Hello, welcome to the Irregular Arts School's project website!
Irregular Art Schools is a new research project supported by a £246,000 grant by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Beginning on 1 February, it will co-develop and pilot different professional development opportunities with learning disabled artists in the Leeds City Region, testing how existing structures such as artist-led spaces, universities, publishing and social care can better serve learning disabled individuals.
The project is led by Jade French - that's me! I am an artist-facilitator, museum professional and academic whose research interests emerge from practical experience of facilitating inclusive and community-led projects in museums, galleries and heritage sites. As a researcher my work broadly examines access and participation within arts and museology, with a focus on collaborating with learning disabled people to innovate inclusive practices in curating, commissioning and the development of collections. In 2020 I published a monograph on this topic titled Inclusive Curating in Contemporary: A Practical Guide.
For many years I've had a deep interest in the work of learning disabled artists and curators. Beginning my career in social care roles, I have since practiced as an artist-facilitator for over ten years supporting a range of learning disabled and neurodivergent artists, inclusive arts organisations, and supported studios to create artworks, programmes, exhibitions and policy including international collaborations across Ireland (International Curator Residency), USA, Brazil (Sesc São Paulo Museum Accessibility Study and Research Group) and Japan (Tokyo 2020 Art Brut World Forum).
This project, however, is a collaborative one. The research team brings together a range of skills and expertise across visual art and social care. This includes staff and artists from supported studio Pyramid, members of artist-led studios and project space Assembly House, staff from Leeds City Council’s Adult Social Care Team and Co-Investigator Dr Katie Graham, Lecturer in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at University of York.
Over the next two and a half years, the team will be:
• examining social care policy with social workers;
• leading two national think tanks on artist-facilitation;
• experimenting with inclusive academic publishing processes;
• trialling an artist-led model of professional development with Assembly House;
• exploring ways to make the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies more inclusive and accessible to learning disabled artists. There will be opportunities for staff and students in the School to participate.
James Hill, Director of Pyramid said:
While there are lots of amazing artists with learning disabilities in Leeds, we have recognised for a while that the provision of higher education, the wider experience of learning in the arts, and creating exhibitions in artist led spaces with a peer group of other students and sharing in academic research, have never been open to the vast majority of artists with a learning disability. We’re hugely excited to be part of this ground-breaking research, to be able to offer artists with learning disability a new level of support, and to facilitate a really meaningful engagement between our artists, with students and staff at the University.
Why is it called "Irregular Art Schools"?
The project's title is inspired by Professor Roger Slee’s provocation in his book ‘The Irregular School’ (2011). Here, Slee questions binary concepts of learning expressed through a division of ‘regular’ and ‘special schools’. With this in mind, crucially this project will examine methods to support the artistic development of learning disabled people outside of inclusive arts settings; questioning the dislocation of learning disabled artists from mainstream arts development contexts and opportunities.
We will be producing easy read summaries throughout the project which can be viewed and downloaded from the easy read section of this website. You can download an easy read project summary that sets out what this project is about and what we hope to achieve.
At the moment the team is working on gaining ethical approval for the project so we can begin field work. We hope to have this in place by June 2021. Please check back for updates and subscribe to our newsletter to hear about events, blogs, news and opportunities to get involved.
Best wishes, Jade