Paul Morrow’s keynote to the Cultural Inclusion Conference 2021

Paul Morrow's keynote to the Cultural Inclusion Conference 2021

The co-author of the Cultural Inclusion Manifesto welcomed delegates to the conference and set out some of the challenges for the months ahead with this keynote speech.

The conference on the 26th February 2021, brought together disabled people, parents, disability organisations, schools and arts and culture organisations to explore access to culture and heritage. Given the events of the previous 12 months the conference also explored: How has COVID affected opportunities for the inclusion of disabled young people in arts & culture?

See Paul's pre-conference blog here

Paul is the author of the Cultural Inclusion Manifesto which led to the Cultural Inclusion movement. He has spent 12 years working in SEND education, teaching art at Westminster Special schools. He has a MA in Art and Design in Education and a Diploma inSpecial and Inclusive Education from the Institute of Education. Paul has also worked as a consultant to the Royal Academy of Art and delivered workshops for the Arts and special Educational Needs and Disabilities Conference at the Museum of London. Paul is a practicing artist.

See the conference programme and all speaker biogs here

An audio description of Paul Morrow's presentation

Full transcript

Audio description: A man with light brown hair and goatee beard, wearing a blue shirt, faces the camera. His head and collar are visible.  Behind him is a grey wall with a few pictures that are just about visible at the top of the screen.


Good morning everyone and hello fellow inclusionists.

My name is Paul Morrow and I co-authored the Cultural Inclusion Manifesto, a manifesto that seeks to make real practical and sustainable change in the field of arts, culture and inclusion. By being here today you are supporting cultural inclusion.

I'd like to thank Marsha de Cordova, MP for that instruction to today's conference and it's great to hear that she will be raising the recommendations that are developed from today's conference in Parliament.

First of all I'd like to thank my colleagues Anita, Matt and Rachel who have helped organise this conference. There is no funding for the Cultural Inclusion Manifesto. This conference is made possible by the work and belief that there is value in bringing us all together to share knowledge and insights so that we can increase inclusion. And I'd like to thank all of those who have generously given their time today.

There is no more of an opportune moment to discuss cultural inclusion than now. The Cultural Inclusion Manifesto works across a broad space to support and enable inclusion in high-quality Arts and Culture. We work in a space to identify barriers, solutions and opportunities.

This is a participatory conference. You are all active participants, to be part of this conversation, to shape the conversation. A conversation that will move to actions. There will be a report published, with recommendations. One that has the attention of politicians, which we will share and promote.

We know that during the pandemic there have been innovations that have enabled meaningful access and inclusion. Some of these will be shared with you today. People who work in this space have continued to problem solve - as a signifier of inclusion. These adaptations have led to some profound results. We want to amplify these and share them so they can help and inform other organisations and inform practice in other places and spaces.

We have seen the home become a place of accessing learning, where families have become significant players within the dynamic. This shift means that new relationships have been formed and greater impact has been seen. We know that families are central to inclusion and this offers further opportunities that can be built upon to promote equality of opportunity for disabled children and young people. However, there are inequalities within Society which have become greater and more entrenched. Cracks have now become chasms.The digital divide is an illustration of this, and attempts are being made to meet this need.

As a member of a senior leadership team in a school it is one of the challenges that we met through fundraising and also highlights the complexity of inclusion, that access to resources is needed before meaningful participation can take place. This also demonstrates that access to IT has become a signifier of the divisions present in Society. Not only access to devices but also access to Wi-Fi, which is a reoccurring theme that nearly a year into the pandemic has yet to get the strategic attention from government that it so badly needs.

The threshold for support means that great swathes of learners are missing out. This connectivity is not only vital to education and culture, it is also the connection to community and support. It demonstrates that inclusion is more than just delivering. It's holistic delivery. It's been mindful of barriers like the digital divide and the practicalities of inclusion.

We know that as a result of isolation and the lack of connectivity there is a mental health tsunami growing that will hit post pandemic. We know that mental health matters. We can support those affected and healing can happen. Arts and culture offer a space where an acknowledgement of this can take place. Stories can be told and shared and creativity can help shape our understanding of this time. It is through these shared cultural experiences that we are seen, that we are valued and where we build community.

That leads me to the inclusive recovery. A theme that I know you will hear echoed across the conference today. We need to place inclusion central to this recovery. It needs to be two things, (1) it needs to be structural - and that is a effectively supported financially so that it is sustainable and it needs to be cultural. (2) Driven by policy and a requirement, not an additionality. We cannot afford to lose where we were prior to the pandemic, where we knew that we needed to do more, but this also presents an opportunity to further inclusion and make it central to recovery. A recovery for all.

This leads me on to representation and value. Again, a theme that you will hear echoed across the presentations today. We need to be very clear on the importance of representation. It not only allows disabled young people to see themselves in the spaces and life becomes rich and bigger, but there are defined career pathways and role models. Representation also has far reaching implications. Representations that correspond with the value that Society holds for us and there is more work to be done here.

This is a relaxed conference. It is participatory. It asks you to be actively engaged, to make comment, to question and give suggestion.

This conference is the start of a conversation. We have participants today who span this space. We have the voice of DJ, a young man who speaks beautifully about the power of dance and he'll also be leading a short activity. We have parents speaking from perspective of the home. We have an advisor to the National Lottery heritage fund. We have a parent activist, the wonderful Portraits of Grit. We have schools and we have the perspective of NASEN, the National Association for Special Educational Needs.

We are also very lucky to have the voice of a funder who works in this space, the John Lyon's Charity. A charity I know very well and one who listens. One who is flexible and one who places co-production central to their work and is possibly the most progressive funder I know of. A funder who wants to support the delivery of high quality arts and culture that is inclusive, but also supports needs as they arise and actively promotes cultural change for its work and cultural inclusion. A funder who is looking at launching some new funding opportunities into this place, so do keep an eye out.

And finally, I'm very lucky to be writing a book for NASEN and Professor Adam Boddison of NASEN is here speaking today. This conference will also help to inform the writing of this book, capturing the voices and the solutions to increase inclusion across the space, so I thank you for that.

So listen, comment, question and give suggestions in the chat. Be an active participant and be involved.


Matt Overd
Matt Overd
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