyed their new status helping others. The children built really positive relationships with Blue Room members. Many children and their families visited Bluecoat for the first time and the children enjoyed their interactions with our gallery programme. We were really excited by the potential.

In 2013 we were given a three year grant from Paul Hamlyn Foundation to launch Out of the Blue, five art clubs in different areas of the city, including Norris Green. We based the clubs in areas where people were less likely to visit Bluecoat and created a stepping stone approach. Clubs take place weekly during term time in community spaces, then holiday activities take place at Bluecoat with transport provided. We support Out of the Blue members and their families to attend our family activities. We tried wherever possible to match Blue Room members to clubs in their own neighbourhoods, adding to the value of their relationships with the young Out of the Blue members.

Collaboration, an exhibition celebrating three years of Out of the Blue will launch on Saturday 22 October from 1 – 4pm in the Vide space at Bluecoat involving a collaboration with artist Dave Evans. It will feature a short film about the project, an even shorter edit of which can be found here.

2016 has seen two more additions to the Blue Room portfolio.

The first has come through a partnership with Halton Speak Out and University of Leeds. PhD candidate Jade French is researching a new approach to collaborative commissioning, facilitating a group of five adults with learning disabilities (three of whom are Blue Room members) to curate an exhibition. The project explores the idea that curating an exhibition can provide a new way for people’s voices to be heard.

Through a series of weekly sessions the group decided to focus on the theme of autonomy – something they all crave and have achieved to different degrees. Supported by Jade and Bluecoat’s curatorial team, they have commissioned James Harper from Royal Standard studios to make new work for Auto Agents, an exhibition taking place at Bluecoat from 26 Nov 2016 – 15 Jan 2017. The exhibition will be accompanied by a new approach to the exhibition catalogue, currently under development by the group working with design artist Mark Simmonds.

The final star in the constellation is Inhabit, a project we are working on with Liverpool Improvisation Collective who have been based here since 2008. The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation have funded us to work with LIC over three years to help us apply some of our visual arts engagement approaches to another art form: New Dance. Mary Prestidge from LIC has been working with five Blue Room members in a focused way every week over the summer to explore movement as a new mode of expression. They will share some of their work on 7 October as part of Mary’s evening of new dance, Expanding the Picture.

Moving into dance is just one of our plans for expansion, as we’re currently looking to spread the Blue Room love a bit further afield in St Helens and Runcorn and then, who knows where. There’s a long way travelled already but I sense we are only in the foothills. Watch this space! 

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Liverpool’s centre for the contemporary arts, Bluecoat showcases talent across visual art, music, dance, live art and literature. As the most ...

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