Cultivating spaces for extraordinary artists


In 2015 I joined forces with learning disability artist Alison Picknell from Telford to set up a transient studio that we evolved around church halls, community halls and home studios around Telford and Shropshire.

Our aim was to provide a safe creative inclusive space where disabled artists, learning disabled artists and non disabled artists could develop their art work, whilst developing opportunities to develop their creativity, pursue their artistic ambition and contribute to the contemporary visual art sector.

In 2016 we moved into the free project space at Participate Contemporary Space CIC in Shrewsbury, where Alison and I continued to develop our work. Alison began to become an artist in her own right, with her work being profiled on the Outside In website, in their online shop and on their promotional material. Prior to this Alison's work was exhibited in Compton Verney where she sold all her work. This resulted in a much higher profile, giving her confidence in her work to start making her paintings on a large scale.

Alison and I continued to work closely together developing our collaborative arts practice and looking for professional development opportunities to expand our studio group and artists collective.

As a disabled artist and pioneer of so may aspects of the Disability Arts Movement, I found Alison's artistic drive and ambition to succeed and continue the development of her own practice and ArtStudio01 extremely compelling. I felt I understood this need in her to want to paint and to create her work as a fellow artist. So I chose to continue to support her as a voluntary Artistic Director of ArtStudio01 in our shared ambition to make ArtStudio01 into a supported studio space.

Over the next year we both spent time spreading the word about ArtStudio01 in order to build our artists collective so that we could become a more sustainable group with a small income to buy materials with. Alison also needed support to enable her to travel independently from Telford to Shrewsbury, so her friend Krisstel became her travelling support. Then Krisstel enjoyed making art too so in turn joined as learning disabled artist, then Krisstel's husband, who also likes art joined us. And then there were 4!

In the meantime I was supporting and mentoring learning disabled artist Mark Lloyd, whom I was successful in getting an Arts Council England Grants For the Arts (G4A) Award for Reasearch and Development, and mentored him in expanding his arts practice, exploring ways to showcase his 30 year archive of his drawings of motorways and trains, his creative skills set and introducing him to a wider creative cultural view through visits to galleries and museums - local to the West Midlands. Mark's mentoring and skill set development all took place at ArtStudio01, and continues to do so along with Mark's Mum Wendy who decided she wanted to learn to paint landscapes.

In February 2016 we got another ACE G4A to go on a cultural exchange trip #Take6 to Project Ability in Glasgow, to see a co-curated exhibition of the artists of ArtStudio01 whom I'd been mentoring over that last year, through the DASH Cultivate scheme. A pioneering moment, as I developed an inclusive progressive mentoring strand in the DASH Cultivate programme that was tailored to include learning disabled artists in developing their own professional practice.

Since then Mark has exhibited his work in Kaarisilta Bieniel Helsinki, Finland and his work is very popular and continues to sell. Alison has sold several works on Outside In to European buyers. Krisstel has been commissioned to make new work and continues to develop her skills in watercolour techniques in landscapes. Tristan is collaborating with artists in Participate. Sarah Jane has joined us and is enjoying the Health and well-being benefits of creating her menagerie animal drawings. Artist Ross Prince has joined us from Loudwater Studios and is creating a moodscape wall.

Exciting news is that I have been awarded an ACE G4A Lottery Grant to tour 5 supported UK learning disability arts studios and 1 international studio in Finland. I'll be joined by Producer Jennifer Gilbert and evaluator Mandy Fowler to do action research and development into contemporary artist practices and Studio models. This will feed into the development of ArtStudio01 and specialist mentoring in partnership with DASH.

ArtStudio01's future is looking extremely bright and exciting. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, or check out the project blog to keep up with our happenings.