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Posted by Philip Patston on 22 March 2008, 10:08 am in , , , , , ,

Thinking on the hop

So much for regular blogging - my three days of working and hanging out with the folk at arcadea was so intense that writing about it was really out of the question. Even now it's hard to know how to do the experience justice without giving myself an overuse injury. I'll start with a really brief synopsis and then add the contents of an email I've just sent to Vici, arcadea's director.

On Tuesday I spent the morning with Vici in what we tried to make a structured mentoring meeting. It ended up as the beginning of a three day tangented, organic and, at times (testament to an instant and strong mutual rapport) hilarious, discussion on cultural equality, the state of disability arts in the UK and our shared passion to inject renewed vitality into individuals and a movement experiencing changes in arts funding policies, apathy, identity confusion and what I might term loosely social fracture (difficulty in meeting together, organising, agreeing on focus etc). These discussions threaded through into a meeting with arcadea's board (only three of whom were able to attend) on Tuesday evening, a full day seminar with artists on Wednesday, and a seminar with council and arts facilities staff on Thursday morning followed by a concluding dynamic brainstorm about the future on Thursday morning. The energy created by about a dozen people who came to all or most events was palpable, of which I was honoured to be a part. I left inspired by the generation of ideas and vision that sprung from my visit.

If I were to summarise my input by way of justifying my presence, it was:

  • Presenting my story as inspiiration and testament to creating internal and external change in unison.
  • Introducing the idea of functional diversity as a reframing tool for the experience of disability. This generated intense discussion about language and identity, including the nature of the word 'function', which I agreed has limits due to clinical connotation, as well as a pragmatic and width of meaning. This debate has already inspired an evolution in my thinking described below.
  • Reframing 'disability arts' as part of the realm of creative and social entrepreneurship, attributing barriers and resistant attitudes to the innovative aspect of the work and landscape, rather than the content of the issue. I was also able offer social entrepreneurship theory - standing still, resiliency cycles and the call to engage repetitively in complex rather than simple pursuits - to make sense of the challenges the group was facing as individuals and as a movement.
  • Observing the connection between individual, internal reality and collective, external reality and using deliberate creation of the former to influence change in the latter.
  • Consciously combating fatigue and weariness by observing and changing negative and patterned beliefs into useful, constructive ones.
  • Capitalising on relationship building, persuasion and constructive thinking to build future direction, balancing without devaluing activism, cynicism and victim-based approaches.
Thursday's final brainstorm was testimony to the success of the three day Inspiring Internationalists event. I witnessed individual changes Vici and her three executive colleagues that bouy me in my outlook for the future for arcadea and the movement in the North East region.

The rest is taken from the email sent to Vici this morning, focusing on my thinking on functional diversity and the future:

I had a very relaxing day yesterday, barely got out of bed, and woke this morning at 5:30 with "the answer" to the functional diversity dilemma - a better term I think is EXPERIENTIAL DIVERSITY, where the enquiry is into the VALUE of UNIQUE EXPERIENCE (physical, social, emotional etc) vs COMMON EXPERIENCE - but also the EXPRESSION of Unique Experience vs Common Experience. This allows for disablement and therefore the "disabled" identity to be simply one facet of Unique Experience and Expression. I think the idea of experience also lends itself well to the idea of internal and external experience - the difference between how I experience myself and how others experience me - and using expression as the bridge.

All this makes the WISE SPECIES™ model (which just didn't have time to emerge in the 3 days) more coherent. I'm really quite excited about this conceptual development because it speaks so perfectly to my wider interest in social change. It allows a language and enquiry into the Experiential/Expressive Diversity of all social groups, creating an equal space to explore a constructive/ creative perspective on experience and craft it into useful expression, without overlooking marginalisation and discrimination, powerlessness and oppression. By definition it must also include privilege, power and even criminal deviation and anti-social roles.

So, going back to the disability arts aspect and our discussion about the future on Thursday night, it seems to me this could form the basis of some more focused professional development work I could offer to artists with unique experience (informed by impairment and disability). It would be great to work with a group of artists wanting to explore their unique experience in the context of their creative/expressive work, over a longer period, perhaps a week or more, and maybe have it culminate in a public showing.

This article came through on an IFACCA newsletter. Maybe there is a chance to strike while the iron is hot and offer dialogue for new ACE CEO in terms of his "mission to see “excellent” arts and culture made accessible to all" - I note he also mentions Newcastle/Gateshead as doing things differently - so he'll be expecting a different take from you!?!?
New arts chief on a mission to change people’s lives for better - nebusiness.co.uk