Side by Side; Learning Disability, Art and Collaboration

Rocket Artists Side by Side; Learning Disability, Art and Collaboration.

An Inclusive Arts exhibition, performance and symposium, 16th March – 5th April 2013

Alice Fox and the Rocket Artists in partnership with the Southbank Centre collaborated with artists and arts organisations to deliver an International Inclusive Arts exhibition, site specific performance, symposium and Inclusive Arts book.

Side by Side Rocket Artists and Corali Dance Company performance trailer

‘I consider this exhibition to be groundbreaking in its ambition and realisation. It shifts a paradigm by making us understand that art created by people with different life experiences gives us fresh perspectives on ideas around what is possible for an artist, both practically and emotionally. It demands that both artists and audiences think of inclusivity as the only approach to the full expression of our cultural life.’ Jude Kelly, Artistic Director, Southbank Centre

Side by Side was the first international exhibition in the UK to feature artworks created and curated by artists with learning disabilities workingside by side with their non-disabled creative partners. This exhibitionrepresented a diverse range of collaborative and inclusive art practices,where people with and without learning disabilities made work together.We are naming these creative encounters Inclusive Arts Practice.

The collaborative processes of Inclusive Arts Practice support a mutuallybeneficial two-way creative exchange that enables artists to learn fromeach other. This places the non-disabled artist in the more radical roleof collaborator and proposes a shift away from the traditional notion of‘worthy helper’.

Through re-defining this role and shedding the notion of the ‘expert’artist, we make room for everyone and acknowledge the valuable andskillful contribution that artists with learning disabilities bring to the arts.In working to dissolve the boundaries that categorize and separate,we ask ‘what do we stand to loose if we continue to exclude theseimportant artists from contemporary arts practice?’

This exhibition identified Inclusive Arts Practice as crucial to the vitality ofcontemporary art whilst generating positive experiences for individualartists and fostering a socially integrated society.

The inclusive philosophy of this exhibition was employed duringthe curation process. Staff from the University of Brighton alongside theRocket Artists devised working methods that answer the question:‘How can creative, inclusive strategies be used collaboratively bylearning disabled artists and their non-disabled colleagues to curatea large-scale international exhibition?’

We propose the future lies in working together so, in the words of the Rocket Artists ‘let’s crack on’

Alice Fox – Artistic Director

In the UK, there is a long history of visual arts and performance based organisations working with artists with learning disabilities and we are undoubtedly home to some of the world’s leading practice in this area (Inclusive Arts Practice) and yet the full legacy of such practice is yet to be fully realised or understood. These leading organisations have independently established links with the mainstream arts world, whether through performance, film, exhibition, recording albums or publishing yet this unique project ‘Side by Side’ bought together those leading this practice to show work together for the first time in a major exhibition, site specific performance, associated one-day symposium and subsequent book.

Side by Side achievements:

  • Established a platform in a mainstream art space for leading and best practice organisations, from across the UK and beyond, working in the field of Inclusive Arts Practice (with people with learning disabilities)
  • Represented a range of inclusive practice that spanned visual art, performance, music and film.
  • Built a comprehensive picture of what constitutes good/innovative practice in Inclusive Arts Practice in the UK, Europe and beyond.
  • Inspired a process of knowledge exchange through creative practice between diverse audiences delivered through a one-day symposium of seminars, complemented by an education programme of artist led workshops and artist tours of the exhibition.
  • Explored the process of collaboration as creating a space for equality of expression and the development of creative ideas ensuring everyone involved contributed to the overall shape of the work that was disseminated through the exhibition, symposium and publication.
  • Addressed the meanings engendered in a form of creative practice, both for the artists with and without learning disabilities and the cultural practitioners involved.
  • Captured contemporary practice by leading artist groups in the field of Inclusive Arts and looked towards the future within the changing political, economic and social climate.
  • Furthered the professional practice of artists (with and without learning disabilities) from the partner organisations.
  • Created a platform and catalyst for future artistic collaborations between artist groups in the UK and strengthened links with international artist groups.

Exhibition in the Spirit Level Gallery at Southbank Centre, 16th March – 5th April 2013

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SIDE by SIDE LEARNING DISABILITY, ART AND COLLABORATION The Rocket Artists, in partnership with Southbank Centre and the University of Brighton, presented Side by Side – an international exhibition showcasing learning disability, art and collaboration.  Directed by Alice Fox this was the first international exhibition in the UK to feature paintings, drawings, sculptures, films, animation, music, installations and performance that have been created and curated by artists with learning disabilities workingside-by-side with their non-disabled collaborators. There were 32 contributing organisations including the Rocket Artists, Project Art Works, Corali Dance Company, JumpCuts, Kunstwerkplaats, Mayfield Arts, Heart n Soul, TV Glad, Inventura, Barner 16 and KCat Inclusive Arts. The Stay Up Late Jukebox features over 80 inclusive bands from around the world.

In the development of the partnership with Southbank we have consolidated our shared values and acknowledged that ‘inclusion’ is a prominent theme in Southbank’s programming and likewise an underpinning theme of the ‘Side by Side’ exhibition and symposium. The venue of the Southbank created a unique opportunity for this practice to reach a large diverse audience; both those regular gallery visitors and those visiting a multi-use/art form venue and an accessible public space.


Contributing artists:

About Face Theatre

Herefordshire, UK

Action Space London, UK

Art + Power Bristol, UK

Arthouse Meath Godalming, UK

Arts Ability Co Wexford, Ireland

Arty Party Telford, UK

Anna Cady Winchester, UK

Barner 16 Hamburg, Germany

Carousel Brighton, UK

Corali Dance Company

London, UK

Divas Dance Company

Brighton, UK

First Movement Rowsley, UK

Heart n Soul London, UK

Ich Bin Ok Vienna, Austria

Intoart London, UK

Inventura Prague Czech Republic

Jumpcuts Bridgwater, UK

KCAT Kilkenny, Ireland

Kettuki Hämeenlinna, Finland

Kunstwerkplaats Amsterdam,


Mayfield Arts Cork, Ireland

Project Ability Glasgow, UK

Project Art Works Hastings, UK

Project Volume Banbury, UK

Restless Dance Company

Adelaide, South Australia

Rocket Artists Brighton, UK

Sergio Cruz London, UK

Shadowlight Artists (Film Oxford)

Oxford, UK

Michael Smith and Tom Stubbs

Bristol, UK

Stay Up Late Brighton, UK

Stopgap Dance Company

Farnham, UK

TV Glad Copenhagen, Denmark

Plus over 80 artists featured on

the Wild Things CD from

Argentina, Australia, Belgium,

Denmark, England, Finland, France,

Germany, India, Indonesia, Iraq,

Nigeria, Peru, Scotland, Senegal,

Switzerland and USA

Education Programme

The education programme, consistinged of artist tours and artist led workshops which ran alongside the exhibition. This complimented the one day symposium by providing opportunity for artists to demonstrate skills and share art practices in the wider public domain. The symposium and exhibition events included accessible resources designed for diverse audience engagement.

Private View and Performance Friday 15th March (2pm & 7pm)

Side by Side Live Performance 

The Rocket Artists and Corali Dance Company presented a new performance inspired by the exhibits during the opening.

Symposium, Southbank Centre, 22nd March 2013

Symposium: A thinking through doing day

Friday 22 March 2013

11am–3pm, £20 each, lunch included, Royal Festival Hall

Creative Workshops:

1. Make art with Action Space

2. Dance with Corali Dance

3. Make music with Heart n Soul

4. Do photography and make sounds with Intoart

5. Choreography with Project Volume

6. Make music with STAY UP LATE

7. Dance and decisions with Stopgap Dance Company

8. Make art with Rocket Artists

9. Drawing with Rocket Artists

10. Make sculpture with Rocket Artists

11. Create a Side by Side bag installation with Rocket Artists

Suitable for people with and without a learning disability – we welcomed

everyone’s opinions and encouraged learning disabled artists and their

support people to join in the activities together, side-by-side.

Side by Side film screenings

Wednesday 27 March- Inclusive Arts: How do we do it? followed by a discussion panel

Thursday 28 March- Feature length films made by leading Inclusive Arts organisations.

More info

We ran workshops in small groups, thinking about art and

collaboration, shared ideas and created an inclusive arts manifesto,

together. See the manifesto belwo and at from

The Rocket Artists supported creative, inclusive debates on the various aspects of Inclusive Practice. There were different ways to do this such as talking, making, drawing and filming. We gathered current important issues from the delegates and used these alongside the following questions as a starting point for discussion:

  • What lies at the heart of the experience of the creative, collaborative process for both the artist with learning disabilities?
  • What conditions are necessary in order to enhance the collaborative process, thereby ensuring that artists’ with learning disabilities creative possibilities are maximised?
  • How can galleries and performance venues support learning disabled artists’ and their non-disabled collaborators to develop a sustained platform for exhibition and inclusive debate for Inclusive Arts Practice.


We are currently working on an inclusive arts book in partnership with Routledge exploring Inclusive Arts Practice.. This will include essays on best practice, case studies, interviews with artists such as Suzanne Lacy, Tim Rollins and KOS, Anna Cutler, Jude Kelly, Andrew Pike, Dean Rodney, Kelvin Burke

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