Diarist in Residence at Arc Stockton’s Conviva2018 Symposium

According to the official web page at Arc Stockton Conviva refers to the sharing of a feast. It was indeed a feast and I am glad I was there to share it. I go to a lot of conferences, symposia, sharing days, call them what you will. I am fully committed to changing the status of disability arts and working towards equality and inclusion, however I sometimes have a visitation from the cynical demons and can’t help thinking the event I am going to will generally end up being the same old people saying mostly the same old things to the same old audience.  Thankfully I was wrong to be thinking that. There was a lot of people I had never met before from the disability arts world and a lot of people in the audience from organisations which are generally absent from such events. Some of the usual suspects who are usually absent from such events were unsurprisingly consistent in that approach and this reflects their attitude to Disability and the Arts.

Cultural Shift is a programme which has been running for the last 3 years funded by Spirit of 2012 to support disabled arts to make high quality engaging work with an emphasis on sustainability.

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I had never been Diarist in Residence before and I really enjoyed it. It brings together a lot of my skills of listening, talking, reflecting, teasing out the details and sharing back. At one stage I was doubling up roles as I also had the opportunity to pitch my new project ‘I was naked, smelling of rain’ which needs funding – it concerns the dual crises of mental health and climate change and explores this through reflecting on our ‘Emotional Meteorology’.

There was plenty of food for thought and thankfully plenty to feed back on. The early keynote by Deborah Williams was followed by provocations from Juile McNamara, Simon Startin, Dolly Sen and Gobscure and these provided plenty for everyone to get their teeth into in the round table discussions.

The main elements that came back were that it is not about the money – though that clearly helps – firstly it has to be about will and commitment  and both of these are free. Then the money comes in useful to make the vision reality.The second issue was FEAR – particularly from organisations which do not currently work with disability in any manner, or do not have any disable staff, and the fear of getting things wrong stops progress of any kind. As i always say – better to get it wrong and have your heart in the right place and a will to improve through learning from mistakes than use all the correct terminology and the PC Buzzwords but not be authentic in engagement or attitude to working with disability in the broadest sense.

Thankfully Vici Wreford-Sinnott and Annabel Turpin had the will and commitment and have delivered a brilliant programme – and I am not just saying that as I was diarist for the day (anyone who knows me and my writing I am not shy when it comes to saying it how I found it). Conviva2018 was a sharing day, a celebration of what has been. However, it felt very much like the acknowledgement of a start, that there is a better way to progress, that a different future can be designed and built and that these are the strongest of foundations upon which to build.


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