Found in: What we do Projects
Photo of transducers workshop with five artists participating around a table.
Photo by Jon Aitken

Unlimited Connects

In conversation with a commissioner, a producer and a venue

MAYK, Unlimited and Watershed worked in partnership in May 2018 to deliver Unlimited Connects, a day-long celebration with Deaf and disabled artists, for Unlimited’s artists, alumni and allies in the sector.

The partnership enabled us to work together to share expertise across the partnership, to develop relationships with Unlimited’s artists, and to continue to improve our understanding and expertise around running inclusive and accessible events.

Watershed is working hard to ensure all our artist development opportunities and commissions are being seen by and accessible to Deaf and disabled artists.

During the day, we hosted presentations and a panel discussion, chaired by Unlimited Senior Producer Jo Verrent, asking ‘should everything be accessible to everyone?’. Jo was joined on the panel by artists David Ellington, Jo Bannon, Jane Gauntlett and Raquel Meseguer. There were plenty of opportunities for artists, venues, producers and funders to network and explore the connections between us.

We wanted to take this opportunity to connect Unlimited’s artists to the Pervasive Media Studio to open up access to creative technology to more Deaf and disabled artists, ensuring we are operating as inclusively as possible. Residents Aidan Moseby and Jono Sandilands facilitated an Inklab workshop, using electric paint to create custom sensors and bring artworks to life. Sabrina Shirazi and Joseph Horton ran a workshop exploring tactile sound using transducers (small devices that convert sound into vibration). If you want to hear more about the future of creative technology and getting it into the hands of a more diverse community of artists, Watershed CEO Clare Reddington will be chairing the Futures panel at Unlimited: The Symposium on 5 September.

Art is so often a critical conversation starter – we tell stories, share lived experiences and express emotion through creative work. We need to ensure this powerful platform for sharing is readily available to people from all backgrounds, disabled and non-disabled. Therefore, we couldn’t bring lots of Unlimited’s artists together without actually showing some of their work, so we invited Raquel Meseguer to install her prototype of A Crash Course in Cloudspotting. Raquel and her team transformed one of Watershed’s conference rooms into a calming space to rest and reset whilst listening to stories of those who need respite in public spaces. We also asked Jane Gauntlett to share her latest interactive VR and 360 film piece to be experienced by two audience members sharing a sofa, In My Shoes: Intimacy.

Unlimited Connects happened during Mayfest 2018, and we were thrilled that MAYK were on board to program a cabaret and party in the evening. Comedian Jackie Hagan compered the cabaret, introducing musician Delson Weekes and belly dancer Karina Jones. Following the cabaret, we danced in the bar to a brilliant set from artist and DJ Sabrina Shirazi.

As we reflect on the event, our partnership and learning we wanted to share some of these with you. Clara Giraud (Unlimited Project Manager), Matthew Austin (MAYK Co-Director) and Rachael Burton (Watershed Network Producer) share some of their thoughts:

  • Why did you choose to work in partnership with MAYK/Unlimited/Watershed, and what value did you get from the partnership?

Matthew: Watershed are long-term collaborators of ours, and we love working with them, so we jump on any chance we get to do something together. We’re always really impressed with Watershed’s approach to access and inclusion right across the organisation from Front of House to senior management so we knew that collaborating on Unlimited Connects would be rewarding and enjoyable. We also admire and respect the work that Unlimited do, having worked with them before on commissions and events. And of course we are producing two current Unlimited commissions: The British Paraorchestra’s ‘The Nature of Why’ (which premiered in Mayfest) and Jo Bannon’s ‘We Are Fucked’ which premieres at Arnolfini in August.

Clara: We’re always seeking to work in partnership with a variety of organisations across the arts in order to embed the work of disabled artists in the mainstream cultural sector and improve access for artists and audiences. For this event, in particular, we were looking to partner with organisations with whom we already have a relationship, but where there is still plenty that we can learn from each other. Watershed had just the right space for us to host a full day programme of events: versatile and accessible, but also with an amazing staff team who are generous, curious, and make you feel welcome. Over the years, we’ve introduced many artists to their Pervasive Media Studio, which has developed into working collaborations; while they’ve supported artists’ applications to our opportunities. MAYK, too, have produced several Unlimited Commissions since 2014, and they’ve gone on to embed inclusion in much of their activity. MAYK are famous for throwing good parties, so we wanted them on board to help us make the evening a memorable event!

Rachael: MAYK and Unlimited are both long-term partners with excellent reputations and programmes of work. Partnering on Unlimited Connects gave us the opportunity to develop our access offer across the Watershed building from an audience perspective. As well as ensuring all physical access requirements were met, the event tested our teams to make sure everyone felt welcome, safe and included. It was also a chance to open up the Pervasive Media Studio and share the opportunities and support available with Unlimited and MAYK’s brilliant community of Deaf and disabled artists. We are always looking for opportunities to build our community inclusively and ensure that our residency opportunities are visible and accessible to everyone.

Since the event, Raquel Meseguer has become a resident at the Pervasive Media Studio and has worked with us to develop our horizontal cinema offer. We are also currently working on an access register for our Box Office, so audiences will no longer need to explain their access needs for every cinema ticket they book, they can simply record their requirements once and then update them as and when needed. Partnerships like this enable Watershed to continue to improve our offer for Deaf and disabled artists and audiences - the value in this is clearly immeasurable.

  • There is often a delicate balance between holding a safe and secure space, and being inclusive and open to everyone. What was your approach to addressing this?

Clara: We worked with Watershed’s amazing Box Office team and systems to ensure we had as much detail as possible about the attendees’ needs prior to the event. We also ensured that we communicated the schedule and details of access provision, and took on board any requests. Watershed’s modular spaces allowed us to have not only an accessible conference room but also quiet spaces, meeting rooms, access to a social café area…this was key to finding the balance.

Rachael: The parameters of what makes a space safe and secure for one person can be very different to the next person. With any public event or opportunity, we start from the position that being as inclusive and open as possible is imperative, then we work hard to meet the individual needs of each participant or attendee to make the space what they need it to be. We actively invite people to break the rules (visible or invisible) if they’re not working for them. We ensure that people have the opportunity to tell us in advance what they need, to tell us on the day, and to change theses needs in response to the environment. We are as flexible as possible, and we have a talented front of house team who are passionate about ensuring our audience feel as welcome and safe as possible. With each event, we learn new approaches to finding the right balance between holding a safe and secure space and being open and inclusive to everyone - and we take time to reflect on our learning and implement it across the organisation.

Matthew: I’d like to think that we don’t see this as being binary. That a space can simultaneously safe, secure, inclusive and open to everyone.

We try and think and design every event with inclusivity in mind. What does a room feel like to walk into, how can we make it feel as welcoming as possible? What language do we use to describe an event? What kind of investment (financial or otherwise) do we ask people to make in order to make an event a success? What’s the best contextual information we can give? What happens when you leave the room? Who do we want to be in the room and what’s the best way to make that happen?

If you are a Deaf or disabled artist interested in finding out more about opportunities available through MAYK, Unlimited or Watershed, please get in touch through our websites.

Ended in May 2018