Notes from the Symposium 2023

On the 7th June 2023 Cultural Inclusion hosted Making Change Happen Symposium at the Royal Albert Hall. These are some reflections from this event.


The event, attended by over 70 people from across the disability and culture sectors, was opened by Barbara Keeley MP – Shadow Minister for Arts & Civil Society and included contributions from Jodi-Alissa Bickerton – Creative Learning Director at Graeae Theatre Company, Lisha Rooney – CEO of WhatDo, and JadoreKid (JK), a young multi-disciplinary artist who has had residencies at the SAATCHI Gallery and The Cartoon Museum. There was also a listening exercise to gather views on the Cultural Education Plan led by key civil servants from the Department for Education.

Barbara Keeley MP, Shadow Minister for Arts and Civil Society
Opening speech for the Making Change Happen Symposium

Good morning everyone. I am Barbara Keeley, Shadow Minister for Arts & Civil Society, and I am delighted to welcome you all to the Cultural Inclusion Manifesto’s Symposium: Making Change Happen.

I am a passionate supporter of arts and culture. I believe they have the power to transform the lives of individuals and bring communities together. The role they play in a cohesive, diverse and vibrant civil society is truly unique. That is why I firmly believe that access to artistic and cultural life is a human right. No one should be excluded. No one should be left behind.

Sadly, children and young people with disabilities do not have equal access to arts and culture. A combination of physical and attitudinal barriers, together with societal misconceptions, deny them the opportunities to engage, participate and be represented in artistic life that their non-disabled peers take for granted. This must change.

There is no denying that the environment in which this change needs to take place is incredibly challenging. The pandemic affected us all in a myriad of ways. It exposed structural inequalities that, without action, will further impact the life chances and the quality of life for children and young people with special educational needs as well as those at risk of exclusion due to their socioeconomic situation. This is affecting their access to meaningful inclusion and participation in artistic and cultural learning experiences and, ultimately, their engagement in the wider community.

As well as the impact on disabled people themselves, the pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to the arts and culture sector. It continues to pose a real threat to both infrastructure and jobs which in turn could undermine the gains we have made over the last decade to increase inclusion.

While I do not underestimate the scale of this challenge, I believe there are reasons to be truly hopeful for the future.

When we were no longer able to access artistic and cultural life, I believe the sense of loss we felt demonstrated its intrinsic value to us as individuals, to our communities and society as a whole. Conversely, we also saw the power of arts and culture to uplift us and bring us together. Who can forget the singing on balconies across the World with musicians of all kinds joining in with their neighbours. The rare sense of joy we felt during the darkest days when music was a potent way of connecting with not only our communities but also with others across the World.

We also saw artists, musicians, actors and other creatives come together to raise awareness, shine a light on those who were most vulnerable and raise much needed funds during the pandemic. The invaluable and unique role they played undoubtedly reached the parts that others, including politicians, could not.

Amidst the numerous challenges we all faced during that time, I was both amazed and heartened to see how the arts and cultural sector responded. Numerous individuals and organisations innovated to deliver their offer in new and pioneering ways. Those advances were game changing and must not be lost. It is vital that they are captured and disseminated for the benefit of disabled people and those who support their inclusion and engagement in artistic and cultural life.

A particularly impressive initiative was launched during the pandemic by the Disability Arts Alliance called We Shall Not Be Removed. It outlines 7 principles for an inclusive recovery for the arts and creative sector and is designed to ensure that deaf, neurodiverse and disabled people are not discriminated against so we build back better.

So, as the arts and culture sector emerges from the ravages of the pandemic, we have a real opportunity to ensure that the needs of disabled people are at the heart of the recovery. I want to be a part of that and I know you do too.

The political landscape also creates opportunities to secure real and lasting change for the arts and cultural sector. We are widely expected to have a General Election in the next 12-18 months and, as many of you know, there is no better time to engage politicians than when we are seeking your votes!

Joking aside, as we move towards a general election we are looking to engage with individuals and organisations whose expertise and experience we need to formulate the policies that will shape our manifestos. We want and need to hear from you now.
Which is why today’s event is so important. It is a crucial chance for those who share a passion and commitment to cultural inclusion to come together and ensure that their voices are heard by those with the power to make a real difference.

I wish you every success today and very much look forward to working with you in the months ahead to make our shared vision of cultural inclusion a reality.

A view from the symposium: Marc Woodhead, Gallery Educator

The Cultural Inclusion Manifesto conference at the Royal Albert Hall on the 7th June 2023 proved to be inspiring and invaluable to me, both personally and professionally. I found the talks and activities very helpful and stimulating. The most precious part of the day for me was connecting with so many different people in the room, co-ordinators, project managers, parents, funders, members of parliament, individuals with incredible experiences. It struck me how we, the participants, were all existing separately in our lives, in our individual pockets of projects, and that the gift of this conference was to provide a gathering and space to make contacts and to draw connections, it felt like an opportunity to move ideas forward with a constellation of diverse minds. I really made so many connections. Professionally, I was most grateful to meet (sitting at my conference group table) the secretary for London of the National Network of Parent Carer Forum, who introduced me to the NNPCF secretary for Westminster (sitting at the next table in conference), who we are now developing a partnership with the National Gallery (who helped us promote socially inclusive programme of workshops for the NG Summer on the Square family programme). At the conference I was also able to meet and personally thank co-ordinators from John Lyons funding body who have funded an anti-ableist research project at College Park School. A truly invaluable and inspiring event. With many thanks to Paul Morrow for organising and inviting me.

Stand up for SEND

A call to action from and to special schools, Arts organisations, Music Hubs and funders from John Lyon’s Charity was launched at the symposium. A summary is below – click here to see more.

A view from the symposium Chair: Anita Kerwin-Nye

The Cultural Inclusion Manifesto is not just a statement of intent it is a community of action. Where individuals matter as much as organisations and where there is a deliberate intent to bring together people with shared ambition for inclusion, rather than shared career paths or characteristics.

The Manifesto recognises that the power of culture and arts are being realised for disabled people/people with disabilities.

On a personal level as both a disabled person and a parent of children with disabilities this matters personally. But is also reflects a career in inclusion and access. I am pleased to have supported Paul and Rachael in establishing Cultural Inclusion and incubating it ahead of becoming a CIC In its own right.

One of the commitments in the Manifesto is an annual sharing event and I am privileged to Chair these. This was the, I want to say 4th/5th, event and it was fabulous to be back at the Albert Hall.

So. What are my take home learnings from this year’s event (including my potential new career at number 6).

  1. Connecting matters. Just having space to talk to others. To share ideas. To feel re-energised in being humans together.
  2. Spaces matter. The beauty of the Albert Hall was  – as ever – inspiring.
  3. The activists need support. It can be exhausting campaigning for inclusion. And scary. We need to hold each other up.
  4. The Manifesto has been informed by, and informed the work of, John Lyons charity –  who launched their call out for how funders can better support special schools. This is an essential area of funding development.
  5. People want to hear real voice.  They don’t want stage managed comments. Kudos to Department for Education to hearing the real voices in the room as part of their Listening Exercise for the Cultural Education Plan.
  6. Stand up comedy. Apparently I am quite funny.
  7. That sometimes just turning up is a radical act of campaigning and defiance. A point well made by George Fielding. When disabled people turn up at cultural events the very presence can be a political act – demanding change and inclusion.
  8. That disabled people/people with disabilities can be talented artists. I know. Obvious right. But too often in culture (and indeed in areas like nature and outdoors) people with disabilities can be presented through a ‘deficit’ lens – where ‘we’ have to help ‘them’ develop their understanding and skills. Jadorekid at the Cartoon Museum, for example, and like so many others make a mockery of that assumption.
  9. That so much of life for people with disabilities – for parents of children with disabilities is in private. Can the arts make this public? The work of April Li in Portraits of Grit and the beautiful video from Lisha Rooney start to explore these ideas.
  10. That in a funding world obsessed by immediate impact how do we measure joy? Or connections? Or inspiration?

The conferences, symposiums and the manifesto have sparked much action – but these came from an investment of time from Paul, Rachael, Matt and I as volunteers. And the generous donations of space from RAH and inputs and advice from a wide range of  people. How to sustain this?

We have made progress on inclusion – some of which is reflected in Barbara Keeley’s speech. But we are a long way off this being sustained and supported. So the Manifesto matters now as much as ever.

Book Launch from Cultural Inclusion Manifesto Founder – Paul Morrow

This practical book offers a multifaceted view of cultural inclusion from the perspective of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) including chapters with a focus on Anti-ableist pedagogy in Arts and Culture.
Supported by NASEN, Cultural Inclusion for Young People with SEND offers a compelling call to action and is an essential resource for those who have the power to improve and support the development of future provision for children with SEND.

For more information or to get hold of a copy click here.

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