Stay Up Late in Iceland with Art-is Europe

The Art-is kicked off with an amazing trip to Iceland.

Art-is is a really exciting project which we got involved in this year where we’re working towards producing a festival in Malta in June 2015 to showcase art made by people with learning disabilities. Participating organisations are from Iceland, Malta, Spain, Turkey, Poland, Finland and the UK. The main aims of the whole project being:

–       To share practice

–       Disseminate our learning

–       To visit each other, and exchange cultural experiences

group shot

So in what has been an amazing year for us, where we hadn’t dreamed that we’d be able to take Gig Buddies to Glastonbury we were then able to support two Gig Buddies participants to go to Iceland too, staying in Sólheimar, and eco village where people with and without learning disabilities live and work side by side.

The first morning kicked off with a lovely thing, everyone meets everyday at the village green to hold hands, share news and sing a hymn. Not a bad way to start any day, even when it’s damp, cold, grey weather.

The language barrier was a bit of a concern for us – as was trying to remember everyone’s names. We needn’t have worried – we spent a morning in a long , fun time, getting to remember everyone’s names and planning the best party of the world – group workshops dreaming what our best parties would look like. The overriding elements that everyone wanted were drinking, dancing, friendship, animals, and fireworks, although Stay Up Late’s offering was the most psychedelic with puffin and goat racing taking place inside an erupting volcano. We’re not sure we can pull that off in Malta! And by lunch we knew everyone’s names and made a load of new friends.

greatest party in the world

Planning the greatest party in the world

The rest of the afternoon was spent planning some of practical issues for the project such as forming a steering group, developing the creative content, and developing a plan for communication around the whole project and the festival. One or two practical things also came out of this session such as the Facebook page.

Some of the key things that came out of the weekend were:

1) How important it was to enable people with learning disabilities to be involved in the creative process and steering of whole project right from the very outset.

2) The importance of also establishing a collaborative decision making process from the very outset, embedding a positive culture in the project from the very beginning.

3) The thought of running a creative workshop for 30 people with and without learning disabilities, all speaking different languages, would be pretty daunting for most people but the people from Heart n Soul Cultuurcentrum Leopoldsburg skillfully enabled proper participation from everyone and Havier and Lilly’s improvised dance was a highlight of the weekend. I think Havier is likely to be our dance director for the final festival.

4) As we started to talk the magnitude of the task ahead started to hit me and as we discussed our ideas in break-out groups there were some amazing ideas coming out – not a bad thing, we love new ideas, but it also struck us that we need a clear plan quite soon and that we narrow down our ideas in to something quite focused. So we need to formulate some sort of decision making process soon so we can keep on track and know what we’re working on.

5) It was also really interesting to get to learn about each others organisations. I’ve still not got a clear idea of what a lot of the other organisations look like and from discussions it became clear that due to Stay up Late’s web presence and reach there is a real feeling that we’re a large, well organised charity with lots of skills and resources at our disposal. The truth is of course that we have one paid part-time worker (Madeline our Gig Buddies Project Manager) and me, working as a volunteer plus the support of our trustees. When the project visits our HQ in Brighton they may be shocked to see just how small our set up is! So one of the things we though we could do is to start a diary of how we work through the website to help share the way we do things, and appear much bigger than we really are, but also managing to have a big impact in trying to improve the lives of people with learning disabilities.

6) There’s also a basic website set up for the project which we’re hoping will start to contain profiles of the various organisations – once we’ve found someone amongst us all with the skills to do that.

7) This will sound cheesy but it was so inspiring to meet so many like-minded people where language wasn’t a barrier as we were all united in the way we believed artists with learning disabilities should be supported to get their work to a wider audience.

Of course it wasn’t all work and we also took in some amazing site-seeing as well as enjoying spending a lot of social time together and we also saw the Northern Lights, a wonderful end to a wonderful trip.

Here’s a few photos – we’ll be adding more soon

gullfoss 2

Gullfoss falls

 The next part of the project sees everyone visiting Heart N Soul in London and us in Brighton. Our role in the project is to support people to think about audience development so we’re planning a weekend of gig-going and experiencing some of the night life that Brighton’s famous for.

And thanks to the Grundtvig Lifelong Learning Programme for making this possible.


This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.
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