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In conversation with Venture Arts: the Manchester charity with a mission to empower disabilities within the arts

  • The Northern Quota speaks to Manchester based charity, Venture Arts, which aims to empower people with disabilities in the creative industry
  • Arts project manager Sarah Boulter chats about Venture Arts' latest exhibition, diversity in the arts and what's next for them

The Northern Quota sat down for a chat with Venture Arts’ project manager, Sarah Boulter.

Sarah has worked with Venture Arts for a year and recently curated the You Can’t Stop Us! exhibition in collaboration with The Lowry.

We spoke to her about Venture Arts’ philosophy, diversity in the creative industry and the impact of lockdown on creativity which was the inspiration behind You Can’t Stop Us!

Can you tell me a bit about Venture Arts and the projects they take on?

“We’re a supportive studio for visual arts and all our artists are neurodivergent or have a learning disability,” Sarah explains.

“They don’t follow practice so our classes aren’t structured like a workshop, they follow their own individual practice and produce whatever work they want.

“We follow all sorts of traditions – we have a kiln for ceramics and a dark room for photography and animation, as well as more traditional artistic projects like painting and print.

Louise Hewitt clay workshop
Louise Hewitt running a clay workshop in the Venture Arts studio (credit: Venture Arts)

“We also have guest artists in on occasion who offer something different like a performance artist or someone who does music, just any area where we think the person might be great to work with.

Do you think there is a lack of support in the creative industry for people with disabilities?

Deborah Makinde volunteering at Manchester Museum
Deborah Makinde volunteering at Manchester Museum next to her favourite exhibit (credit: Venture Arts)

“There’s a few down south, but we’re perhaps the only one in the north,” Sarah responds when we chat about the lack of artistic organisation who support disabled people.

“Most of the supportive studios like us are in London.

“But we are partnering with the Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool who are trying to look more at the lack of disabled artists and get a similar community to ours together.  

“We’re also going to be working with a regional officer who’s going to go out and find people that we’d be able to support from a wider region, as most of our artists come from central Manchester.”

Sarah explains that “visibility is growing”, but overall “there’s not that much support” within the arts for those with learning disabilities.

Venture Arts’ latest project is You Can’t Stop Us! exhibition at The Lowry – can you tell me a bit more about the project and the inspiration behind it?

“It’s just a fantastic opportunity and really builds confidence to show your work in a world renowned organisation like that,” she says.

“A lot of the work you can see in the exhibition was made at home during the lockdowns.

“All the art was produced at home and there were a lot of zoom sessions.”

Stencil print from the You Can't Stop Us exhibition
Stencil print by Niamh Ball at The Lowry exhibition (credit: Venture Arts)

“It’s really interesting to see how people were able to experiment during lockdown, because it’s a huge blow to not be able to come into the studio and access all the materials.

“One of our artists came up with the title and it was definitely a direct reference to Covid – to say look we’re still here and we did it.

“They were still as creative as ever and it’s amazing.”

How do you think lockdown impacted with artists’ creative ability?

“It’s affected everybody and some people haven’t come back to the studio yet because they don’t feel comfortable enough.

“Obviously I think everyone would have preferred to be in the studio.

“But I think it helped to have those meetings over Zoom with the art facilitators and with Venture continuing to support those sessions we ensured nobody was left alone."

Embroidery collage at the You Can't Stop Us exhibition
Print and embroidery collage by Daniel Parker Conway (credit: Venture Arts)

What’s next for Venture Arts? Have you got any projects in the works?

“We’ve got quite a lot coming up – one of our young people has an interest in fashion and he’s made some printed t-shirts and sweatshirts which is being shown at The Lowry.

“He’s also collaborated with a Manchester-based artist and performer called Ruby Tingle and they’re doing a one-night performance show.

“Another of our artists has got a solo show at the Horsfall Gallery, and our work is being shown in a gallery in the Northern Quarter in May as part of the British art show.

“The list is endless really, there’s some great opportunities for our people.”

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