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Bringing disabled audiences and artists together to develop innovative and accessible projects

Cover: Audience members participating in Poorboy’s performance The Angel’s Share.

Investigate Create was a three year project, led by Artlink, that brought people with sight loss and people with hearing loss together with artists to develop innovative collaborative work that explored how their experiences can inform work which is accessible to all.


Artlink has been working with disabled audiences and venues in Edinburgh for over 30 years to increase access to the arts. Participants know that Artlink will respond to their interests and pick up on their ideas, and this core of collaboration and encouragement is vital to the success of our projects. Through our work we have met amazing, creative people bursting with ideas and keen to take part in the arts. In many of the discussions we have had over the years, participants


“It “ was innovative, inspiring, exploratory, entertaining and delightfully socially inclusive.“ Some Batsqueak Echo of Other Time audience member

“It’s “ pushing your boundaries and doing things you did not think you were capable of doing.” Let Loose participant

expressed frustration that access is often thought about after an exhibition is open or a performance is on tour. There was also frustration about the lack of involvement in developing access. Investigate Create took these concerns on board and placed individuals’ experiences at the centre of developing new, accessible work. The projects have been as varied as the people involved and have taken us to some unexpected places. Working with artists Greg Sinclair


and Kate Temple, individuals with hearing loss have explored ways to communicate and collaborate within workshops. Tools used to facilitate discussion, such as text and an electronic notetaker became key creative elements in performance and visual art. Ken Cockburn explored the National Library of Scotland through description and prose, collaborating with visually impaired participants. This culminated in a performance that opened up the library for audiences with sight loss and at the same time revealed new possibilities for staff. Using taste, sound, smell and story in a performance, Poorboy


“It’s “ been a chance to really examine how we engage with audiences and what we offer them.” Sandy Thomson, Artistic Director Poorboy

Above: Participants relaxing and talking in Sandy Bell’s pub after Poorboy’s performance.

immersed us in Greyfriars Graveyard. Descriptive, narrative and sensory experiences offered new perspectives of the city. Performances and events brought people together and opened up discussion about personal experiences, views on the artworks and ideas for new projects. We found crossovers between individuals’ interests and artists’ practice. Audio description - a usually functional service – flourished as creative writing and performance. A lively discussion about loop systems invigorated individuals with hearing loss and new media artists.


Discussions like these and the insistence that participants inform our work have led Artlink to be ambitious about the creative possibilities of developing accessible art. We are excited about the work Investigate Create produced and the possibilities it opened up. We are delighted that venues and artists have been inspired to continue developing some of the ideas. We are proud that some participants have found confidence in their creative abilities to instigate their own projects, join a course at Edinburgh College of Art or make props for a local drama group. Individuals’ experiences have been central to developing and shaping Investigate Create, so it is fitting to now share the projects through reflections on the work. The following accounts from participants and an artist share different experiences of Investigate Create, show ways people have benefitted from taking part and offer some advice. For an archive of Investigate Create projects and resources we have created, please visit


Right: collages made by Let Loose particpants using text based instructions.

Consultation as conversation

Anne Dignan has been involved with Artlink since 2009 and has taken part in several projects exploring audio description with artists and poets. Anne attends a wide range of art events and often uses Artlink’s Arts Access service which provides a volunteer driver to accompany her. Anne has hearing and sight loss, at events she uses loop systems and relies on audio description. The following account is from a presentation, Consultation as Conversation, which Anne gave to museum and heritage professionals in November 2014.


Above: Participants enjoying a handling session at the National Library of Scotland.

One early memory of being involved with Artlink that stands out is Pandora’s Light Box which was a collaborative project to create a descriptive poem about the interior space of the Talbot Rice Gallery. This involved poet Ken Cockburn and ceramicist Fran Priest. We were invited to a series of workshops with the artists to contribute our impressions of the space and to discuss how the recorded poem could be listened to in the gallery. I am very proud to say that the title for the whole project was chosen from my description of one of the rooms.


What do I get out of my involvement with Artlink? I find the experiences varied and challenging, enabling me to learn new skills. We come together with likeminded people and the rewards are great. Our lives are enhanced and enriched socially, mentally and emotionally. Artlink’s projects with galleries, museums and libraries demonstrate care, consideration and constant evolution. Artlink links us with venues and organises events. It’s a privilege to get expert insight, especially from the curators, to be close to the objects and books sometimes even handling them.


“The “ emphasis is on collaboration between the artists, the staff and ourselves. Everyone’s opinions matter and they are respectfully explored in a structured way.”

Below: The Angel’s Share audience participating in a tactile element of the performance.

Above: Discussion between an artist and a participant during Poorboy’s research project Grist to the Mill.

Consultation should be a twoway process. By receiving feedback first hand, organisations would be more directly connected with their audiences. Likewise, individuals would benefit from learning about curation and selection processes. When this happens every one learns through the consultation process and I feel valued and not just part of a faceless demographic. The ‘link’ in Artlink is being strengthened and is expanding to include more varied and interactive experiences. Through reflection, consultation and revision we are enabled to access an ever widening set of experiences.


A twilight performance on Calton Hill with artists Phil Smith and Siriol Joyner.

A win win situation

Ann Thallon has taken part in Artlink’s work with people with hearing loss since the beginning of the project and her input has been key to the project’s evolvement. Ann has taken part in creative writing, drama, dance and visual art workshops with enthusiasm. Most recently she has been a core member of Let Loose, a collective of artists and individuals with hearing loss exploring contemporary art and learning from each other. The following account is from a discussion about this work between Ann and Susan Humble, Artlink’s Audience Development Officer.


Above: Let Loose participants interpreting artist Kate Temple’s instructions on the beach.

I’ve loved the challenges – the fun, the shared purpose. Over time we all got to know each other better and became a real team. It was an even playing field with hearing and non hearing; artists and the group all learning, getting ideas from each other. The artists grew together and with us, there was good chemistry and a real connection. I had a ball and part of that was seeing everyone working together, developing ideas, experimenting, performing in front of the group and


feeling delighted with the result. We were in a safe environment, free to experiment and I always left smiling. Yes, we had fun but more than that, we enjoyed interacting with each other and our confidence grew. Because of the support put in place – using text, the loop system and the electronic notetaker - our brains were freed up from struggling with the communication so we could relax into the buzz of creativity.

Below: Let Loose participants discussing collages

In all the workshops we were well supported and that was valued, it gave freedom from constraints caused by


they produced using text based instructions.

Above: Participants playing a word game developed by artist

our hearing. We felt brave enough to try something new and we were all successful and had a feeling of success.

Anthony Schrag, as part of the Text in Art workshops.

“Artlink “ gives people so many wonderful opportunities, challenges them just the right amount, helps them find new confidence which is such a win win situation, because then they’re brave enough to try more.”

The positive effect of the workshop goes way beyond the two hours we had together. It has really made a difference to me. When you have that feeling of success, you then take that out into the big bad world which is very healthy. At times my mind goes back to the Artlink situation and I think “Yes I did that!” Then you relax, your shoulders go down. It’s been a real confidence booster and well worth following through with another project. Looking ahead, having an end product to work towards would push us further and give a sense of purpose as it’s then not just for ourselves.


Linger on a detail Juliana Capes is a visual artist with extensive experience of collaborating with visually impaired people. Impressed with how evocatively Juliana uses language to interpret artworks, Artlink have worked with her on a number of projects, pairing her with a poet, writer, musicians and visually impaired participants. In these projects, the description is thought of as an artform and presented to audiences of both sighted and non sighted people. She has also shared her expertise with gallery staff, enabling more venues to offer descriptive tours. The following insight from Juliana has been adapted from the documentary Linger about Artlink’s creative approaches.


Above: Artists Juliana Capes and Laura Cameron Lewis perform Drift at the Dalriada bar in Portobello.

Description can be quite formal if you just follow a formula, but it can also be a very creative thing, a very poetic thing. The Artlink collaborations brought that out in me and gave me more freedom to get lost in a metaphor or a bit of hyperbole to create the imagery. Whilst providing verbal description for visual arts, I’ve learnt that understanding art goes beyond the eyes, encompassing all the senses, the intellect and the emotions. Having something described for you encourages analysis and sparks new ideas - it can be a revelation. For me, it is a chance to debrief the act of seeing, a luxury, time to linger on a detail.


Artlink have been really supportive and interested in the creative potential of verbal description, and I have been fortunate to work with them on projects that seek to develop and take that process further. In commissioning artists such as myself to collaborate with other creative practitioners, such as the poet Ken Cockburn or actress Laura Cameron Lewis, Artlink do a rare and valuable thing: they respect the creative process. When you are trusted to follow that process then real developments can happen. It’s about trust. Trust in your abilities as an artist. Trust in your abilities to engage an audience. Trust that you’ll find a way.


“The “ process of description can be akin to the making of a painting. Painting and describing both begin by looking, and when you are doing this on someone else’s behalf this needs to go beyond the obvious and ignore your own visual cues and shorthands.”

Acknowledgements Participants Martin Ahrens, Liz Anderton, Michael Brown, Muriel Cassie, Adrienne Chalmers, Hilary Davies, Anne Dignan, Ann Henderson, Dorothy Hendery, John Hendery, Beryl Homan, Maddi Kent, Marianne Laszlo, Pat Maison, Muriel Matheson, Maureen Miller, Sister Mary Murray, Alan McIntyre, Elena Nicholson, Fiona Powell, Hilary Rae, Marianne Ferguson-Rice, Ella Robertson, Phillida Sawbridge, Rita Simpson, Catherine Steyn, Angus Swan, Ann Thallon, Bertha Walker, Nuala Watt, Dennis Wilson, Alyson Woodhouse. Thank you to all the Arts Access volunteers who supported the project. Artlink staff Susan Humble Audience Development Officer Kirsty Williams Audience Development Officer (maternity cover)


Projects Let Loose Exploring collaboration and communication with individuals with hearing loss to develop a new, interactive performance with artists Greg Sinclair and Kate Temple. Text in Art A series of artist-led workshops exploring text in art. This was a research and development stage for Let Loose. Grist to the Mill A two week residency with Poorboy to explore and develop access creatively within performance. Calton Hill Constellations A twilight performance responding to the historic and evocative site of Calton Hill with visually impaired participants and artists Phil Smith and Siriol Joyner. Linger A film sharing Artlink’s creative approach to audio description with responses from visually impaired participants to the performance Linger at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.


The Angel’s Share Using climate, sounds, smells and tastes, Poorboy developed a short, immersive work for sighted, partially sighted and blind participants. Drift An audio story by artist Juliana Capes and writer Laura Cameron Lewis interweaving narratives from generations of women with connections to Portobello Prom across their lives. Some Bat-squeak Echo of Other Time Poet Ken Cockburn explored the National Library of Scotland as a building and a collection with visually impaired participants, creating a performance weaving fictional texts and descriptive passages. Exploring Cramond An exploratory performance in Cramond with artists Siriol Joyner and Phil Smith and visually impaired participants. Workshops, Training and Discussions New Media and loop system technology, artist sharings, sighted guiding and visual awareness training, Deaf Awareness training, verbal description training.


Acknowledgements Artists Dave Boyd, Lucy Boyes, Hamish Brown, Laura Cameron Lewis, Juliana Capes, Ken Cockburn, Frances Cooper, Brian Ferguson, Hugh Hillyard-Parker, Jenny Hulse, Inner Ear, Lorna Irvine, Siriol Joyner, Annie Lewis, Amy Elisa Lowe, Stuart Mitchell, Kirsten MacDonald, Eilidh McCormick, Laure Paterson, Poorboy, Jeremiah Reynolds, Anthony Schrag, Yann Seznac, Greg Sinclair, Phil Smith, David Stinton, Elaine Stirrat, Liz Strange, Kate Temple, Sally Thomas, Sandy Thomson, Daniel Warren. Partners Collective, Deaf Action, National Galleries of Scotland, National Library of Scotland, New Media Scotland, RNIB. Funders Creative Scotland, Robertson Trust, RS McDonald, Agnes Hunter Trust, Peoples Postcode Lottery



Artlink 13a Spittal Street, Edinburgh, EH3 9DY 0131 229 3555 Artlink Edinburgh & the Lothians is registered in Scotland No. 87845 with charitable status Scottish Charity No. SC006845.

Artlink investigate create  

Celebrating the work created and all contributions to Investigate Create - a three year project that brought people with sight loss and peop...

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