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Pyramid of Arts: What does culture mean to you?

James Hill is Director of Pyramid of Arts, a Leeds-based  art collective which runs weekly collaborative arts groups for people with and without learning disabilities, including a high support programme for people with profound or multiple disabilities.

On Friday 26th February Pyramid of Arts’ Ribblehead Group visited Artemis in Holbeck (a magical repository of 10,000 museum artefacts hidden in a scruffy industrial unit in Holbeck) to carry on with their ‘Bringing the Outside In’ project, and also to talk to Leanne about the Culture Strategy.

Ribblehead are a group of 17 artists with and without learning disabilities who work together to explore and develop their creativity, and to make great art for a wide public audience.

There was a new volunteer at the Group as well as Leanne meeting them for the first time so everyone went round the table giving their name, and an action for something that they like to do, which the rest of the group guessed.  It felt like part of the consultation on what we consider to be ‘culture’ so here is the list of some of the things that the group like to do;

  • Drawing
  • Listening to music
  • Patterns
  • Going to the pub for two pints
  • Weddings
  • Sleeping
  • Sunshine
  • Pottery
  • Blackpool illuminations and holidays
  • Reading
  • 007
  • Walking
  • Looking at pictures
  • Climbing

The session started with our lead artists, Matthew and Alison, and three of our volunteers, Naomi Andrew and Melanie showing items that they had picked out of the collection (some coral, a model train, a Japanese fiddle, a 1930s doll) and explaining why they were interested in them. Our group then split up into and wandered around the collection looking for artefacts that interested them.  At the end of the session we all gathered together to show our items and explain why we had picked them.

While the groups were looking for artefacts, Leanne and James talked to different members individually and got them to draw or write on a picture of a shoe about what they liked doing in Leeds at the moment, what they would like to do more of, and about the things which sometimes get in the way of them doing more.

Robin Lumb
Robin likes taking pictures, photography classes, going to Otley, bus rides to visit Harrogate, Ripon, York & Bradford, and visiting museums. Robin picked a scale model of Clifford’s tower in York to illustrate the fact that he likes to make trips to that city.

Maureen DuffyMaureen

Maureen likes coming to Pyramid of Arts.  She goes to the café at John Charles Sports Centre to have tea with friends.  She likes colouring in pattern books.  She goes to a drama group at The Bridge, and they are going to do a production of Wuthering Heights.  She used to go to a choir, but travelling there got difficult after she had an operation on her hip, so she decided to come to Pyramid of Arts instead.  She thinks that change is a good thing.

Maureen picked an Edwardian bucket and spade because she liked the picture of the donkey on it.

Andrew Wonnacot
A keen sci-fi fan Andrew likes Doctor Who, Star Trek and going to the White Rose Centre. Andrew was lucky enough to find a box of Doctor Who figures, an Ood, a Weeping Angel, a Dalek (with no eye or gun) and the 10th Doctor. A lot of the cultures he likes, he does at home and finds travelling to different places difficult sometimes, but enjoys groups like the ones at Pyramid of Arts.

Scott AndersonScott1

Scott is very sociable and enjoys playing the drums, going to pubs and bars, and drinking Guinness. Scott picked a harp which he played liked a guitar, and a model of an Apollo moon landing module.

Stephen HarveyStephen2

The reason that Stephen likes coming to Pyramid of Arts is the he feels respected and treated as an equal. He likes being outdoors and doing sponsored walks in support of Pyramid of Arts to support a place he values.  A massive Manchester United fan he likes going to the pub to watch his team win.

He also likes FUNERALS because you can drink lots of wine at them.

He prefers coming out rather than staying at home, but, he gets frustrated that so many of the things that he wants to do away from home are hampered by the inflexibility of staff and their shift patters.  They bring him out to the pub to watch Manchester United but they have to leave before the end of the game if it’s a 7 o’clock kick off and he stays there on his own.  He thinks that if people are going to come out to support you, they should stay with you.  He feels that flexibility in health care and support is really important. He also wants to be supported by those who have the same interests as him, as this way his carers wouldn’t mind spending the extra five minutes on shift to see the end of the match.

Stephen picked some models of vintage American trains.

Brian ‘the Lion’ RichardsonBrian1

Known as ‘Brian the Lion’ for his collection of Lion t-shirts, Brain likes watching the ‘Made in Leeds’ TV channel because it shows programmes about the history of Leeds.  Brian worked with his Dad in three different cotton mills in Morley before they shut down.  His Dad worked on spinning mules in the mills and showed Brian how to work with him.  His Dad worked at the Mill all day and then went home and straight out to work again as a barman in the Club on Queen Street in Morley.  Brian loves Armley Mills Industrial Museum and thinks that anything that teaches people about the social and industrial history of Leeds, and how working people like his Dad made Leeds, is really important.

Brian was once asked to play Henry VIII in a play and enjoyed beheading wives.  He picked a Tudor Pikeman’s helmet as his artefact.

Dominique GhataoraDominique

Dominique goes to Potternetown Fullfilling Lives Centre for three days a week when she is not at Pyramid of Arts.  She likes the colour blue.  She likes watching television, drawing and arts activities, using a foot spa and baking.  She goes to movies and goes bowling.  She loves it when her Aunt and Uncle come to visit her.  She liked the models of trains at Artemis because it reminded her of people coming on the train to Leeds, to visit her. 

Dominique picked a beautiful stuffed robin.

I (as in me, James Hill) thought again while going through this exercise how striking it is that our members with learning difficulties seem to be habituated to answering questions about what they do, or what they would like to do, in a particular way.  Most of our members can list the activities that they do on a routine basis throughout the week (most activities provided for people with learning disabilities are weekly, during academic term times).  I am always very conscious of how difficult it is to not ask leading questions.  If someone is not responding to the question ‘What would you like to do?’ then it is too easy to switch to questions with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.  Do you like doing this?  To which the answer is almost always ‘yes’, which means one of two things – either that our members are too eager to please whoever is talking to them, or that everyone loves being at Pyramid of Arts!  Much as I would like to believe it is all the latter, I think that some of the former must also be true.

It was really good to hear Stephen showing an awareness and understanding of the financial and logistical forces which might limit the activities that he can do, and to hear him say that more flexibility is needed.  The fact that no one else really spoke of these forces suggests either that they are too polite to mention them or complain about them, or that they are not really aware of them.  I don’t think this lack of awareness is limited to people with learning disabilities, though.  I think the lack of understanding of the forces that limit our participation is something that almost all of us suffer from in one way or another.

These forces are not ‘cultural’ activities, they are the things that stop us doing the things we love. Things like poor transport, a lack of understanding or support from those around us, shift patterns that support the organisation rather than the individual, or a basic mismatch of personalities between care givers and those who they care for.

This visit was part of Ribblehead’s ‘Bringing the Outside In’ project, exploring the route through Holbeck from Barkston House to the Tetley.  The end of the project will be an exhibition in the Tetley which will be open to the public from June 10th – 23rd.

One Comment

  1. Sarah Sarah

    The cost and quality of public transport in Leeds is certainly a barrier to all non-drivers’ participation in cultural activity. Currently hindered all the more by the development of another shopping centre in the middle of town. Just what we needed! More shops!

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