Glasgow based visual arts organisation, Project Ability, have been creating artistic opportunities for people with disabilities and lived experience of mental ill-health since 1984.
They recently hosted a European Art Workshop for 20 artists in their studio in Trongate 103 arts centre. The three-day gathering, which took place between 17 – 19 September 2019, happened within a supported environment culminating in a public-facing exhibition of the work created by the artists.
The backing of the British Council/Creative Scotland Partnership enabled European partners Atelier Geyso20 (Braunschweig, Germany) and KCAT Studios (Kilkenny, Ireland) to participate in the artist exchange. Project Ability’s long-lasting reputation across the UK also ended up attracting additional artist participants from various UK-based studios from Newton Dee (Aberdeen), Garvald Edinburgh, Bluecoat’s Blue Room (Liverpool), Venture Arts (Manchester) and Art Studio01 (Shrewsbury).
The idea for the summit came from a collective of learning disabled artists who have been working with Project Ability for many years and who were 'keen to further develop their practice and work alongside other artists. They follow the studios on social media and could see what was being produced in other studios in other parts of the country and in other countries' (Project Ability, 2019).
The gathering offered an opportunity to address the 'lack of opportunities for learning disabled artists to make work and develop their practice, collaborate with other artists, and to share and learn from one other' (Project Ability, 2019). This explained why 'from the get-go, the artists responded positively from being in the studio and working alongside one another' (Project Ability, 2019).
Throughout the 3-day summit, Project Ability’s studio in Trongate 103 provided a supported setting for individuals to express themselves and explore their artistic potential. Two artist facilitators were present as well as the Project Ability artists who acted as guides and workshop assistants. The guest studios attended with artist facilitators.
'Our studio is light, bright and spacious and it didn’t take long for the artists to feel comfortable in the space explore the materials on hand and get down to producing artwork' (Project Ability, 2019).
Even though the organisers had been planning to display some of the work in the gallery, it quickly became evident that the space was going to be filled and shared with a public audience. 'Everyone enjoyed being able to take their work from the studio and bring it to the gallery; position it and see an exhibition take shape. The amount of work produced was incredible' (Project Ability, 2019).
The project aided Project Ability to cement its role as a core point of contact for artists with learning disabilities and their support studios in the UK, and with European partner organisations, such as the European Outsider Art Association, of which they are a founding member.
In addition, the organisation is now working with Cove Park 'to advise them on best practice in supporting learning disabled artists to participate in artist residency opportunities and inclusive programming' (Project Ability, 2019).
The activities of the European Art Workshop were captured on film and shared across partners via social media during delivery. You can watch the documentary film here.