Exhibition explores inclusive art education
Work created by neurodivergent and learning disabled artists is going on show at the University of Leeds next week in a new exhibition which explores how they can develop their careers.
‘The Irregular Art School’ opens on Friday 3 February and will highlight inclusive artist development, emerging from a research project taking place in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies.
A group of artists from Pyramid, a Leeds-based inclusive art collective, joined students, care professionals and academics to explore new methods and collaborations to better support the professional development of learning disabled artists in the Leeds city region. Traditional routes for artist development like going to university, studio residencies or getting involved with artist-led communities are difficult to access for these artists.
The exhibition experiments with making arts development opportunities ‘irregular’, enabling people with different life experiences, ways of knowing and ways of being to progress and learn together side by side.
The core research team – made up of artists and staff from Pyramid, as well as University of Leeds Lecturer Jade French and University of York Lecturer Katie Graham – have been working with staff and students within the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies to explore what it means for an artist to progress within a university setting.
The exhibition, curated by undergraduate Fine Art Student Shanelle Bateman, displays a selection of the artworks created during the research, considering the barriers that learning disabled and/or neurodivergent artists at Pyramid have faced when pursuing being an artist.
Running from Friday 3 February to Friday 24 February at the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, the exhibition highlights the outcomes of new and experimental collaborations.
Principal Investigator Dr Jade French said: “In Roger Slee’s book ‘The Irregular School’ he proposed how continuing to think in terms of the ‘regular’ school or the ‘special’ school obstructs progress towards inclusive education.
“This inspired us, so rather than separating development into ‘inclusive’ or ‘mainstream’, ‘regular’ or ‘special’, the exhibition experiments with making arts development opportunities ‘irregular’, enabling people with different life experiences, ways of knowing and ways of being to progress and learn together side by side.”
Pyramid Director James Hill said: “Access to further education is one of the greatest challenges we perceive to the development of artists with learning disabilities. It is fantastic to be working with an institution like the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies to look at real, practical solutions to those challenges.
“Even more importantly, our artists with learning disabilities are directly involved in improving our perception of those barriers, and working through possible solutions, while getting to know the University and the School themselves”.
Pyramid artist Ria has produced a large-scale dice and corresponding screen prints inviting audiences to ‘play a game of social care’. Artist Victor is displaying a new piece titled Genres which lists every musical genre. Artist Liam Hirst has produced paintings and slogans expressing his passion and frustration at barriers preventing the development of artists with learning disabilities. Artist Alfie Fox has created work about access alongside a series of ‘standies’ – lifesize cardboard cut outs, to help narrate the exhibitions story.
Alongside Pyramid artists, undergraduate students from the School of Fine Art, History of Art, and Cultural Studies are exhibiting work. Nicole Guilliam has created a diorama of her ideal art school and Molly Newham is displaying a drawing titled ‘University should be…’ inspired by the group’s discussions during the project.
Come and meet the Irregular Art School team at one of our Irregular Art School 100% Unofficial Open Day events, where you can be enrolled into the Irregular Art School, meet the exhibiting artists, and learn more about the research:
- Wednesday 8 February: 11am–12pm or 1.30pm–2.30pm
- Friday 10 February: 11am–12pm or 1.30pm–2.30pm
Booking is essential. Free Open Day tickets are available via Eventbrite.
Images: School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, University of Leeds.
Exhibiting artist bios
Alfie Fox has been attending Pyramid since 2020. He works in film, photography and print and his work often explores issues of accessibility for people with disabilities. He is a member of the Arts Council England Youth Advisory Board.
Liam Hirst has been attending Pyramid for 15 years as a practicing member, and as Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees. He is an artist with learning disability and autism who makes paintings, books and sculpture relating to his experiences as a young artist.
Ria has been attending Pyramid for eight years. She works across many different forms of visual art making sculpture, painting and prints which often explore the challenges of life in the care and social care systems.
Victor has been attending Pyramid for five years. His work is often based around the written word, turning lists into visual art, poetry and publications covering subjects of his interest such as food and spices, music and film.
Pyramid is a collective of around 100 artists with and without learning disabilities and autism. We work together to support people with learning to discover the arts and to develop as artists. We also support artists with learning disabilities to disrupt the social and institutional barriers which hamper that development. Most importantly, we work together to explore and develop our creativity, and to make great art for a wide public.
About Irregular Art School research
Irregular Art Schools is an action research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Led by Principal Investigator Dr Jade French, it is exploring what learning disabled people living in the Leeds City Region want and need to grow as professional artists and bringing together a range of partners across arts and social care including Pyramid, Leeds City Council, Assembly House and the University of Leeds.