Making Something Adding More

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Get the Message session, Camden Arts Centre, 2017. Photo: Hydar Dewachi

Get the Message is a Camden Arts Centre project working with young people and teachers from local Special Educational Needs schools in collaboration with artists. The project aims to increase creative opportunities within the arts for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities; to foster a sense of belonging at the Centre and to encourage confidence and independence through collaborative activities that champion all forms of communication and self-expression. Ahead of the annual exhibition celebration, Gemma Wright, Camden Arts Centre’s Head of Education reflects on the project.

“Over the 16/17 academic year, artists Andrew Omoding, Betsy Dadd and Linda Stupart have worked with young people from Swiss Cottage, Mapledown and Woodfield Schools creating artworks and interventions in response to Camden Arts Centre’s exhibitions including Matt Mullican, Bonnie Camplin, Joachim Koester, Geta Brătescu, Paul Johnson, Daniel Richter and Jennifer Tee. The Get the Message artists planned sessions that opened up their own practices, working with materials, technology and performance, leading 18 workshops over the year for 27 young people.

This year marked an important change in Get the Message, which is now in its 15th year, as new schools, teachers and artists joined the project. We began the first year of our partnership with ActionSpace, an organisation that supports the development of artists with learning disabilities, and last July we recruited artist Andrew Omoding to co-lead the project within the new team of three. It is our vision, along with the support of ActionSpace as a partner, to improve access and opportunities to the arts for artists with learning disabilities and to increase participation, education and training provision.

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Andrew Omoding leading a Get the Message session, 2017. Photo: Hydar Dewachi

As a way to work towards this aim, we set up the Get the Message Access Forum, which is now in its second year. This forum was initiated as a response to the research findings in Lemos and Crane’s report on Improving access to the arts for people with learning disabilities. The forum meets twice a year and is made up of peers from London’s galleries and museums from education, communications, operations and visitor services. This is a space to put access at the heart of our agenda, to share practice and learn from each other. It is a place for partnerships to foster and we hope new projects will emerge as a result of this.

Working with Andrew in the team demonstrated how our working structures relied on paperwork, emails, and written plans as well as lengthy, talkative meetings. To make these meetings more accessible, we spoke less and made more. Our meetings have become creative, active and responsive, with visual aids, a lot of materials, numbered agendas and photographs of the workshop plans. By making the meetings and our structures more accessible for Andrew, we have actually made them more accessible and enjoyable for all involved. These small changes have had a big impact and are now a fundamental part of the structure of how we work as a team.

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Get the Message Family Day, 2017. Photo: Hydar Dewachi

The year culminates in an exhibition of students’ work and a series of events in July 2017. On Saturday 8 July we welcomed families from the schools to celebrate the exhibition and take part in a workshop, creating new artworks to add to the space. On Tuesday 11 July we hosted the schools day, where the young people met each other for the first time and took part in a larger scale collaborative workshop, ending with a certificate ceremony. Finally on Wednesday 12 July, we invite everyone to join us to celebrate the exhibition in a launch event that involves an intervention by the artists.

The exhibition, titled Making Something Adding More, focuses on transformation as a key theme that has manifested throughout the year. Using materials, colour and layers to create objects, drawings, prints, projections, costumes and ceramics, the exhibition presents the work as one immersive installation, taking over the Artists’ Studio with a mass of materials. The artists have reworked, remade and reconstructed the artworks as a way of curating the show, taking the lead for the aesthetics of the space from the students.

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Installation view of Get the Message: Making Something, Adding More, 2017. Photo: Hydar Dewachi

More than this though, the theme also relates to the transformative effect of the project this year: the young people, the development of relationships, shared engagement, new partnerships, our own learning, training and discoveries.”

The young artists involved in the project are: Ahmed, Ahmed, Ajanthan, Elyse, Jaadzaib, Jamal, Jonathan, Kehinde, Kevin, Kubilay, Marcelo, Nadine, Nayeem, Neesa, Pharell, Sabrina, Sajad, Skylar, Taiwo, Tousif, Tristan, Tyler, Uros, Viviana and Yair.

For more information on Get the Message and the access forum, please contact Gemma Wright, Head of Education

Get the Message is currently supported by BBC Children in Need, The Big Give, The Childhood Trust, City Bridge Trust, The Herefordshire Community Foundation, John Horniman’s Children’s Trust, The Sobell Foundation and gifts in memory of Peter Cross

With special thanks to our partner ActionSpace

Camden Arts Centre is a place for world-class contemporary art exhibitions and education.

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