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Coming to the end of the third year of EXPLORERS, we are looking back at a fantastic series of exhibitions, events and moments that have captivated audiences and challenged preconceptions across the UK as well as in Australia. Beginning and ending in Milton Keynes, we have spent the year focused on putting people with complex needs, and their circles of support at the heart of cultural life. We have been fortunate to have been involved in some incredible work, and have built new, or deepened relationships with some truly inspiring individuals, artists, social care organisations, activists and galleries.

The Project Art Works film Illuminating the Wilderness, has been seen by thousands of people throughout the year. It started EXPLORERS Year 3 in March at MK Gallery, Milton Keynes. It was also shown at Tate Liverpool during April and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia in October where we used the film as a starting point for collaborative workshops with individuals and local social care groups. The work that resulted transformed gallery spaces and questioned audiences about their understanding of the art and of disabilities. In Liverpool, our collaboration with local social care organisations has resulted in the setting up of a collective to carry on the work we have been doing in the area.

“I thought the exhibition was truly inspiring, to see all the individual groups art work hanging in The Tate was just incredible.”Charlotte Carder, Liverpool Mencap.

Throughout the year we have supported our project partners to deliver further ground-breaking co-commissions:-

Putting Ourselves In The Picture at Fabrica (July-August). This co-commission reimagined the gallery as an open, working studio with 3 artists working with individuals and groups with complex needs, as well as members of the public to break down the barriers between audiences and artists. The resultant works were then exhibited in a show that examined how art galleries can be more democratic, without losing their ability to excite and be provocative.

In Focus by Photoworks (October)Involved an exhibition at Phoenix Gallery, Brighton, where self-describing Autistic Artist Anna Farley examined how people with complex support needs respond to Personal Independence Payments benefit applications. Photoworks also developed photography clubs for 3 groups of people with complex needs in Sussex. This resulted in photographic work also being exhibited at Phoenix Brighton, and a practical toolkit to make photography more accessible.

I Hear You at De La Warr Pavilion. (September-January)Artist Mikhail Karikis worked closely with a small group of Project Art Works’ artist-makers and their care-givers and focused on the subtle and sensitive and often non-verbal communications between them. This moving-image installation offers an insight into tender moments of human interaction that are at the heart of the relationships people with complex needs build with their families and support workers.

In November we delivered the EXPLORERS Conferenceat Milton Keynes Gallery, that showcased work by a group of neurodiverse artists. The two days featured presentations, conversations, tours and workshops by Project Art Works, Intoart and ActionSpace, Disability Arts Online, many of the EXPLORERS partners and many others. With an audience drawn from across art and culture, academia and social care it demonstrated a determination to bring about real change for neurominorities, both artistically and in terms of rights and representation.

“It was an eye-opening and humbling experience. I was so delighted to be part of it. It really shows you what is possible for everybody if we think differently.”

 “I thought the conference was wonderful and I learnt lots. I particularly enjoyed the spotlights on artists practice, balanced with organisations presenting too. I left feeling inspired and energised.”(from anonymous evaluations)

As such we are now looking forward with much anticipation to the Sharif Persaud solo exhibition Have You Ever Had at Autograph, opening in February 2020, which will be the final exhibition for the project, and to the forthcoming EXPLORERS publication, that will help to document and create a legacy for the last 3 years.

For more information about the EXPLORERS Project please contact Martin Swan at [email protected].

EXPLORERS is supported by the Arts Council Ambition for Excellence Programme and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

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