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The Facilitation of Learning-Disabled Arts A Cultural Perspective giles perring How we view people with disabilities has less to do with what they are physiologically than who we are culturally. —Robert Bogdan, Freak Show In a discussion of disability and performance, it is worth giving space to an exploration of the work of people with learning disabilities. This an area of arts practice that raises particular questions because of the frequent involvement of non-learning-disabled people in the production of the work. This may, at one level, involve “access providers,” who render practical support, but it may also involve other nondisabled people who fund or plan the work at a strategic level. Finally, the work is often facilitated by nondisabled arts practitioners. Because of the frequently central role of these practitioners, their involvement in the creative process raises signi‹cant questions about the mediation of the learning-disabled artist’s eventual work. This essay will therefore discuss aspects of the relationship of nondisabled arts practitioners to the learning-disabled people with whom they work. It is drawn from research carried out between 1996 and 1999 that sought explanations and meanings for the active choices of nondisabled artists and arts practitioners to undertake creative project work with learn175 ing-disabled people. Because of the disparate and evolutionary nature of creative arts projects for people with learning disabilities, arts practitioners in the United Kingdom have often worked without the academic and methodological foundations or the intercommunication that are features of other disciplines such as the more recognized, and distinct, ‹eld of the arts therapies. My research, and with it this essay, is intended to raise what may be common themes and shared experiences that, in themselves, may contribute to a developing discussion of this subject. Learning-Disabled People & the Arts In recent years, the creative work and the performances of learning-disabled people have gained an increased pro‹le in the United Kingdom. However, learning-disabled artists’ preparation and exhibition of their works has invariably been achieved through collaboration with, and facilitation by, nondisabled people. In the United Kingdom, this is often achieved within the framework of an area of practice known as arts and disability projects. Historically, this term describes the bringing of the arts to people with disabilities, most frequently within and by a nondisabled host culture and often (in effect) as a re›ection of the interests and values of that host culture. While it may share ingredients, and occasionally its practitioners , with the arts therapies, it remains a separate project. It aims to provide a means of accessing the arts while assuming little or no therapeutic agenda (although arts-and-disability projects may often be programmed by occupational therapists for whom some therapeutic outcomes may be an objective). Arts-and-disability work aims to ensure the integration and, more latterly, inclusion of disabled people in the arts. In the United Kingdom, arts-and-disability projects grew out of the endeavors of organizations like Shape (later to become Shape London and form part of a national network of arts projects),1 which was originally founded on a charitable model by a nondisabled dancer called Gina Levete . The arts-and-disability initiative in the United Kingdom has gradually encountered criticism from the similarly named, but politically and structurally different, disability arts movement. Organizations such as the United Kingdom’s National Disability Arts Forum (NDAF) have looked to supplant the preponderance in arts and disability of nondisabled administrators , facilitators, and practitioners involved in both the artistic production of disabled people and the decisions about its funding, and to go on to promote a disability culture.2 Indeed, Shape itself has gone on to recruit disabled people, both at a planning and production level and as artists and facilitators in order to see through this vision. 176 Bodies in Commotion While the disability arts movement has carried its activity forward, much artistic work by people with learning disabilities continues to be facilitated by people without learning disabilities. The extent and nature of this involvement varies, and in many cases work continues in arts-and-disability projects run by arts practitioners and workers who are not disabled people. As a consequence, an interaction takes place that is not so apparent in the disability arts scene. Within a movement that looks to bring learning-disabled people into an arts discourse, the work of learning-disabled performers and artists is often mediated to audiences by nondisabled artists and facilitators. The nature of this interaction...


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