By Kate Cotton
RippleFest – an opportunity for all disabled people to “Take Part in Art” - was organised by a partnership between PADAN (Plymouth Area Disability Action Network), their umbrella organisation Plymouth Guild and the University of Plymouth, who hosted the event in the Roland Levinsky Arts Faculty Building. PADAN is a new disabled people’s organisation formed last year from a loose network known as the Plymouth DAN.
Ann Pointon, chair of PADAN and former freelance disability consultant and trainer with arts and media organisations, said: “There have been workshops etc in the past but this is the first time disabled people in Plymouth have had such an opportunity to come together and be creative, with disabled artists as role models.
“For a lot of people this weekend has been their first excursion into 'art' and an opportunity for them to have a go at things they wouldn’t usually do. It’s taken six months of planning and, although it was a big thing to do while PADAN is so new, it has worked out well”
Julie McNamara – award winning outspoken survivor of the mental health system – kicked off the festival with her trademark anarchic performance of story and song to a good crowd in the university foyer.
The large foyer also housed James Lake’s impressive paper and cardboard sculptures and paintings from renowned disabled artist Tanya Raabe and local South West artist Tim Salter.
Workshops included sculpture with James, painting with Tanya, performance with Julie and Plymouth’s Strictly Collaborative theatre group, and a drop-in workshop with Plymouth’s MusicZone. The university building was turned into a lively, creative hub for the weekend.
Julie McNamara’s session, with Strictly Collaborative, explored stories behind objects. A variety of hats were provided and used as an aid to telling stories about themselves, from the perspective of someone within that story.
Julie said: “These fresh perspectives on people’s own stories are particularly important for disabled people. It’s important as it allows people to take control of their own story. Disabled people are constantly written about by others – through medical and charity models of disability – it’s so important to get ownership of our own stories.”
James Lake, from Exeter, was running sculpture workshops, with cardboard and other easily accessible materials. He said: “I work in quite an accessible way – I believe that everybody can make art and you don’t need a studio to be an artist.
“I give people the opportunity to make 3D work with materials they can find in their neighbourhood, and a chance to engage with art rather than look at work behind glass.”
James runs workshops in schools and hospitals for disabled and non-disabled people, subtly challenging people’s perceptions “as the guy teaching art not the artist with a disability”. His choice of light materials, he told me, helps in that he can strap large sculptures to his back and get around more easily.
Rhonda Clarke was working on a figure sculpture in James’s workshop. She said: “I’ve never done anything like this before, it’s been so much fun. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a paper sculpting workshop and the whole event – it’s turned out much better than I expected.”
In Tanya Raabe’s workshop people were painting self-portraits from acetate tracings. Tanya, whose work has been shown at the National Portrait Gallery and is preparing for an exhibition at the Tate Modern and Tate Liverpool, said that people were enthusiastic, although a bit anxious at first, and many had grown in confidence over the day.
Sue Jones, vice chair of PADAN, was in Tanya’s workshop. Sue usually wears a prosthetic leg when out in public, despite the debilitating pain this causes her, but being at a disability arts event made her question this use of a leg “for decoration”. She said that through her involvement with PADAN and the disability arts movement she is thinking more of how, as a collective, disabled people can become stronger and make positive changes.
PADAN now has a constitution and expects to achieve charity status shortly, giving it greater independence. Its members have a wide range of interests and disability concerns, but following the success of RippleFest it is hoped that the interest in disability arts will increase and that PADAN will be involved in more events of its kind in Plymouth.