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The Letter Writing Project

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Colour photograph of me on my mini scooter in front of the letter writing booth in Dean Gallery, holding an envelope addressed to Lee Mingwei.
Attempting to post a letter to Lee at Dean Gallery, having struggled across Edinburgh on a freezing wet day to see the 'Enlightenments' exhibition.

On 20 August 2009 I went to see Lee Mingwei's Letter Writing Project at the Enlightenments exhibition at the Edinburgh International Festival. The exhibition brochure said that the Gallery was fully accessible to wheelchair and scooter users, and stated that:

"Lee Mingwei makes projects that help people connect to themselves, their memories and emotions. Letter Writing Project invites viewers to think about communicating with absent friends, family and loved ones by writing the letters they always meant to, but have never had the opportunity or time to do... Participants are invited to write their letters and either seal them or leave them open for others to read. Many of the visitors come to realise, through reading the letters of others, that they too carry unexpressed feelings that they would feel relieved to write down and perhaps share. A chain of feelings is created, reminding visitors of the larger world of emotions in which we all participate."

Nowhere did it say that disabled people were unable to participate because the letter writing booth was raised from the ground and reached by two steps, while no ramp was available as an alternative. I could have shrugged and gone away again; I could have left a complaint with the box office; but in fact I switched off my scooter and refused to move until I was put into contact with the artist and the curator to find out why people who required step-free access were excluded from participating. And then I set up my own letter writing project, beginning with the following which I left in the gallery for the artist.

NB: If you send your own electronic letters to any of the people below, copy me in on mail@ju90.co.uk - tell me whether you would like these to be included within this site (i.e. left open for others to read) or if they are for my eyes only (i.e sealed).


Dear Lee

Disabled people like to read and write too. Where is the ramp? And the easy-reach?

Ju Gosling aka ju90

PS: My feelings are anger and outrage.


From: ju90 <mail@ju90.co.uk>
Date: 21 August 2009 11:40:41 BST
To: pelliot@nationalgalleries.org
[ NB: Patrick was the most senior person on duty in the gallery at the time of my visit, and is the senior curator. He was not personally involved in the curating of the exhibition]
Cc: ghamilton@nationalgalleries.org, jleighton@nationalgalleries.org, sgroom@nationalgalleries.org
Subject: Access to the Letter Writing Project at Dean Gallery

Dear Patrick
It was good to meet you yesterday, although I wish that the circumstances had been different. I thought it would be helpful this morning to summarise my concerns about and objections to (in its current form) Lee Mingwei's Letter Writing Project in writing (how unfortunately apt), particularly as so many people need to be included in the distribution of this email.

To begin with that issue, I understand from you that the following were all involved in some way in the commissioning and installation of the Letter Writing Project:

Jonathan Mills, Head of EIF
Julianna Engberg, Organiser for Enlightenments
Simon Groom, Director of the Gallery of Modern Art
Alison Riach, Director of Operations and Policy
Lauren Rigby, Curator
Susan Paterson, Head of Health and Safety for National Galleries Scotland
Gwen Hamilton, Visitor Services.

Plus of course the artist himself, Lee Mingwei. I would appreciate it if you could forward this email to any of these people who are not included in the distribution list above.

It is therefore particularly sad that not one of these people - nor anyone else in the 11 YEARS that this exhibit has apparently been touring - appear to have noticed/cared that:

a) although the explicit intention is for the exhibit to be participatory, disabled and older people with a wide range of mobility impairments cannot access the exhibit because of the decision to raise it from the floor and then install steps rather than a ramp to create 'access';
b) this breaches the Gallery's obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act to ensure that 'reasonable adjustments' are made wherever possible to enable full access to the work;
c) as recipients of public funds, both the Gallery and the International Festival have an obligation under the Public Sector Duty to Promote Disability Equality to undertake an Equality Impact Assessment of the exhibition and to take all possible steps to ensure equal access for disabled people;
d) by choosing to install the exhibit in the room which also contains the lift that all disabled people with mobility impairments need to use in order to enter the exhibition, the exclusionary impact of the work is magnified greatly.

The message is loud and clear as soon as you begin your visit that art is not intended to be viewed or participated in by disabled people.

I also feel that anyone familiar with Chinese culture would question whether the steps had been deliberately installed in order to keep out 'evil spirits' - who are of course disabled so are unable to climb steps (this is why steps are a common feature in the entries of Chinese-owned businesses). However, while we in the West have a vast range of disabilist cultural stereotypes ourselves, it would still be inappropriate in this day and age to forefront them without question in an exhibition of this type, particularly one entitled The Enlightenments. It is also notable that Beijing installed ramps throughout the city for 2012, so cultural traditions are most certainly being widely questioned and overturned in the 21st century.

I am sad to realise that the theme of my own exhibition, Abnormal, is particularly apt in relation to the visual art world as represented at the International Festival. As someone who situates my work within the themes and traditions of the international Disability Arts movement (described last year by Melvyn Bragg as being the last avant garde), the show explores why we as a society have become so body dysphoric that we believe disability and old age to be abnormal conditions which science will soon make a thing of the past, and unquestioningly accept a world which excludes disabled and older people from both participation and cultural representation as being normal. When I look at the long list of names above, this seems to me to prove my point beyond question.

I appreciate the offer of the International Festival to facilitate a discussion between myself and Lee, either by phone or web-conference, and look forward to this happening shortly. (Please can you also forward this email on to Derek Gilchrist). I think it would be appropriate to include Lauren as the Curator in this discussion too, particularly since the location of the exhibit has such an additional exclusionary effect. I would also hope to meet Julianna Engberg, who I understand had overall responsibility for the Enlightenments, when I am in Melbourne in November (as a keynote speaker at the Australian Network of Arts and Technology's symposium Superhuman).

In the meantime, I believe that the Gallery should be taking all possible steps to increase access to the exhibit, although short of a ramp and easy-reach (since you also need to be six foot tall to access it in its entirety) it is hard to see what this might look like. It is impossible to replicate the experience of browsing the letters without being able to see the titles on the envelopes, and offering support to people who can walk a little to climb up the steps would have huge health and safety and insurance implications.

I look forward to hearing from both the Festival Office and the Gallery again shortly.

Regards

Ju

PS: My next visit to the Gallery will be to see the Tacita Dean piece. Dare I enquire whether there is audio description available for this film and Joshua Mosley's film? If not, perhaps you would like to start putting that in train now. It seems to me that if I can ensure full access to my own exhibition on the Fringe, including audio description, on a fraction of the budget (my Wellcome Trust grant covers ten venues on its national tour), there is no excuse for any of the artists exhibiting in the International Festival not to do likewise. Should they be under any illusion that this is difficult or feel that they cannot afford it, I am attaching the No Budget Guide for Artists to Disability Access that I produced earlier this year as my 'legacy' from being a New Work Network Associate in 2007-9.


From: alison.riach@eif.co.uk
Subject: from Edinburgh International Festival
Date: 24 August 2009 10:49:52 BST
To: mail@ju90.co.uk

Hello Ms Gosling

My colleague, Sally Hobson, has told me of your disappointment at not being able to access fully Lee Mingwei’s installation. We’ve passed your comments to the curator of our visual arts project, Juliana Engberg (who is now back in Australia where she runs the Australian Centre for Contemporary Arts). She has asked us to pass on this message:

"Thank you for informing us that you have not been able to access a part of Lee Mingwei’s project The Letter Writing Project. As you have rightly pointed out the sculptural structure is not accessible to a person in a wheelchair. We have conveyed your disappointment to the artist.

Mingwei’s sculptural installation is based on "the architecture of Japanese/Taiwanese rooms that traditionally have a step up to a platform". This is an important aesthetic and carries with it a philosophy of changed circumstances. The work was produced in 1998 in the United States of America, and is now on loan to the Dean Gallery and Edinburgh International Festival through the generosity of its Taiwanese owner. It is not a permanent architecture, but a temporary art installation.

We are not at liberty to alter the project structure in any way, in agreement with the conditions of the loan. Altering it would also change the intent and aesthetic of the art work which is to replicate transition. We agree it is regrettable that you cannot experience this work as fully as you would like.

Again, we thank you for bringing this to our attention. We hope that you have enjoyed the other 5 projects presented at the Dean Gallery and the additional projects at the Talbot Rice Gallery and Collective Gallery."

We at the Festival wondered if you would feel it helpful (or not) if the attendants at the Gallery had a writing pad with paper and envelope available for wheelchair-bound visitors who could not access the pod but who wished to write a letter?

Yours sincerely
Alison Riach

Alison Riach
Director, Operations and Planning
Edinburgh International Festival The Hub Castlehill Edinburgh EH1 2NE
T +44 (0)131 473 2046 ; Switchboard + 44 (0) 131 473 2099

Edinburgh International Festival Society is a company limited by guarantee and incorporated in Scotland (No SC024766) with its registered office at The Hub, Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NE. Registered Charity No SC004694.


From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Subject: Re: from Edinburgh International Festival
Date: 24 August 2009 17:11:38 BST
To: alison.riach@eif.co.uk

Dear Alison

First, can I point out that 'wheelchair user' is the correct usage, not 'person in a wheelchair' or 'wheelchair bound' - I would suggest that you would be unlikely to find someone bound to a wheelchair outside of a sex club, and point out that this dated use of language is extremely offensive. Also that, as I pointed out in my previous email, the exhibit is inaccessible to a wide range of people with mobility impairments and not simply people who use chairs or scooters.

I am really appalled at the casual nature of the response from Ms Engberg, including the failure to address anything in my email apart from the refusal to make any alterations to make the exhibit accessible. It seems nonsensical to claim that using a step marks transition but using a ramp does not, since the function of both is to move from one level to another; the only difference is that a ramp can be used by everyone but a step cannot. I am also appalled at the ignorance displayed - the Disability Discrimination Act covers artworks just as it does architecture and perhaps you should examine the goods and services clauses if you are really unaware of this, while the Public Sector Duty to Promote Disability Equality has no exceptions when the use of public funds is involved.

I can assure you that legally offering someone who has been excluded from the exhibit a pen and paper falls far from your obligations - you would need to have someone available permanently to offer to bring out every single envelope in turn as well as having photographs/video available of the close up of the inside in order to come close to this, even if the whole project was entirely privately funded. In court though I think you would still have a hard job arguing why a ramp cannot be made available when the exhibit is in an otherwise fully accessible gallery.

However, when you choose to use public funds to include an exhibit which many disabled and older visitors cannot access, then you are certainly obliged to provide a temporary ramp at the very least. Or of course you could have chosen to include a participatory exhibit that was open to all, particularly when it is sited in the gallery which the lift opens into.

I have not yet seen the other exhibits, as the two hours that I spent refusing to move until I was put into contact with someone senior at both the Gallery and the Festival left me very tired and cold. I cannot understand why you believe that anyone would be particularly interested in exploring a show which from the outset excludes them.

I am sure you will understand that I am not prepared to leave this matter here, and would repeat this morning's request to see Jonathan Mills as a matter of urgency.

Yours sincerely,

Ju Gosling aka ju90

PS: Please note that my correct title is Dr.
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From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Subject: Disabled and older people and the Letter Writing Project
Date: 25 August 2009 14:48:01 BST
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Dear Lee

I don't know if anyone has contacted you directly from the Edinburgh International Festival Office about my request to be put in touch with you, but I have now found this email address for you and hope that it reaches you soon. Although the Festival offered to facilitate a dialogue between us last week, this seems to have been superceded now by a polite dismissal of the exclusion of many disabled and older people from the Letter Writing Project as simply being 'regrettable'. Unfortunately this comes in the context of very poor provision for and a general disregard for the human rights of disabled and older people throughout the International Festival.

The correspondence above should be self-explanatory, although in another sense it doesn't explain anything, particularly as your work explicitly forefronts themes of self-awareness, regret and apology. Anyway, as an artist working within the theories and traditions of the international Disability Arts movement (I am also artist-in-residence at the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive - see my Holton Lee Blog on my website), I would very much like to discuss the issues being raised with you. Nothing you say on your website about the overall themes of your work, nor about this particular piece, suggests to me that you wish to exclude a large minority of the population from accessing your work, whatever curators might think, and it seems ridiculous to continue to escalate the debate to involve demonstrations and media controversy rather than to debate the issues and find a way forward between us.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

With regards and best wishes

Ju Gosling
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From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Subject: PS re Letter Writing Project
Date: 25 August 2009 16:33:43 BST
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Whatever the curatorial opinion, I believe that it is a compliment not an insult to a fellow artist to engage so intensively with their work and to take it so seriously that you wish everyone to be able to interact with it. I see from your website that the original piece featured three ways of writing: sitting, standing and kneeling, so it is clear that you did not expect everyone to behave physically identically when they accessed it. Although a custom-made ramp in the same wood that could be placed over the steps as required to enable someone to get into the booth (it could then be immediately removed again until they were ready to leave) would clearly be preferable in terms of the aesthetic, really anything that enabled access would work. And of course I am enabling you to write your own letter of apology and regret and to take action to avoid continuing to oppress a part of the human race whose rights are already continually being denied, which will surely enable you yourself to interact more intensively with the piece than you would normally have an opportunity to do.

Best

Ju

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From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Subject: Further to my previous email re the Letter Writing Project
Date: 26 August 2009 09:53:23 BST
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Dear Lee

This dialogue is a little one-sided so far, and as it is now almost a week since my visit to the Letter Writing Project, I hope you write back soon.

I cannot forgive you until you take action to develop the Letter Writing Project to include disabled and older people [some private comments are omitted here]. I am also Co Chair of Regard, the national LGBT disabled people's organisation, and I could not in all honesty continue in this position if I rolled away from this situation. Last year I was also one of the first two Associates of the New Work Network here in the UK, and one of my given tasks there too was to create change in terms of the diversity of the network and the practice of its members; my obligation is not at an end simply because my contract has run out.

Admittedly the location of the letter writing booth (in the gallery which contains the lift) in Edinburgh, the fact that it has received public funds and the overall title of the exhibition - Enlightenments - gives it a priority for me that it would not have otherwise, but it does not stop it from being important anyway. I cannot accept aesthetics as a reason for failing to offer a ramp when needed, when it is very clear from looking at the booth that the lines of the sides would lend themselves to continuing in a sweep down to the floor, as would the floor of the booth itself. Equally a ramp marks transition to another level just as a step does. And I am quite sure that when you visit Taiwan, Japan or China these days, ramps are being offered however untraditional these might be. A friend of mine - an artist and adviser to the Mayor of London - has shown me a great deal of footage of his visit to Beijing for 2012 recently, and it was clear that changes had been made to many heritage buildings and settings to include disabled and older people, including access to the Great Wall. Traditions - and art work - need to be honoured and observed, but also developed and changed.

I very much like your work, which is probably another reason why I have responded so strongly to it. Although my exhibition here is funded by Wellcome Trust's Sci-Art fund, since 2006 I have been artist-in-residence at the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive in Dorset, located in a 350-acre nature reserve adjoining Poole Harbour where I have a caravan. There, as with my work in Wales, I am working with themes of spirituality and ancient history within a land art tradition, as well as more traditional landscape work.

Anyway, I really do need to return to my own show now. Again, I hope to hear from you soon.

Regards

Ju
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From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Subject: Further to my previous email re the Letter Writing Project
Date: 28 August 2009 13:34:16 BST
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Dear Lee

I am sorry that you have not yet replied to me, so thought it helpful for me to send you two word pictures:

1) A man arrives at Dean Gallery using a wheelchair, and uses the lift to access the Enlightenments exhibition. He is faced with the Letter Writing Project, and notices a discreet sign asking anyone who has difficulty using steps to contact a member of staff. They immediately bring out a small roll-up black ramp, which they put down to enable him to access the exhibit. They then remove it and wait to replace it when he wishes to leave again. They also hand him an 'easy reach' so he is able to read all of the letters including the ones on the high shelves. He browses for a while and then writes his own letter, forgiving the driver who hit him when he was crossing the road, leaving him unable to walk again. He explains that, despite his changed circumstances, life is still good and that disability is simply a normal part of the human experience; the best part of his life to date has been since the accident. He then continues happily around the exhibition.

2) A man arrives at Dean Gallery using a wheelchair, and uses the lift to access the Enlightenments exhibition. He is faced with the Letter Writing Project, and asks a member of staff if a ramp is available. The staff member explains that it is regrettable, but on aesthetic grounds this is forbidden by both the artist himself and the curators. The man rolls away and leaves the exhibition. He later looks at the Dignitas website in Switzerland, wondering if life is really worth living when society seems unprepared to be flexible enough to accommodate him.

I will send you a real picture of some 'easy reaches' later, as the shop next door to the theatre where the exhibition is sells a wide range of these. If you can tell me which one is aesthetically acceptable to you, I will happily buy it for you myself.

Regards

Ju
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From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Subject: Photo as promised
Date: 28 August 2009 18:21:06 BST
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Colour photograph of a  selection of 'easy reaches' hanging in a shop window

Dear Lee

Here is the photo of the 'easy reaches' that I promised you earlier today; as you can see, there is quite a selection. The shop, The Whistling Tortoise, has its own website at www.whistlingtortoise.co.uk which may show you more.

I am sure both the shop owner and their designers would feel that there is a strong aesthetic within these particular models, although of course historically aids for disabled people have reflected the Medical Model of Disability and been ugly and in general badly designed. You may be interested in www.adornequip.co.uk, which is an online version of a national touring exhibition that I was involved with some years ago: Adorn Equip (produced by the City Gallery in Leicester). This exhibition brought together disabled people (including a number of artists) with makers to produce 'couture' disability aids, as well as forefronting aesthetic issues. In addition to producing the website during a residency at Oriel 31 in Newtown, I worked with sculptor Andrew Logan to decorate a spinal brace which I then wore as a costume in my film-dance piece Fight. Andrew titled the brace Making it Very Glamorous, which doesn't sound too aesthetically offensive, does it?

Of course, I merely find the suggestion that disabled people should be excluded from your exhibit on aesthetic grounds to be outrageous and offensive. I am, after all, proud to be an Ugly model. But imagine how you would feel to hear this if you were a teenager who had just been forced into a spinal brace, or someone who has recently survived severe burns. The first artwork I produced that can be situated within the theories and traditions of the international Disability Arts movement was My Not-So-Secret Life as a Cyborg, which explores the disabled body as being a public body, continually on display and performing. Disabled people are already highly conscious of being constantly looked at and categorised, without being made to feel ugly in the process. (By the way, all my websites are linked from my Home Page - URL below.)

It would be pretty hurtful to be banned from accessing an exhibit on the grounds of your racial background, wouldn't it? I don't think that anyone would now question why we all campaigned so hard to ban racial segregation in both the US and South Africa. But it is not so long ago that race would be seen as a 'regrettable' but inevitable reason to exclude people from accessing art too.

Makes you think - I hope.

Regards

Ju
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From: simongroom@nationalgalleries.org
Subject: Lee Mingwei
Date: 28 August 2009 18:25:01 BST
To: mail@ju90.co.uk
Cc: alison.riach@eif.co.uk, lrigby@nationalgalleries.org

Dear Dr Gosling,

I am very sorry to hear of the distress caused to you and your colleague on your recent visit to the Dean Gallery at the inability to engage fully with Lee Mingwei’s Letter Writing Project. We take issues of access very seriously within the Gallery, and work with partners externally to ensure we comply fully with all legislation and recommendations that deal with equality of access, and strive internally to ensure that works are as fully accessible as is reasonably practical. You may wish to view our Disability Equality Scheme on our website, which outlines many of the things we are doing to help this happen. However, we do also recognise that there may be exceptional occasions when we are unable to guarantee full access to a work, whether because the subject matter makes a work inappropriate for certain age groups, or because to adapt a work would compromise the integrity of the artwork itself. Whilst these occasions are exceptional, we are also mindful that a Gallery, by its very nature, is a space which allows for works of considerable variety and difference to be freely shown. I can only apologise again on behalf of the Gallery and the Edinburgh International Festival that you were unable to engage as fully with this particular work as you would have wished, but thank you for engaging with the project nonetheless in writing a letter as part of the artwork, as well as taking the time to write to the Gallery itself. I do very much hope that you will come back to see the rest of the exhibition, when I would be very happy to meet you and to show you around the Collection displays at the Gallery of Modern Art, and to hear what more we might do to ensure that the hundreds of works on display are as freely and fully accessible as possible to all.

Yours sincerely,
Simon Groom

Dr Simon Groom
Director

Modern and Contemporary Art
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
75 Belford Road
Edinburgh, EH4 3DR

Tel. +44 (0)131 624 6326


From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Subject: Re: Lee Mingwei
Date: 28 August 2009 18:43:11 BST
To: simongroom@nationalgalleries.org

Cc: alison.riach@eif.co.uk, lrigby@nationalgalleries.org

Dear Simon

Thank you for your email. However, I don't actually accept your core argument. How can it possibly compromise the integrity of the Letter Writing Project to allow disabled people to access it via a ramp? It is not called the Stair Climbing Project, after all.

Thank you also for your offer to meet with me, which I will certainly accept. However, I should point out that the exhibit I really want to interact with is the Letter Writing Project, so it is not really relevant that other exhibits are accessible. It is a bit like telling me that an accessible bus is available, but is going in a different direction to the one that I want to catch.

When would you like to meet?

Regards

Ju
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From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Subject: Goodbye from Edinburgh
Date: 29 August 2009 12:04:024 BST
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Dear Lee

I am taking down my exhibition tomorrow in preparation for returning to London on Monday, so this is goodbye from Edinburgh. I am sorry that you have still not been able to write back to me while I am here, but look forward to hearing from you soon - in the meantime, I will keep in touch.

I don't know if you have shown work here before? This has been the first time for me, and it has certainly been an interesting experience. I was very sorry not to have been able to see the 'Enlightenments' exhibition as planned, but of course you know why that has been the case. What will you do, I wonder, when your current critics and patrons inevitably become ill/old/disabled themselves?

I would also have welcomed the opportunity to see whether I thought Greg Creek's work was comparable in standard to Sally Booth's panoramic drawings, although Sally is more usually, as a visually impaired artist, programmed by the education department. Similarly I enjoyed Michael Clark's premiere very much, but actually found Claire Cunningham's 'Mobile' and 'Evolution' solos, and Julie Cleves and Robbie Synge's duet 'Ups and Downs and Whoops a Daisies', just as good on the Fringe - and, dare I say it, rather more innovative and exciting. I was interested to read Jonathan Mill's Festival Introduction in the Michael Clark programme, but felt that the time I and my fellow disabled artists spent here was perhaps more representative of the themes and ideas that he describes than the 'Enlightenments'.

Overall the programming of the International Festival has not seemed very enlightened to me at all. There has been just one audio-described and sign language interpreted performance each of just two productions out of the entire International Festival programme. For one of these, the Traverse Theatre's 'The Last Witch', the Traverse paid half the cost of the audio-description itself, so the International Festival organisers spent just £300 in total on audio description. I wonder what the drinks reception for the 'Enlightenments' opening cost? Granted the whole International Festival programme was recorded on to CD for blind and visually impaired people, but without audio description for the performances, it strikes me that this must have largely added insult to injury. Maths is not my strongest point, but with public subsidy of £2.3 million, it is hard to see how more than 0.1% of that money has been spent on ensuring access for older and disabled people, despite the organiser's legal duty to promote disability equality within their expenditure. (I still have not had a reply as to whether or not there is audio description available for Tacita Dean's and Joshua Mosley's artists' films, but suspect I know the answer already.)

I have certainly had a better time with access to the Fringe, despite there being no direct public subsidy for this Festival at all. There has been a lot more information about access available within the programmes, and the majority of the promoters and box office and security staff that I have come into contact with have had very positive and helpful attitudes. My Westie Genie, who is trained as my assistance dog, has also been made very welcome at a whole range of performances and venues. The Book Festival too has been much more welcoming, and unlike the International Festival offers free tickets for disabled people's companions. There has not been any sign language interpretation and audio description available at the performances and book seminars that we have been to, though, and a 'mystery shopper' survey reported in The Scotsman found that only one in five venues had a loop system installed for people who use hearing aids. Obviously there is a long way to go, despite disabled people supposedly having equal rights these days.

As an artist who has been based in the Olympic borough of Newham for nearly 25 years now, I shudder to think what the implications of my experiences here are for the forthcoming Cultural Olympiad. Apparently there have been members of the 2012 team here for most of the Festival, and I would like to think that they have also noted the lack of provision for disabled and older people and have raised it with the organisers. Somehow I doubt it, though. As you can see from the enclosed correspondence, the Gallery is taking the issue somewhat more seriously than the International Festival team. However, it is the Festival team that will no doubt be more influential in the run up to 2012.

Sadly the most disabilist performance I saw was at the Fringe, though: a South African production, 'Normality', at the well-known Pleasance venue complex. In this show a non-disabled person, Pedro Kruger, impersonates a disabled person and claims that his character speaks for disabled people as a whole. The show is based around all the tired old clichés - that disabled people have been cursed by the devil, that we all want to be non-disabled and are self-hating, and that we need disabled people to help us to achieve self-acceptance (and to represent our experiences for us) before triumphing over the inevitable tragedy of our lives. (Would this artist have found it acceptable to black up and claim to represent Black South Africans’ experiences – I think not.) The show has received five-star reviews and had four curtain calls when we saw it - clearly it is putting across a message that people much prefer to hear to our own perspectives and versions of our experiences, since many leading disabled artists were absent because of targeted Arts Council funding cuts and the reluctance of promoters to programme them. Would you have preferred to see this show than to hear from me? I hope not.

Please write back soon.

Regards

Ju
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From: simongroom@nationalgalleries.org
Subject: Re: Lee Mingwei
Date: 28 August 2009 20:18:52 BST
To: mail@ju90.co.uk

Great - how about Tuesday at 11am?


From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Subject: Re: Lee Mingwei
Date: 29 August 2009 12:10:11 BST
To: simongroom@nationalgalleries.org

I'm afraid that I leave Scotland on Monday morning to return to London, as my exhibition finishes with the rest of the Fringe tonight and I also have a meeting with the Arts Council England about funding a new project at 9am on Tuesday. I'll be taking the show down tomorrow morning and am then off to Donald and Alice's 'legendary garden party', but will be in the city this afternoon if by any chance you pick up this email. Otherwise I would be happy to return at a future date.

Regards

Ju

If you pick up this email before Tuesday, I will only be in mobile/text contact from now on, so use the number below if you wish to meet today.
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From: simongroom@nationalgalleries.org
Subject: RE: Lee Mingwei
Date: 31 August 2009 09:49:00 BST
To: mail@ju90.co.uk

Dear Ju,

That's a great pity - very sorry to have missed you. Do let me know when you return.

All best wishes,

Simon


From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Subject: Re: Lee Mingwei
Date: 2 September 2009 18:07:07 BST
To: simongroom@nationalgalleries.org

Dear Simon
I have no plans to return at present, but in an ideal world I would obviously still like to see the Enlightenments before the exhibition ends at the end of September. I would also very much like to see the rest of the collection at Dean Gallery, particularly given its relevance to my own practice. However, there are obvious cost implications for me to return to Edinburgh, and of course the Letter Writing Booth is still not accessible to me. Let me get back to you on this one as I very much appreciate this opportunity for a dialogue.

Regards

Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90


From: simongroom@nationalgalleries.org
Subject: RE: Lee Mingwei
Date: 2 September 2009 18:14:13 BST
To: mail@ju90.co.uk

Dear Ju,

Completely understand. Let me know when you have a cunning plan. Otherwise you are most welcome at any time, when we would be delighted to show you round the collection at both buildings.

Best wishes,

Simon


Press statement released 2 September 2009 by National Galleries of Scotland in response to a question by John Pring from the Disability News Service

We take the issue of access very seriously at the National Galleries of Scotland, striving to ensure that both our buildings and the artworks we display are as fully accessible as is reasonably practical. However, we recognise that there may be exceptional occasions when we are unable to guarantee full access to a work of contemporary art with complex installation requirements and this can sometimes introduce challenges in this regard. The work in question here, Lee Mingwei’s Letter Writing Project, is a pre-existing work being shown as part of The Enlightenments, an exhibition organised by the Edinburgh International Festival, for which the National Galleries, in the form of the Dean Gallery, has provided the venue. It would be impossible for us to modify the way in which the work is displayed without the agreement of EIF, the artist Lee Mingwei, and the work’s owner, a private collector in Taiwan. When the issue was first brought to our attention, we looked at the possibility of using a temporary, removable ramp for visitors using wheelchairs or scooters, but the space available in the room made this impossible. In addition, the restricted space within the work itself would have made it extremely difficult for wheelchair users to turn and exit via the ramp. It is regrettable that some disabled visitors will find their experience of The Letter Writing Project compromised as a result, but we hope that all those who wish to participate in the work by writing their own letters, or reading those left by other visitors, will be able to do so with the assistance of gallery staff.

National Galleries of Scotland

Patricia Convery
Head of Press and Acting Head of Marketing
National Galleries of Scotland
70 Belford Road
Edinburgh
EH4 3DE
Tel: 0131 624 6325
Fax: 0131 343 3250
pconvery@nationalgalleries.org
www.nationalgalleries.org


Dear John,

Please find attached a detailed drawing of the space and the size of ramp that would be required for this installation. It would require a handrail and turning within the space would be extremely difficult.

Many thanks,

Patsy


Architect's drawing showing the letter writing booth in the centre of the gallery and a ramp running from it to the corner of the room.


From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Subject: Access to the Letter Writing Project
Date: 2 September 2009 17:59:00 BST
To: pconvery@nationalgalleries.org

Dear Patricia

I have been asked to comment on the attached statement and drawing.

My first comment is the obvious one: you would have plenty of room to ramp the exhibit if you moved it to a different position in the room! It is the only exhibit in a large, otherwise empty gallery. Does it really need to be in the middle of the room at the expense of disabled people's access? When all is said and done, the gallery is not a 'white cube' but has a conventional window and blue wall, and a large lift in one corner. I have also not read one argument so far which says that the exhibit needs to be situated in a particular place - although perhaps I should expect one to follow shortly.

My second comment is that both myself and my partner - the Chair of the UK Disabled People's Council - felt that we would have been able to access the exhibit if a ramp had been available. Maybe we would have had space to turn round, or maybe we would have chosen to come back down backwards. Obviously this is an individual issue as very few people have the same access needs: even when disabled people use identical scooters or wheelchairs, our control of them may be different and therefore our spatial needs will also vary. Children and young people will also normally have smaller chairs than large adult men. However, it would obviously have been good if Lee Mingwei had considered wheelchair users when he constructed the booth and had allowed a few more inches of space within it - particularly as there would have been ample room within the gallery to accommodate a larger booth.

My final comment is to restate that ramps are not only used by wheelchair and scooter users, and therefore your comments about turning space are not wholly relevant. Many disabled and older people who do not even use a stick for support would still find it difficult or impossible to climb up to the booth without a ramp, particularly given that there is no handrail or grab rail within the construction and the wooden surface is very shiny and slippery. (I am surprised that you have not considered the lack of a hand rail or any other means of holding on as you climb up to the exhibit before now.) And what about parents with pushchairs? I always notice that, when a ramp is put down to enable me to board or alight from a train, then people with pushchairs, older people and people with heavy luggage all rush to use it too.

I am glad to see that a ramp is at least being considered now.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90


Press statement released 2 September 2009 by Edinburgh International Festival in response to a question by John Pring from the Disability News Service

At the Festival we take issues of success very seriously and endeavour to follow best practice, and work with our partner venues to do the same. However we also acknowledge we can always do better. I have attached our Access Guide which lists information on the measures we currently take. One of the main issues for us in organizing signed and audio described performances is that by their very nature the productions we invite to Edinburgh are international and only arrive in the city a day or so before opening and this does not provide enough time for the signers and describers to get to know the production well enough. However since productions are often not in English we also offer five productions which have surtitles. The DDA requires us to make reasonable adjustment to make our shows available to as wide a public as possible and we endeavour to do so. It is unfortunate that the Lee Mingwei exhibition at the Dean is not as accessible as we would want however the companion exhibition the Festival is running in the Botanic Gardens is a fully accessible letter writing booth.

Artists and companies are invited to take part in the Festival by the Festival Director and are chosen entirely for the work that they are doing with no reference to any other criteria. I cannot say for sure whether or not artists in the Festival consider themselves to have a disability as this is not information we are given by visiting companies, but we have in the past worked with high profile artists such as percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, conductor Alan Hacker and singer Thomas Quastof. Catriona Hetherington, a professional cellist who has worked on our flagship programme, Connecting to Music for over five is years, happens to be deaf. When appropriate the Festivals runs outreach projects such as Arthur’s Feet, an innovative collaboration between Gelabert-Azzopardi dance company and several agencies such Indepen-dence which work on behalf of adults with learning difficulties. It was acknowledged that this Festival production was unique in its international collaborative approach whilst also having artistic concerns at its core and holding an integrative approach to disability.

Just for clarity the Festival receives public investment from the Scottish Arts Council of £2,317,296 and from City of Edinburgh Council of £2,475,108 the balance of the £9.5 million budget is earned income from ticket sales, fundraising and trading.

Best wishes

Charlotte

Charlotte Gosling
Media Relations Manager (Maternity Cover)

T +44(0)131 473 2020
M +44(0)7810 383 091
E charlotte.gosling@eif.co.uk


From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Subject: Access to Lee Mingwei's Letter Writing Project
Date: 3 September 2009 11:53:19 BST
To: Charlotte.Gosling@eif.co.uk

Dear Charlotte (for the sake of clarity, I can confirm that, to the best of my knowledge, we are not related)

I have been asked to comment on the press statement released by you on behalf of Edinburgh International Festival.

My first comment is to wonder whether the slip in the first sentence is a Freudian one - the EIF clearly does take issues of 'success' much more seriously than it takes access issues. However, I do agree with the Festival that you can do much, much better than this.

My second one is to question the veracity of your claim that BSL interpreters and audio-describers cannot work with shows that only arrive in the city a day or two beforehand. On the majority of occasions that I have had my work translated live on stage (both nationally and internationally), the interpreters have not seen a script until the day itself (if it is scripted at all), although as a matter of good practice I always endeavour to provide one in advance when this is available. There must also have been considerable documentation available in terms of videos of past performances in order for the productions to be commissioned by EIF in the first place, as well as full scripts for the operas and theatre productions.

However, I have taken the time to go through my programme for the International Festival, and note the following too:

Clearly, then, interpreters and audio describers would have had the opportunity to watch the majority of the performances at least once all the way through before an interpreted and described performance was offered. And I am quite sure that, while the majority of the concerts were for one night only, audio-describing these would have greatly added to the pleasure and confidence of blind and visually impaired visitors, while not taxing a professional audio describer in the least.

There were also twelve lectures and ten artists' talks, all of which would normally be easily BSL-interpreted live with a team of two interpreters, but I cannot see any evidence that this service was provided. The ten master-classes in the programme would also I have thought required interpretation in order to make them accessible, but again there is no sign in the programme that this was available. Perhaps you could clarify this for me? I do not want to be unfair or gain a poorer opinion of the Festival organisers than they deserve.

My third comment is that perhaps the Festival should consider using criteria other than "the work they are doing" when using public money to bring productions to the city. Surely the audience deserves consideration too? And surely in fact you DO use this criteria, you simply do not include disabled and older people within that projected audience when considering reception of the work?

My fourth comment is that I am unable to find any information relating to a letter writing booth in Botanic Gardens, although I have looked in the EIF Programme, the Enlightenments leaflet and the Edinburgh Art Festival programme, and have searched the EIF website for this phrase. I gather it is not in any case by Lee Mingwei.

I have also noted from the EIF Programme that Lee Mingwei was originally intended to show a piece called 'Elevation' rather than the Letter Writing Project, since this is the work that is referenced and illustrated. This was to be a new commission, presumably for the EIF. Indulge me by reading this quote from the Programme:

"Sitting high up and looking down on others can offer different perspectives, the sensation of being above a place, a situation or an idea gives an 'overview' which can create a larger mental space within which to consider what one sees. For the Festival Lee Mingwei creates an installation, filling one side of the gallery and elevating viewers much like Edinburgh's physical situation, perched above and observing the surrounding terrain or indeed the gargoyles on Edinburgh's buildings. Gallery visitors at floor level will likewise see people above them without knowing what they are thinking or how they see those below."

Obviously there are a number of ways in which the artist could have accomplished this. However, the accompanying illustration shows only two staircases (without handrails) rising to the ceiling. It is clear to see that older and disabled people would have been the ones left at floor level for this exhibit too, yet it would have been directly commissioned by the Festival.

My final comment is that I am surprised to see that in fact the Festival receives public subsidy of close to £5 million, when I had thought it was £2.3 million. I would love to know what percentage of this sum is earmarked for access costs? My Abnormal exhibition, which I was showing on the Fringe, started its tour at last year's DaDaFest (at the A Foundation) in Liverpool as part of their Capital of Culture celebrations. There was no shortage of wonderful international artists there who were proud to identify as being disabled, and the access was built in as standard. The artistic director, Garry Robson, is based in Edinburgh, and I am sure would be happy to make time in his busy international schedule to advise you next year.

Sincerely yours,

Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90

PS: I am of course pleased to read about Arthur's Feet, although disappointed that it was not listed in the programme or available when I used it as a search term on your website. (Perhaps it was in the calendar, but as the listing are in 7pt? type, I cannot read any of this.) Perhaps though I could recommend to you Anjali Dance Company, an international dance company where all of the dancers themselves have learning difficulties. They are also skilled at delivering workshops linked to their performances.


From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Subject: Hello again
Date: 4 September 2009 09:22:42 BST
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Dear Lee

It is now a fortnight since I requested that you were put into direct touch with me so I could discuss the matter of access to your exhibit with you in person. I think this is a perfectly reasonable request, and one that I would certainly never deny in my own practice. Moreover, after the journey that my partner and I made to see the Enlightenments without it ever being made clear that you had not designed your work to include disabled people, then I think it is only courteous of you to give me some time now. Perhaps it would increase your understanding of your audience if I described that journey further to you.

It was certainly not an easy journey to make, although it was relatively short. My assistant had returned home to London, and we had had to load my scooter and my partner's wheelchair into my van ourselves from the apartment where we were staying. We were already tired - though not as tired as we were later on - from just trying to get round the city, which is the least friendly to wheelchair and scooter users and mothers with pushchairs of any city I have ever worked in. The council, ignoring their responsibilities under the law, have put in so few dropped kerbs that more often than not you end up in the street, hoping that the traffic will spot you and not run you down. Granted that to load my van I have a ramp and winch, but it is still fairly demanding for us, particularly when too I had been working hard on my own exhibition without any of my assistants being present - my Westie Genie may make a good assistance dog, but as you can imagine, is rather limited in her scope.

(Unfortunately my subsidy from the state equals 15 hours a week of assistance at work plus three hours a day for everything else, and I couldn't afford the 24/7 assistance that I actually required at the Festival. Most disabled people receive far less assistance than this. In any case, while the Book Festival was offering free places to disabled people's assistants/carers/companions, the International Festival charged them £10 each, which is a lot when you are paying £10 an hour for their services and also obviously have to pay this charge for them as well. I live alone and am not supposed to go far without human companionship, so this is an issue that directly affects me. Of course it is good that EIF offers cheaper tickets to disabled people, but with an 80% unemployment rate and much higher daily expenses, it is still a lot of money for us.)

Anyway, we then had to navigate our way across an unknown city in the pouring rain and very poor light before trying to locate Dean Gallery itself - no easy task, as each gate that we came to in turn appeared to point up a flight of steps, as well as to lack obvious parking facilities. Fortunately I believed the brochure which said that wheelchair access and free parking were available, so eventually we found the right entrance. Improved signage at the other gates would certainly have helped, though, and I shall mention it to Simon Groom, the Director, when I take him up on his offer of a personal tour of the Gallery soon. I can never understand why people who will inevitably find it more difficult to visit a gallery anyway are expected to take a more circuitous and problematic route too - and to be psychic to work out where that route is.

So we pulled in, and then we sat in the van for at least ten minutes, hoping that the rain would ease up. It didn't, and it was also freezing cold because of the wind. As a wheelchair or scooter user you always remain cold once you get cold, because you are not moving around enough to warm up again. Fortunately a security guard eventually came out in his tartan trousers - he was obviously a member of staff of some kind, since no one would wear these willingly - holding an umbrella in order to have a smoke. I wound down the window and asked if he would mind if we borrowed his brolly when he'd finished, and he replied that he was there to help. He then held the umbrella over himself and my partner while I unloaded the scooter and wheelchair - perhaps not quite as much help as I'd hoped would be forthcoming - which was rather a slow process.

Consequently, by the time that we had crossed over from the carpark into the back door of the Gallery - it is so often the back door - we were both drenched. (I had to leave Genie in the van, but would have preferred not to have done.) I dread to think how difficult it would have been just to get to this point in the Gallery by public transport, though, nor how tired and wet anyone coming by bus would have been. Disabled and older people have generally had a much more difficult journey before they arrive to see art of any kind, and overall have a much more intense relationship with the environment. Disabled artists can use this in our work, of course, but it doesn't make the experience any easier.

We then had to take the lift unaccompanied up to the first floor, where some genius has located the lift in the back corner of the gift shop. Navigating our way out of there, with steamed-up wet glasses to boot, took quite a lot of effort, particularly as many of the items on the crowded shop counters are breakable. As you can imagine, the shoppers just regarded us as a nuisance - as disabled people, we are always regarded as being on public display. We were eventually able to dry the wheelchair and scooter and clean our glasses in the cafe, though, where I then scalded my tongue on the Americano that I ordered.

We were excited to see part of the Eduardo Paolozzi collection as we went back to the lift, particularly the studio reconstructions which represent my partner's ideal working space. (She is still looking for a studio that she can afford.) However, twisting and turning our way around the shop in order to reach the lift, going backwards quite often to let other people pass, was not necessarily a price that I wanted to pay when I needed to stay fit for work. I imagine it would have been a lot more difficult if you were using a walking stick, though, or were walking with difficulty but unaided. At least we were able to sit down, and to twist our chair and scooter more than our bodies.

At the end of all that - and after going all the way back down in the lift to the back door to reach an accessible toilet first - we came out of the lift into a self-contained gallery expecting to see a first exhibit that was, well, Enlightened. And we got two shiny wooden steps instead, which we could no more have used at that point in time than we could have flown. Nor, of course, could most other scooter and wheelchair users, stick users, people with a wide variety of conditions that affect their mobility, strength or balance, mothers with push chairs, and many children who are nonetheless able to read and write.

I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies, really. I read the detail of the overall International Festival programme for the first time yesterday, and realised that you were originally going to show a new Festival commission called Elevation. From the illustration, it appears that this was going to consist of one or more rail-less and smooth white staircases going up to the ceiling along the sides of the gallery. Would I be right in thinking that no alternative means of 'elevating' oneself would have been available? That really would have pissed me off.

And yet, there are so many ways of achieving 'transition' as well as staircases. Not just ramps of every shape and size (the one in the illustration sent to me by the Gallery seems surprisingly long), but lifts of different sorts that can run both inside and outside the internal gallery walls too. The type of open lift that I have in my own house is reasonably priced, supported by the floor and very flexible, but there are plenty of other options as well. Maybe you would have found that putting in a couple of little lifts up to platforms would have been much easier to design and engineer, not to mention more fun for the people using them as well as being accessible to all?

Do you not think it would be more imaginative, let alone 'enlightened', to take your work a bit further than simply replicating Mediterranean-type outdoor staircases indoors? I was only joking when, discussing the 'intention' of your work, I wrote to Simon Groom that your exhibit was not called The Stair Climbing Project. However, it seems to me that in fact this was exactly what was originally intended for your 'participatory' exhibit, and that the Letter Writing Project was in effect a late substitute. I imagine I am right in thinking that lack of disabled access was NOT the reason for it failing to go ahead, though? I hope you have not been unwell?

I am sad to say that the underlying perspective of my own exhibition, Abnormal, has been proven beyond doubt over the past fortnight. I have certainly found that the opportunity to spend an extended time with my exhibition has given me greater focus on it, and made me more able to articulate the ideas within it. (Developing the audio description also enables you to reflect more clearly on your practice, as you obviously need to discuss the intention of the work alongside a description of it.) However, to some extent Abnormal simply reflects the perspective of the international Disability Arts movement as a whole (you can find out more about the movement within the essays on my Holton Lee Blog). I can't help thinking that we might have represented the themes of the Enlightenments in a rather more, well, enlightened way if some of us had been commissioned. I might have framed my own exhibition within the Enlightenment themes as follows:

As a society we have in effect made a religion of science, believing that the time is very soon Coming when disability and mortality will be a thing of the past and we will lead perfect and eternal lives. We ignore scientists themselves who tell us that, because their own powers are in fact strictly limited, then healthy living and an end to poverty will always be the key means of extending our lifespan. Instead, we force them to encourage us in our delusions of their omnipotence before we will fund their work adequately. We fail to accept that one day disability and old age will affect us all, and deny that disabled and older people form an increasingly large proportion of the population.

Instead, we continue to believe that only a small and abnormal minority are affected, and see their social exclusion as an inevitable consequence of their impairments rather than as a direct result of our own behaviour. We think that we do not have to make any provision for them because they will soon disappear, either at the hand of science or their own (we will stand up for their right to suicide, but not to get into a building to see or make art). In the meantime, our relationship with our own bodies has never been more chaotic, and even our relationship with food is increasingly dysfunctional as we continue to deny the infinite diversity of the human body and aim instead to be 'normal'. Capitalism is of course happy to collude by only making provision for those it deems to be economically active - which doesn't include mothers with infants, children, disabled people and older people, despite these people together forming a very large proportion of the population indeed.

It seems to me that only a completely dysphoric view of the body could explain, for example, how someone can draw a plan of 'your' gallery to 'prove' that a ramp can't be fitted without considering that the exhibit could easily be moved. Nor can anything else explain why a work with the theme of bringing people together to share in a world of emotions could be casually constructed in such a way as to exclude people with such a wide variety of different body types and access needs.

Anyway, please write back soon. The Festival proper ends tomorrow, but your exhibition is after all on until 27 September.

Regards

Ju


Colour photograph of a 'disabled' parking space, where the wheelchair user symbol in the space itself is replaced by walking figures in the marked path leading from the space.From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Subject: PS
Date: 4 September 2009 09:54:49 BST
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

I thought it might amuse you to see this image, shot in the carpark of the post office sorting office nearest to my exhibition. The figures continued for another 20 feet without the 'artist' apparently ever considering their work strange. I'm thinking of including it in the next showing of Abnormal (I always add a new element each time the exhibition is shown). Perhaps I could include "Drawing showing that a ramp cannot be fitted to the exhibit, lent by the National Galleries of Scotland" too.

--
ju90
mail@ju90.co.uk
www.ju90.co.uk
Webmaster/site slave and Multimedia Storyteller
Created by Nature, Modified by Life


From: simongroom@nationalgalleries.org
Subject: Lee Mingwei
Date: 4 September 2009 13:30:16 BST
To: mail@ju90.co.uk

Dear Ju,

I'm afraid we're not going to be able to come up with a satisfactory solution for this particular work. I'm very sorry. I can assure you, however, that we will be reviewing our procedures in the light of your experience so that we may continue to strive to ensure that works are fully accessible. I can only apologise again, and do hope to see you again in the Galleries where, as I wrote before, I'd be delighted to show you around.

Best wishes,

Simon

National Galleries of Scotland is a charity registered in Scotland No. SC003728
Registered address: The Dean Gallery, 73 Belford Road, Edinburgh, EH4 3DS. VAT No. GB270718360
To be kept informed about events sign up for our email newsletter at www.nationalgalleries.org/ebulletin


From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Subject: Re: Lee Mingwei
Date: 4 September 2009 15:59:51 BST
To: simongroom@nationalgalleries.org

Dear Simon

Thank you very much for your email. Might I enquire whether this is because there is a difficulty in moving the position of the exhibit in order to enable a ramp to be used, or because you do not have permission to use a ramp?

Regards and thanks

Ju
--
ju90
mail@ju90.co.uk
www.ju90.co.uk
Webmaster/site slave and Multimedia Storyteller
Created by Nature, Modified by Life


From: Charlotte.Gosling@eif.co.uk
Subject: RE: Access to Lee Mingwei's Letter Writing Project
Date: 4 September 2009 15:19:58 BST
To: mail@ju90.co.uk

Dear Ju,

Thank you for your email. I don’t think we are related and can only apologise for my typing error – the curses of using automated spelling correction.

We would also like to thank you for your comments, which are useful to us in reviewing and improving our current practice, in particular in relation to the requirements of audio describers. This does not match our own experience of many years of working with audio describers in Scotland, where a minimum of four performances is always required before a commitment to working on a staged performance. This may of course be due to a capacity/training issue in Scotland, as is the shortage of opera signers – there are none based here. We are committed to improving our service in this area, and will continue to work with the sector in Scotland and elsewhere to do this.

With best wishes,

Charlotte

Charlotte Gosling
Media Relations Manager (Maternity Cover)
T +44(0)131 473 2020
M +44(0)7810 383 091
E charlotte.gosling@eif.co.uk


Subject: Letter Writing project/ Audio Description
Date: 4 September 2009 18:31:31 BST
To: charlotte.gosling@eif.co.uk
Cc: mail@ju90.co.uk

Dear Charlotte

Ju forwarded me your points about audio description and opera and asked me to communicate my thoughts directly to you as someone who attends such performances in Edinburgh, both during the Festival and throughout the rest of the year. I must stress that these are my opinions as an individual only. However, I have often heard other visually impaired people speaking in such terms.

I am glad that you consider Ju's comments to be helpful. I am sure that, should you speak to people who use AD, you would benefit even further. However, I really must take exception to your reference to the requirements of audio describers. I think you will find that you would do better to take into account the requirements of visually impaired people themselves. Audio description is not there for the benefit of audio describers, nor so you can tick a box somewhere, it's purpose is to improve access for visually impaired people.

I am not quite sure what inference I should draw from your comments about training and capacity within AD in Scotland. You will be aware that the ADA Scotland trains, monitors and evaluates standards in AD. You correctly state that they have a set procedure for their describers. You also point out that this does not necessarily fit with the way that EIF programming works. However, I cannot see that this either prevents or exonerates you from any duty to render your programme more accessible. Is it beyond human wit and imagination to come up with a way at least of increasing the accessibility of performances?

Off the top of my head, I can think of several ways to improve the current situation. First, most of the pieces being performed at EIF are not world premieres. In such cases, surely it might be possible to provide recordings for audio describers to start work on? Could audio describers be sent to performances in other places, or attend rehearsals? Could visually impaired audience members not be provided in advance with materials in accessible formats to help with their understanding of what is happening? Scottish Opera, for example, as well as audio describing their operas, provides excellent advance material in the form of a cassette, one side of which contains the action and significant passages within the piece and the other description of scenes and costumes and interviews with people concerned with the production. These are available whether or not you are able to attend the described performance. Such materials are not, however, to be considered a substitute for audio description.

Most, if not all of these remarks apply equally to other types of performances. Also, let us not forget that there are other obstacles for visually impaired audience members, or potential audience members. I imagine it will have already been pointed out to you that a great number of institutions do not charge for assistant's tickets. There may also be more accessible ways of providing information to visually impaired people than the, frankly staggering, 5 CDs which currently comprise your audio programme. There are also examples of good practice at other festivals around the world. Montreal, for example, issued its visually impaired Festival-goers with talking GPS devices so they could navigate between venues.

It cannot be stated too strongly that it is imperative that you must be in a dialogue with disabled audience members and potential audience members. That is the only way to make sure you are working in the right direction.

At a meeting in the Scottish Parliament in November of last year, I sat and listened to your Director waxing lyrical about the potential of bringing people up to Edinburgh from London in the hiatus between the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. At that point I issued a challenge to him to work towards the 2012 International Festival being as accessible as it possibly can be. I only hope he and EIF rise to this. I regret to say that I have seen no evidence of this so far.

Can I just say that it would be utterly wrong of me to make these remarks and not also to say to you that I would be very happy indeed to render any assistance I can in improving access at subsequent Festivals.

sincerely

Adrienne
A S CHALMERS


From: margot
Subject: letter writing project
Date: 7 September 2009 09:07:38 BST
To: mail@ju90.co.uk

Hey Ju

in the interests of equality I think you should make an artwork that is inaccessible to ALL viewers/participants

margot


Subject: Re: letter writing project
From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Date: 7 September 2009 10:49:27 BST
To: margot

Thanks for this Margot, will try to work out how!

--
ju90
mail@ju90.co.uk
www.ju90.co.uk
Webmaster/site slave and Multimedia Storyteller
Created by Nature, Modified by Life


From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Subject: Re: Access to Lee Mingwei's Letter Writing Project
Date: 7 September 2009 12:41:45 BST
To: Charlotte.Gosling@eif.co.uk

Dear Charlotte

Thank you for your email. I know that Adrienne has responded to you directly in terms of the Festival's comments about audio describers. I would however still request a response from the Festival about British Sign Language interpretation, and about the facilities/services available at the EIF lectures, master classes etc.

Although I saw numerous EIF, Fringe and other programmes at all of the various Box Offices when I was in Edinburgh (for example, programmes for particularly venues, the arts festival, Book Festival, Amnesty Festival etc), I was never able to find a copy of your Access Guide where these details might appear. I have also searched your website for a downloadable copy without success, though note that information about the facilities (but not services) at each venue was available as individual search items, which was obviously useful. Perhaps you could post me a copy of the Guide if this contains the information I am looking for?

Saturday morning I went to a seminar organised by the Independent Street Arts Network (ISAN), linked to the Liberty disability rights festival in Trafalgar Square that afternoon. ISAN talked about all of the work that they have been doing to make the events run by their members fully accessible to disabled and older people, including performing opportunities, and about the Access Toolkit they had commissioned the disabled-led Attitude is Everything organisation to produce to assist venues and producers in doing this. I was impressed by the way they acknowledged both that the live music industry - where Attitude has worked for some time - had been far ahead of them, and that they had had to overcome their own prejudices in achieving change.

You will probably not be aware that in the past 18 months, the following Disability Arts organisations lost their Arts Council funding: National Disability Arts Forum (closed), London Disability Arts Forum (closed), Sign Dance Collective (struggling), Anjali Dance Company (struggling), Holton Lee (no current arts programme), Corali dance company (surviving), Salamander Tandem (surviving), Creative Arts East (no current programme for disabled people, working with care staff instead!). The biennial Degenerate Disability Arts showcase at the Edinburgh Festival was also refused funding this year, meaning that opportunities for disabled artists in Edinburgh this summer were much slimmer than would otherwise have been the case.

The main reason given in the final letter from the Arts Council 'disinvesting' in London Disability Arts Forum was that the mainstream had not changed quickly enough. Personally I do not believe it is disabled people's responsibility to tackle disabilism in the 'mainstream', any more than it is Black people's responsibility to tackle racism; it is certainly not the goal of the Disability Arts movement. My preferred strategy would be to 'disinvest' in all publicly funded arts organisations that fail to meet their legal responsibilities under the Disability Equality Duty, and to prioritise organisations - such as Disability Arts organisations - that are open to all. I am sure that would concentrate minds no end. Instead we have a situation where it was so taken for granted that the Lee Mingwei 'participatory' exhibit would excluded disabled and older people that it occurred to no one to make this clear in the accompanying 'Enlightenments' leaflet - and indeed where the Festival were originally intending to commission a 'participatory' exhibit from him that consisted of smooth white staircases with no grab rails.

However, I would like to echo Adrienne's offer of supporting the International Festival to achieve change, particularly given the rapidly approaching Olympic and Paralympic Cultural Olympiad. I have been living and working in the Olympic borough of Newham since 1985, so this is obviously close to my heart. I am also aware that, when disabled and older people are seen to be fully included and capable, this changes other disabled and older people's lives for the better much more dramatically than any amount of campaigning and lobbying. Art really does have the power to change lives, and if Jonathan Mills' Introduction in the Festival programmes about the themes and meaning of the Enlightenment means anything, now is the time to start. I would therefore repeat my request to meet with Jonathan Mills as a matter of urgency, along with Adrienne and any other relevant people from the Scottish arts scene we agree may be appropriate.

Regards and best wishes

Ju

Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90


From: margot
Subject: Re: letter writing project
Date: 7 September 2009 12:50:23 BST
To: mail@ju90.co.uk

Hi Ju

I had a think about a poss piece --- how about something like a large canvas covered by a cloth and surrounded by barbed wire.... the canvas can be a 3D piece with intriguing projections covered by the cloth and indicating to the viewer that there is something to be seen if only they could get to it....

margot


From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Subject: Re: letter writing project
Date: 7 September 2009 13:18:11 BST
To: margot

Dear Margot

This sounds wonderful, but now I think you must make it yourself!

Regards and all best wishes

Ju
--
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mail@ju90.co.uk
www.ju90.co.uk
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Created by Nature, Modified by Life


From: margot
Subject: Re: letter writing project
Date: 7 September 2009 13:25:23 BST
To: mail@ju90.co.uk

well Ju thank you for the compliment... so how about a whole exhibition on the theme of inaccesible art with contributions from disabled artists?

margot


From: gus@cummins-art.com
Subject: letter writing
Date: 7 September 2009 13:22:54 BST
To: mail@ju90.co.uk

Dear Ju,

I read your letter writing project and loved it. Why do people have so much trouble saying "Sorry, we got it wrong but will learn from our mistake."?

Keep up the good work.

Gus Cummins.


From: wendyhaslam
Subject: Access to the Letterwriting Project
Date: 7 September 2009 13:53:31 BST

Dear Ju

I just wanted to add my support to what is starting to look like a campaign about the above and the issues it raises. Well done you for fighting the good fight! Please feel free to use any or all of the following in whatever way you like. I was a bit confused as to what you are asking folk to do and where to start in terms of writing to all the people with whom you have been corresponding so again - feel free to do what you like with this.

'I was deeply shocked to hear that the Dean Gallery so blatantly overlooked such a fundamental access issue. Moreover, some of the responses to Dr Gosling's complaint can only be decribed as offensive in the extreme.

It completely beggars belief that someone in the position of Alison Riach is still using terminology such as 'wheelchair bound' and tries to justify the exclusion of disabled people by saying ' Mingwei’s sculptural installation is based on the architecture of Japanese/Taiwanese rooms that traditionally have a step up to a platform. This is an important aesthetic'. Oh good grief. I am sure many art galleries of USA's deep south in the 1950s or in South Africa under apartheid were 'white only' and this was part a key part of their 'aesthetic' and viewing experience for their audiences. Would we allow an artist to replicate this segregation and turn away Black people from viewing their work? Of course not. Artists have the opportunity to re-think and re-position the past in light of our current knowledge. To replicate exclusionary traditions using the excuse of authenticity is fundamentally flawed thinking.

To pit the cultural experience of one traditionally excluded group of people against another is a tiresomely familiar tactic to condone the denial of other people's human rights. I find it interesting that such arguments are usually made by those who do not belong to either group and are often in positions of power to influence things, in this case someone who plays an important role in the planning and delivery of the Edinbrough festival. It is the responsibility of arts organisations to work with artists in order to ensure all its audiences get the chance to access their work- for which they receive our money and have a moral and legal duty to ensure takes place.'

I look forward to hearing you have successfully met with Jonathan Mills to put our case.

Very best wishes

In solidarity

Wendy Haslam
Arts, Inclusion, Training and Consultancy


From: jackie.westbrook@eif.co.uk
Subject: Edinburgh International Festival
Date: 10 September 2009 14:56:48 BST
To: mail@ju90.co.uk

Dear Dr Gosling

Thank you for your recent correspondence with Charlotte Gosling on the subject of access to the Edinburgh International Festival. It is clear to us that we need to improve how we operate and we appreciate your comments thus far. We believe we need to initiate a three part process over the course of this autumn; an audit of how we currently operate; a consultation period with audiences and service providers alongside a study of good practice; and finally an action plan for Festival 2010. This will obviously take some planning, and we first need a little time to debrief and wrap up Festival 2009.

We very much appreciate your continuing interest in our organisation, and hope you might agree to us contacting you again in a few weeks time, once we are able to start the planning process. I have attached a pdf of our Access Guide please let me know if you would prefer I post you a copy.

Best wishes

Jackie Westbrook
Marketing and Communications Director
T +44(0)131 473 2023
E jackie.westbrook@eif.co.uk


From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Subject: Re: Edinburgh International Festival
Date: 11 September 2009 09:53:41 BST
To: jackie.westbrook@eif.co.uk

Dear Jacky

Thank you for your email, the contents of which are obviously very welcome to me. I am sure they will be equally welcome to Robert Softley, the Scottish Arts Council's diversity officer, who returns from honeymoon this week and who will obviously be very helpful to involve. (Robert was instrumental in bringing my Abnormal exhibition to Edinburgh for the Fringe.) Mairi Taylor at the Federation of Scottish Theatre would be equally helpful, as of course will Adrienne Sinclair Chalmers. And I know that Julie Newman, the Chair of the UK Disabled People's Council who was with me when we attempted to access the Letter Writing Project, will be pleased to do anything that she can as well - she holds a specific qualification in disability equality training in the arts (although she is now retired and is working voluntarily for disabled people's rights alongside her own art practice).

However, I would still repeat my request to meet with Jonathan Mills, for several reasons. First, inclusion and diversity requires commitment and understanding at the top of any organisation if is to manage change successfully. Second, improving access and inclusion at EIF will obviously require creative and imaginative solutions - for example, might it be possible to employ a team of Sign Language Interpreters throughout the Festival, but be flexible where they are allocated according to demand at a particular event - and would it be possible to share these at all with the Book Festival and Fringe? Third, artists need to be included from the start in this process, not simply 'service providers' who tend to be producers and company managers. The New Work Network, where I was an associate when I wrote my No Budget Guide for Artists to Disability Access last year, recognised the importance of artists ourselves leading changes to our practice to become more diverse and inclusive. Raina Haig, a visually impaired film director, is passionate about the importance of film-makers creating audio description during the creative and production process rather than have someone unrelated doing this at a late stage in post-production, for example. Etc.

My assistant who deals with most of my admin, Emily, will be away on her own honeymoon in October, so it would be really useful if I could put her in touch with Mr Mills' PA in the next fortnight to book a date in before Christmas, either in London or Edinburgh.

Regards and best wishes

Ju

Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90


From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Subject: Still waiting for a reply from you
Date: 11 September 2009 19:03:47 BST
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu
Cc: simongroom@nationalgalleries.org, alison.riach@eif.co.uk

Dear Lee

As you will see from the correspondence on www.letterwritingproject.com, both the Dean Gallery and the Edinburgh International Festival have now committed themselves to improving access for disabled and older people in the future. In terms of the Festival, I think you will agree that this represents an admirable and major advance in their approach to inclusion and diversity, while Scottish National Galleries have acknowledged that they also have a way to go but are committed to improving further.

I am therefore doubly disappointed that you have not replied to any of my emails, particularly as I was informed by Juliana Engberg that my 'disappointment' at not being able to access your exhibit had been 'conveyed to the artist'. I did, after all, set out on that cold Thursday morning to see the Enlightenments exhibition, not to organise a disability rights campaign, nor even to create an intervention between the Enlightenments and my own Abnormal exhibition as this has become. All I actually wanted that day was a bit of space in which to engage with some fine art (in both senses of the word) that I had not seen before, at a gallery ditto, as a break from working on my own show. And when I asked to be put in touch with you, I simply wanted to discuss the issues raised by the lack of access to your work, and to look at ways in which you could extend your practice in future. This has, after all, been a task that I have been employed to do by other artists (via the New Work Network) in the recent past. It is your lack of response that has led to my setting up my own Letter Writing Project - although clearly, given the resulting commitment to change by the Festival, my only regret is that I have still not been able to access your exhibit.

In the meantime, I have been reading as much as I can about "the architecture of Japanese/Taiwanese rooms that traditionally have a step up to a platform", in order that I can understand your work better. I have had some difficulty in working out exactly what Ms Engberg is referring to, though, so perhaps you could help? My reading about traditional Taiwanese architecture suggests that both Chinese and Japanese architectural traditions have been involved. However, I cannot find any reference to raised platforms within the architecture of traditional Chinese homes, only to a threshold at the entrance to prevent jiang shi from entering. (I see that I was previously rather confused, since jiang shi are in effect evil animated corpses who hop and are blind rather than being disabled as such.) Meanwhile the only similarity that I can find between your Letter Writing booth and my study of Japanese architecture is the Tokonoma. Forgive me for referring to the Wikipedia entry (below), since this appears to summarise all of the other reading that I have done more or less accurately.

Photo from Wikipedia of a Tokonoma"Tokonoma, also referred to simply as toko, is a Japanese term generally referring to a built-in recessed space in a Japanese style reception room, in which items for artistic appreciation are displayed. In English, tokonoma is usually called alcove. The items usually displayed in a tokonoma are calligraphic and/or pictorial scrolls and an arrangement of flowers. Bonsai and okimono are also often displayed there. The tokonoma and its contents are essential elements of traditional Japanese interior decoration. The word 'toko' literally means "floor" or "bed"; 'ma' means "space" or "room." ...

Stepping up inside it is strictly forbidden."

As you can imagine, I am quite confused by this last sentence. I also note that the level at which the tokonoma is raised from the ground is normally much lower than your Letter Writing booth, and indeed is at a level which could easily be reached with a short ramp (see below).

I was also struck by the following reference, which explains the use of wood within traditional Japanese buildings:

"The reason that this unique style arose is due to Japan having quite limited natural resources. Wood was the only abundant source of building material throughout much of Japan's history. However, the use of fires to cook with, combined with being in an earthquake prone area, meant that these structures, and the items stored within were highly susceptible to burning down. Modern-day Tokyo (originally called Edo) was victim to some incredibly devastating fires, regardless of the best efforts of what was quite a devoted fire fighting service.

These problems with buildings burning down, combined with the influx of Buddhism, lead to the essential concept of wabi sabi. In this aesthetic the beauty of the incomplete, the impermanent and the imperfect is the focus. Everything is only fleeting, and to think otherwise would be to delude oneself. The term wabi sabi is not easily translated, but eludes to loneliness, whithering and cold. To this day the Japanese have much less of an attachment to physical buildings as opposed to the idea they embody."

It does seem to me that, with the greatest of respect, if this is accurate then the addition of a temporary ramp - or indeed a permanent one - would only enhance rather than detract from the cultural and aesthetic significance of the your Letter Writing booth. I am therefore pasting in below some URLs for ramp suppliers in the UK - the short roll-up aluminium one can be found on sale for less than £100. If, however, you decided to make a 21st century version of your booth for future exhibition, perhaps you could think as well about making it slightly wider to enable all wheelchair users to access it, as well as either leaving it flush to the floor or reducing the height at which it is raised to make it easier to ramp - and of course adding a couple of discreet wooden grab handles too.

http://www.bentleyfielden.co.uk/roll_up_ramps.php
http://www.rollaramp.co.uk/

It would be good to hear from you soon.
--
ju90
mail@ju90.co.uk
www.ju90.co.uk
Webmaster/site slave and Multimedia Storyteller
Created by Nature, Modified by Life


Subject: Unenlightened
From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Date: 24 September 2009 19:24:08 BST
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu
Cc: simongroom@nationalgalleries.org, alison.riach@eif.co.uk

Dear Lee

I am very disappointed that you have still not felt able to reply to me, although it is now five weeks since I attempted to gain some Enlightenment by visiting your 'participatory' exhibit at Dean Gallery and subsequently asked to be put into contact with you. As you know, the Enlightenments exhibition closes this coming Saturday, meaning that now I will never be able to access your Letter Writing Project - at least in this setting. During its run, I wonder just how many other people have been hurt and/or angered - not 'disappointed' - by your refusal to allow anyone who cannot manage steep shiny steps with no handrail or grip to access your art? And just what they have thought of you and your work as a result?

Since I last wrote to you I have been reading as widely as possible about Tokonomas, the traditional raised alcove in Japanese homes, but I still can't see any relationship between what I have read and the following explanation from Enlightenments curator Juliana Engberg about why you have refused to let people access your exhibit via a ramp:

'Mingwei’s sculptural installation is based on "the architecture of Japanese/Taiwanese rooms that traditionally have a step up to a platform". This is an important aesthetic and carries with it a philosophy of changed circumstances... Altering it would also change the intent and aesthetic of the art work which is to replicate transition.'

Try as I might, I haven't been able to find out anything about transition or a philosophy of changed circumstances in relation to any of the different types of Tokonomas that I have read about. Instead, I have just read a lot more about Tokonomas functioning for at least the past 500 years to display art and religious objects, and the reason for raising them being to denote a space that no one can enter. Since the whole point of your exhibit is to allow (non-disabled/younger) people to enter it, meaning that the relationship with Tokonomas is complex to say the least, I still cannot see how the method of visitors' entry can actually matter.

Equally, despite reading further since I wrote to you, the only relevant aesthetic that I have been able to find out about in relation to your exhibit is wabi sabi, the aesthetic of imperfection which is apparently particularly relevant to wooden structures. Again, wabi sabi would be strengthened rather than undermined by allowing access to your exhibit via a ramp when necessary. Obviously I am an artist not a curator and lack Ms Engberg's wide experience, so I look forward to meeting her when I visit Australia in November/December and to hearing a more enlightening explanation from her directly. I would, though, prefer to hear from you.

In the meantime I am continuing to pursue my own career as an artist, but obviously the widespread belief that it is okay to exclude disabled and older people from a wide variety of cultural activities impacts on this. For example, yesterday I received an email telling me that I couldn't register for a debate at the Lincoln Art Programme, a live art festival, because it had been programmed upstairs in a building with no lift. Obviously live art is also an art form that disabled and older people are simply not supposed to practice or participate in, since there was nothing on the publicity material to suggest that access was limited.

Similarly last weekend was London's 'Open House' weekend, so having seen their extensive publicity material, Genie and I went on my large scooter to Trinity Buoy Wharf, sited midway between where I live in Canning Town in the Olympic borough of Newham and Canary Wharf where the 2012 organisers are based. Their website describes them as being a 'site for artistic and cultural activities' and home to 350 artists and creative businesses, and nothing in the publicity material suggested that the site was not open to all. However, not a step was ramped; none of the copious information available on the day itself gave any guidance at all as to which exhibits and performances were nonetheless accessible; and despite leaving a note asking someone to contact me so I could make a complaint, no one has. I wonder how many times the 2012 staff have visited the centre to eat at their American Diner without noticing or challenging Trinity Buoy's widespread breaches of the law? And how many opportunities disabled artists and creatives have been denied as a result?

How will you feel when this is your experience of the art world? Two-thirds of disabled people have acquired their impairments as adults and disability is the one label that anyone can acquire without a moment's notice, while we will all, if we are lucky, grow old, so you are bound to find out one way or the other.

In the meantime, I am attaching an image for you to use, so that in the future you can make it clear that disabled people are not intended to participate in your 'participatory' work. As you can tell from my experiences both at the Enlightenments and over the past few days, it is much better for disabled people if we know we are excluded from the outset, rather than expecting to be treated as part of the human race. I can also send you the same image as a handy sticker if this would be helpful too.

More later.

Ju

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mail@ju90.co.uk
www.ju90.co.uk
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Image showing the symbol for a wheelchair user on a white background, surrounded by a red circle and with a red line crossing the symbol out in a similar way to a No Entry or No Smoking sign


Subject: Disabled people's access to Edinburgh International Festival
From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Date: 13 November 2009 12:58:38 GMT
To: jackie.westbrook@eif.co.uk

Dear Jackie

I am aware that it is now more than a few weeks since we last corresponded, and that the autumn is nearly over. I would therefore appreciate it if you can let me know as a matter of urgency how your plans are progressing for your three-part strategy to improve disabled people's access to next year's International Festival. i.e. your consultation with service providers and audiences; your study of good practice; and your action plan for next year - all of which you stated you were going to initiate over the course of the autumn.

I appreciate that these things take time. However, this is exactly why the matter has now become urgent. As previously, I am happy to assist where I can, as is Adrienne Sinclair Chalmers (to whom I am copying this email) and the UK Disabled People's Council (I am also copying in the Chair, Julie Newman, too). Joan Bakewell, as the Voice of Older People, has also expressed her interest, as did Sheena McDonald when I met her during the Festival itself. I am sure that there are many other organisations who will also be happy to support your efforts and that we can help to put you into contact with them as necessary.

As previously, I am keen to meet with Simon Mills to discuss this in person, and as I have not heard back from you about this either, I will ask my PA to contact you directly to arrange a date. I will be in Melbourne for the next three weeks, as I am a keynote speaker at the Australian Network of Arts and Technology's Superhuman seminar, but one of my PAs will remain in London. I will also continue to be contactable directly via email, of course.

I look forward to hearing from you shortly.

Regards and best wishes

Ju

On 10 Sep 2009, at 14:56, Westbrook, Jackie wrote:

Dear Dr Gosling

Thank you for your recent correspondence with Charlotte Gosling on the subject of access to the Edinburgh International Festival. It is clear to us that we need to improve how we operate and we appreciate your comments thus far. We believe we need to initiate a three part process over the course of this autumn; an audit of how we currently operate; a consultation period with audiences and service providers alongside a study of good practice; and finally an action plan for Festival 2010. This will obviously take some planning, and we first need a little time to debrief and wrap up Festival 2009.

We very much appreciate your continuing interest in our organisation, and hope you might agree to us contacting you again in a few weeks time, once we are able to start the planning process. I have attached a pdf of our Access Guide please let me know if you would prefer I post you a copy.

Best wishes

Jackie Westbrook
Marketing and Communications Director
T +44(0)131 473 2023
E jackie.westbrook@eif.co.uk

<image001.gif>

Edinburgh International Festival Society is a company limited by guarantee
and incorporated in Scotland (No SC024766) with its registered office at
The Hub, Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NE. Registered Charity No SC004694.

The information in this e-mail is confidential and may be legally privileged.
It is intended for the addressee only. If you are not the intended recipient,
any disclosure, copying, distribution or any action taken or omitted to be
taken in reliance on it, is prohibited and may be unlawful. This e-mail does
not constitute an offer or a contract.

<Access Guide 09.pdf>


Subject: Long time no hear
From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Date: 13 November 2009 14:20:32 GMT
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Dear Lee

It's been a long time now since I tried to access your exhibit at the 'Enlightenments', and I still haven't heard from you.
I'm off to Melbourne on Monday to speak at the Australian Network of Arts and Technology's Superhuman symposium, so perhaps I will have more luck in communicating with your curator Juliana Engberg once we are in the same city. I should be in the US next summer as I am showing some work from my Abnormal exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution's International Gallery, but am not sure whether I will come to New York while I am there. So, as always, it would be good to hear from you soon.

Did you receive an artistic evaluation of your exhibition from Scottish Arts Council over the course of the autumn? I did, and was glad to see that I scored so well all round, including for accessibility. I believe that the evaluation will be published on their website shortly, so will send you the link next time. I didn't realise they effectively 'mystery shopped' exhibitions that they didn't even fund; it was quite a surprise to find that a consultant had been paid to carry out an indepth evaluation of my work and the way it was being presented.

I haven't heard back from the International Festival either, despite their promises to launch their strategy to improve access for disabled people over the autumn. At least the Festival appears to be taking the issue seriously, though, and I hope to meet with the organisers soon.

In contrast, I recently had an invitation from Lois Keidan of the Live Art Development Agency to a gathering of disabled artists withdrawn when I pointed out that the way they planned to organise the event would make it inaccessible to a wide range of disabled people. I also questioned why they had appointed a non-disabled freelancer to run the project without advertising the position, and thus had prevented disabled artists from applying. It's not as if they would consider appointing a white person to run an event for Black artists, or a man to run an event for women artists, is it? Apparently pointing these issues out was, according to Lois, 'unsupportive' of me - but then I would have been excluded anyway by the arrangements. And you can't really support the insupportable, can you?

When Arts Council England started to withdraw the funding for arts organisations run by disabled people last year, they told us that the money would still be ring-fenced for disabled artists. We therefore thought that it would still be used to fund disabled artists, producers, directors, programmers and so on directly. Apparently, though, what they meant was that they would give the money instead to arts organisations staffed entirely by non-disabled people, to run projects for disabled artists that would give us what they thought we needed and not what we had identified as needing - which was of course to have our own organisations up and running again. This smacks far more of the Charity Model of Disability (http://sinnlos.st/help/eng/help1.htm) than the Social Model (http://sinnlos.st/help/eng/help4.htm), although the latter is supposedly the philosophy that the public sector is supposed to operate within.

The Live Art Development Agency was only one of three arts organisations run by non-disabled people that I know of who were approached by the Arts Council this year and who have subsequently run projects 'for' disabled artists. (The Disability Rights movement has always distinguished between organisations 'of' disabled people and organisations 'for'.) The other two organisations, though, have at least acknowledged that they need to listen to disabled artists and don't have the expertise to manage otherwise; also that it would have made life much easier for them if Disability Arts organisations had still been in existence to work in partnership with. They said that they found my feedback 'helpful' - as of course has the International Festival.

Since I last wrote the Arts Council has also announced their 'Unlimited' fund for disabled artists to make work around the Olympics and Paralympics, again with the focus on us working with 'mainstream' organisations. As someone said to me following the announcement, aren't they just giving us our own money back again, but this time with more strings? At least it's better than the original plan that was announced to the press by the organisers of the Cultural Olympiad, which was for one day of art by disabled artists aimed at the 'local community' - obviously they didn't think that our work would appeal to an international audience - while the remainder of the Cultural Olympiad was and remains a multi-million pound programme. And indeed it's better than their Plan B, which was a programme called 'Extraordinary Abilities' - what on earth is extraordinary about disabled people being just as able as non-disabled people? Fortunately they accepted eventually that we as artists couldn't be forced to make work using this logo, and that the title had caused widespread offence. I find it particularly frustrating as a long-term resident of Newham, the home of the 2012 Olympic Park. But of course, we will keep on trucking.

Anyway, I'm going to deal with the wider cultural thinking behind and implications of some of these issues and more in my keynote speech at Melbourne, so will send you the link to the website version that I will put up at the end of the symposium.

Regards

Ju
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mail@ju90.co.uk
www.ju90.co.uk
Webmaster/site slave and Multimedia Storyteller
Created by Nature, Modified by Life


Subject: G'day from Melbourne
From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Date: 3 December 2009 21:43:06 GMT+11:00
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Dear Lee

As promised, I am emailing you from Melbourne where I can hardly believe that it is already our last night here. It really has been a whirl; far more full-on and intense than I expected. The Australian Network of Arts and Technology's Super Human symposium at Federation Square was great, as was the accompanying exhibition, and it was a real honour to be one of the keynote speakers. According to the organisers it was the first time that a Disability Arts perspective has ever been presented at a major art-science event, and my presentation was extremely well-received. The online version is now getting a lot of international feedback, which is also great - you can see it at http://www.ju90.co.uk/nimr/superhuman.htm

It was good too to have the opportunity to speak to local disabled artists, both as a guest of the City of Yarra, who laid on a reception for me and my documenter Julie Newman last Friday afternoon, and as the guest speaker at Arts Access Victoria's Annual General Meeting on Tuesday night. I was also surprised but pleased to be able to speak at length to people from the Australian Council for the Arts and Arts Victoria about general funding issues relating to disability and the arts, at their request. My belief, as you know, is that public funding should not be given to organisations that fail to abide by the relevant disability legislation.

I was though disappointed that Juliana did not take up the opportunity to meet with me in person, although I left her a personal invitation to do so. It is hard to see how change can take place when people fail even to engage with the process. It was interesting however to visit the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art and to see her base for myself. I loved the architecture, although I wasn't quite sure that a rusting, windowless hulk gives quite the right message about the relevance of art to wider society.

I also saw no evidence of audio description being available for the show, Dwellings, which consisted entirely of video pieces. It was striking that sub-titles were available for the only non-English piece; clearly it was not felt that these detracted from the aesthetics of the work. But this made it more surprising that no sub-titles were available for the rest, since these not only assist people with hearing impairments to access the work, but also make it easier for everyone who doesn't have English as a second language to understand what is being said.

Anyway, I have a number of invitations to return to Australia in the future, including to Melbourne, so perhaps I will be able to pick this up directly again when I have more time to spare. In the meantime, as always, a reply would be much appreciated.

Regards

Ju
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ju90
mail@ju90.co.uk
www.ju90.co.uk
Webmaster/site slave and Multimedia Storyteller
Created by Nature, Modified by Life

PS: Today is International Day of Disabled People, where we celebrate our achievements in terms of gaining human and civil rights to date, and consider what is still left to do. We welcome the support of non-disabled people in making the world a better place for all of us to live in. Something to think about?


Subject: Happy holidays!
From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Date: 18 December 2009 19:51:30 GMT

Colour photograph of a Westie in the snow set in front of xmas decorations in the street in the sunshine, bearing the text Wherever you are in the world...Wishing you a happy holiday from Ju & Genie

Subject: Submission of proposals
From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Date: 3 February 2010 16:05:58 GMT
To: info@edinburghartfestival.com

Dear Edinburgh Art Festival

I was looking at how to apply on your website and note you state that you no longer accept submissions in any form but an electronic one for 'environmental' reasons.

I wish to point out that it is illegal to discriminate against disabled people who need to submit their applications in a different format, whatever this might be. For example, if your form is not compatible with my voice to text software, I might need to get someone to fill in a print-out by hand for me instead, but there are many other examples too and the law is very clear on this.

It is also the case, of course, that it takes a great deal more carbon energy to produce a computer than it does a piece of paper. Paper is also bio-degradable. Surprising though it may seem to you, I know many artists who do not even own an email address, let alone a computer - the majority of these artists being non-disabled.

It would be good to see your website updated, at least to take account of your legal responsibilities in terms of disabled artists who wish to apply for inclusion in the programme.

Yours sincerely

Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90


From: joanne@edinburghartfestival.com
Subject: Re: Submission of proposals
Date: 8 February 2010 13:47:33 GMT
To: mail@ju90.co.uk

Dear Ju,

Thank you for your email. You are right to point this out, we were not aware of the law in regards to this matter. We will amend the references immediately and seek guidance.

Yours sincerely,

Joanne

Joanne S. Brown
Director, Edinburgh Art Festival
Edinburgh Art Festival 29 July - 5 September 2010
PO BOX 23823
Edinburgh
EH1 1NT
Tel: +44 (0) 782 533 6782
www.edinburghartfestival.com


Subject: Re: Submission of proposals
From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Date: 8 February 2010 14:33:51 GMT
To: joanne@edinburghartfestival.com

Thanks for this Joanne. Might I suggest you simply say that artists are requested to use the electronic submission process wherever possible, and that if they need to use alternative formats in order to meet their access needs they should contact you to discuss it?

In order to help you further, I am attaching the New Work Network's No Budget Guide for Artists to Disability Access, which I wrote for the Network last year. Given that the artists who will be showing work will also have obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act, you may find it useful to circulate this to them too.

Please let me know if I can advise further. Among other things I am currently artist-in-residence at the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive at Holton Lee and a trainer for the Attitude is Everything organisation working with the live music business, so have many contacts as well as a reasonable amount of personal expertise.

Regards and best wishes

Ju

--
Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90
Email: mail@ju90.co.uk
Website: www.ju90.co.uk


Subject: Access audit at Edinburgh
From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Date: 28 May 2010 17:26:27 BST
To: jackie.westbrook@eif.co.uk

Dear Jackie

I was pleased to see that you have advertised for a consultant or organisation to carry out an access audit of the Festival as below. This is obviously encouraging news.

I wondered how you were progressing with the other two initiatives that you promised, i.e. "a consultation period with audiences and service providers alongside a study of good practice; and finally an action plan for Festival 2010." I would very much appreciate an update.

Regards and thanks

Ju
--
Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90
8 Kildare Road
London E16 4AD
Tel: 020 7476 9619
Mob: 07973 252751
Email: mail@ju90.co.uk
Website: www.ju90.co.uk

Brief for Access Audit 2010

The Edinburgh International Festival is an annual three week Festival of music, theatre, opera, dance and visual arts. We lease six professionally run year round arts venues to present our core three week programme; we also present smaller scale work in our own headquarters building (The Hub), and rent other venues such as churches as required by that year’s programme. We present around 150 performances of 70 events with attendances, including free events, of over 400,000. The Festival employs 31 full time staff, nearly 200 staff on temporary contracts and 35 in our commercial subsidiary The Hub.

The Edinburgh International Festival would like to improve its services and provisions for people with disabilities as part of wider organisational Equalities Planning process. The first step has been an internally led audit and benchmarking process. This has led us to conclude that we need a more formal and professionally advised organisational Access Audit.

The requirement is complex and is driven by a desire to help us to improve our operations as a company rather than by any specific requirements of the DDA, although clearly we need to ensure we are compliant in those areas where we have a direct responsibility. We would like to audit all areas of the Festival’s business. Essentially this means activities, policies and services rather than buildings. The report should include recommendations on where and how the Festival can improve its offerings to audiences, participants and staff and on where and how to improve where we are not meeting current expectations of arts audiences.

The areas we would like to cover include the following.

Audiences
Marketing and Communications
Pricing Policy
Education and Outreach

Programming
Programming events
Artists
Technical

Governance & Compliance
Business planning
Employment
Working Environment

The Hub
The Festival owns and runs its headquarters, The Hub, which is also a venue for Festival events. The audit therefore should include specific physical access issues at The Hub.

Other Festival Venues
The Festival uses many different venues and has no control over the physical access they offer. We do ensure that we do not use any new venues without adequate provision, but are committed to using our six core venues, which all have some provision for audiences, but are often limited due to their age and/or state of repair. If at all possible we would like to include an overview of our core venues which may allow us to lobby for any changes recommended. We cannot fund detailed audits of these venues.

The report should also advise on how the Festival could and should build on its current activities and provisions and make recommendations on how to improve its business planning process so that disability equalities provision becomes core to the Festival’s development and business.

We would like you to develop a proposal, with timeline, process and a costed quote to carry out the work. To discuss the project more fully or for any further information please contact Jackie Westbrook on 0131 473 2023 or jackie.westbrook@eif.co.uk

12 May 2010


From: jackie.westbrook@eif.co.uk
Subject: RE: Access audit at Edinburgh
Date: 31 May 2010 12:36:41 BST
To: mail@ju90.co.uk

Dear Ju

Yes I feel we are making progress at last. We carried out an internal audit and did a lot of desk research to benchmark ourselves against other arts organisations. As a result we added services in the form of a captioned performance and audio described dance and opera which involved consulting with service providers. We also reviewed our pricing policy before going to print with the 2010 Festival. We decided we needed a more formal audit as you have seen below and after an initial meeting with the consultants have agreed that the process will include consultation with audiences and advice on how to maintain an ongoing dialogue. In the short term we are also organizing bespoke training for box office staff and company wide disability awareness training.

It hasn’t been a speedy process I know but I believe we are on our way to embedding equalities planning into the organization. Thank you for your initial contact which was instrumental in us undertaking this work and for your continued interest in the Festival.

Best wishes

Jackie Westbrook
Marketing and Communications Director
T +44(0)131 473 2023
E jackie.westbrook@eif.co.uk


Subject: Catching up
From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Date: 7 July 2010 11:24:21 BST
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Dear Lee

It doesn't seem possible that the 2010 Edinburgh Festival will soon open; doesn't time fly? It's a shame that you still haven't had time to reply to me.

Anyway, I thought I'd update you on the progress of my Letter Writing Project. The International Festival have now appointed an access consultancy and are providing disability awareness training to all of their staff, which is a good start, if a somewhat late one. They have thanked me "for your initial contact which was instrumental in us undertaking this work and for your continued interest in the Festival". I am sure you are pleased to know that, in a tangential way at least, you have contributed towards this.

It's a shame that the Fringe Festival organisers are making somewhat less progress. Having obtained state funding to employ an equality officer, and having offered the job to a wheelchair user, they discovered that their appointee couldn't get into their office until they fitted a ramp. Having failed to do this, and having refused to let their appointee work from home in the meantime as a 'reasonable adjustment', this person unsurprisingly took up work elsewhere. So with only a few weeks to go, they have not made use of their equality funding at all yet. You couldn't make it up, could you?

Of course, there is always next year. But as with 2010, not everyone who wants to access the festival will still be alive by then. Equality in our lifetimes would be nice, wouldn't it?

In terms of relating this back to the themes of your Letter Writing Project, I still don't feel very forgiving - rather, I think the emotions behind my Letter Writing Project are principally outrage and frustration. Did you expect, when you devised a project for people to write heartfelt letters and share their emotions, that they would have so little impact?

Yours as always

Ju


Subject: 12 months on
From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Date: 17 August 2010 17:11:53 BST
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Dear Lee

Well, the 2010 Edinburgh International Festival is now open - hasn't time flown? I must say I would love to see Martin Creed's work around the city; the news footage that I've seen looks fab, and I think his work is great. I'm not sure I could access it all fully, but at least he has the excuse that steps (including musical steps) are fundamental to the work.

As with your work, though, I do find it hard to understand why artists feel so restricted to steps when using metaphors for going up and down - as well as for literally going up and down. Not only are ramps equally functional, but they are also - in the form of slopes, hills and mountains - a much more natural transitional form. Perhaps it's understandable when the urban, man-made (I use that term intentionally!) environment is fundamental to the work, but even then, surely a ramp is just as industrial in its way? The difference, of course, is that not everyone can access steps, but everyone can access a ramp. Do you think artists just lack imagination?

Anyway, I'm working in London this summer, but that in itself feels like a holiday after working away the last two Augusts. I do enjoy the city when there is less traffic, not to mention far fewer meetings! I'm organising a pop-up club in Trafalgar Square for the Liberty Festival on 4 September, and producing an exhibition about folk dancing, of all things, which opens at the end of September in East London. Then my Abnormal tour kicks off again in Belfast in October and I am remaking Perception I-IV, a series of lightboxes in response to Matisse's Backs I-IV, for a festival in Liverpool in November. So I've plenty to keep me busy, but it still feels very relaxed.

Next year I hope to return to Edinburgh, though, with a new one-woman show, The Dummies Guide to Disability Discrimination. It will be interesting to see how much (if at all), the access has changed. In the meantime I'm keeping in touch courtesy of a friendly mermaid: click here to learn more http://accessinedinburghamermaidstale.blogspot.com/

Best wishes as always

Ju


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Subject: Fwd: 12 months on
From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Date: 17 August 2010 17:48:44 BST
To: rosalind.hyde@gmail.com

Dear Lee

Your usual contact email address bounced, and then to my surprise I found that you are coming to Liverpool next month to make work for the Biennial and that today is the day that volunteers are being recruited to help with it - synchronicity! I am therefore forwarding the email I sent you earlier today (below) to Rosalind as the organiser so she can send it on to you. As you are in Liverpool for two weeks with The Mending Project, I will see if it's possible to arrange my own gallery meeting while you are there and then we can meet at last - it will also be interesting to check out the access. In the meantime, my own Letter Writing Project remains at http://www.letterwritingproject.com/

Regards

Ju


From: rosalind.hyde@gmail.com
Subject: Fwd: 12 months on
Date: 18 August 2010 21:31:10 BST
To: mail@ju90.co.uk

Dear Ju,

I've forwarded your email onto the curator, who i'm sure will forward it on.

I'm putting together the group of volunteer menders, but am not in conversation with Mingwei yet (I work as a freelancer). I'm very much looking forward to meeting him.

Perhaps you would like to bring something to mend to Lee Mingwei's work during the Liverpool Biennial?

Thanks,

Roz


Subject: Re: 12 months on
From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Date: 19 August 2010 15:24:28 BST
To: rosalind.hyde@gmail.com

Thanks for this Roz; yes, I will certainly think about coming up to Liverpool while Lee is there. I'm showing work at the Bluecoat in November and could do with a site visit anyway.

Regards

Ju


Subject: Liverpool
From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Date: 6 December 2010 16:31:41 GMT
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Dear Lee

Colour photograph showing my knees and feet (in boots) going up the ramp to a coloured floor with a sign saying 'dance here'

I was sorry not to be able to visit your show in Liverpool while you were there; it all got very hectic with my show in London (www.canningtownfolk.co.uk), and by the time that was open you'd left the city again. I hope The Mending Project went well for you; I was glad to see it was advertised as being fully accessible.

After my London show opened I took my Abnormal show to Belfast, programmed jointly as part of the Belfast Festival and the Outburst! Festival. It was grand (as they say in Ireland) to be made so welcome, and in particular to run a workshop where religion, as well as disability, was entirely irrelevant. Belfast is a very exciting place for artists to work in at the moment as the community comes together to create a peaceful and united future, and I can thoroughly recommend it to you.

Then I was up in Liverpool myself to show work at the Bluecoat as part of DaDaFest International, 'Objects of Curiosity and Desire', which in turn was part of the Biennial. It was a wonderful festival - more than 300 artists took part, and in addition to audience members there were more than 2000 participants. My lightbox installation Perception I-IV: after Matisse, Backs I-IV was installed outside in the Bluecoat's courtyard, either side of the main entrance. I was one of five visual artists showing at the Bluecoat - imagine my surprise, though, when the Biennial programme only listed the names of the three MEN showing. Clearly the Guerilla Girls shouldn't retire yet.

While my work was being taken down last weekend I visited the Tate Liverpool - I don't know if you managed to find time to see it while you were there? The temporary exhibitions were being changed over on Saturday, but I loved the DLA Piper Series This is Sculpture. I was particularly pleased to be offered the use of a ramp to access the participatory part of the room that Wayne and Jack Hemingway curated; I am attaching a photograph of it here to show you. Progress at last!

Regards and best wishes

Ju
--
ju90
mail@ju90.co.uk
www.ju90.co.uk
Webmaster/site slave and Multimedia Storyteller
Created by Nature, Modified by Life


Subject: Abnormally good book published
From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Date: 1 March 2011 12:00:46 GMT
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

OUT NOW in eBook format for Kindle:
ABNORMAL: How Britain became body dysphoric and the key to a cure
by Ju Gosling aka ju90
£3.45 / 5.56$ US
(inc tax and wireless delivery)
BOOK-LENGTH BUT ACCESSIBLY PRICED!


ISBN 9780955297397
Bettany Press 2011

LIMITED EDITION HARDBACK PUBLICATION 1 September 2011.

No Kindle? No problem! Download a free Kindle app for PC/Mac/mobile and more from Amazon.

ABOUT THE BOOK:

The Introduction sets out the case for claiming that our society has become deeply body dysphoric, looking at the steep rise over the noughties in obesity and eating disorders, cosmetic surgery and other procedures; our widespread dissatisfaction with our bodies and our resulting unhappiness; and the increasing lack of reality in the images of the body that surround us.

Section I explores the roots of our body dysphoria, from ancient cultures and religions via the Renaissance, Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution and Darwin through the 20th century to the noughties.

Section II looks at how we have treated people with bodies that we have defined as being ‘abnormal’ in modern times, and how this will impact negatively on all of us at some point in our lives.

Section III explodes myths about the ability of science to fulfil our dysphoric desires, and examines our dystopian fears and misunderstandings about science.

Section IV looks at the future, and all that we have to gain from a change in attitude.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Raised in the marshlands of Essex, Ju Gosling aka ju90 originally trained as a dancer, but went on to work as a social affairs journalist after she developed a spinal curvature in adolescence. Following a spinal fracture Ju returned to academia, gaining an MA in Cultural Studies from the University of East London and a PhD in Communications and Image Studies from the University of Kent at Canterbury. She was the first student in the UK to present her thesis as an ebook, a three-dimensional multimedia ‘hypertext’. Since graduating at the end of the 1990s, Ju has worked as a writer and fine artist, alongside modelling (she is represented by the character agency Ugly) and consultancy and voluntary work for a number of charities. Based in east London, Ju has gained an international reputation, and her websites attract upwards of 200,000 readers a year. www.ju90.co.uk

ABOUT THE COVER IMAGE:


Abnormal 1 (lambda print on aluminium) comes from Ju Gosling’s Abnormal touring exhibition, produced as part of an artist’s residency at the National Institute of Medical Research and funded by the Wellcome Trust. Together with other pieces from the exhibition, it has also been shown at the Smithsonian’s Ripley Center in Washington as part of VSA’s international juried exhibition Revealing Culture.

PLEASE FORWARD THIS EMAIL TO ANYONE ELSE WHO YOU THINK WILL ENJOY THE BOOK


Subject: Hi from Newcastle
From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Date: 25 March 2011 19:10:45 GMT
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Dear Lee

I am writing to you from Newcastle, where I have just returned from a visit to the Baltic to see the Lindsay Seers show (which I can thoroughly recommend). It was so refreshing to visit a gallery where access had been thought about beyond level access to the building (which admittedly was, as is so often the case, via the back entrance). Mobility scooters were available for loan, while the accessible toilet, unusually, met the 'Changing Places' standard. Most importantly of all, they had thought to include a way of viewing Seers' video installation via a secret entrance at ground level, as an alternative to climbing steps and viewing it from above which was obviously impossible for me.

I was also struck by the fact that they had subtitled all of Seers' videos being shown within their library, as well as including a subtitled version of the main film there. Although, as you will recall, I was impressed with the fact that Tate Liverpool had ramped their participatory exhibit when I visited last December, I was less impressed by the fact that none of the films they were showing in their galleries had subtitles. Subtitles don't just benefit people who are hard of hearing; they also aid people whose first language is not English, and who may struggle to understand the language as it is spoken. Of course, we all become hard of hearing when a gallery is crowded, so really subtitles benefit us all. If only more galleries would think about this when commissioning and exhibiting video art and documentation - particularly given the legal requirement to make 'reasonable adjustments' to enable access for all.

Anyway, you will be glad to hear that the Edinburgh International Festival is finally becoming more 'reasonable'. Companion tickets are now free for disabled people who need support to attend events, while the braille and audio versions of the programme have, for the first time, been released simultaneously with the other formats. The box office is now operating an access register, while captioning is being introduced for some performances. Of course, there is still a long way to go, particularly given the amount of public money being spent overall, but it is good to see that my Letter Writing Project continues to have an impact and some real progress is being made.

It is ironic that the EIF have introduced free companion tickets for everyone who needs them, though, since the London 2012 organisers have decided to restrict these although their venues are so much bigger. If you need to use a wheelchair or scooter to attend the Olympics, you will be able to get a free companion ticket - whether or not you need one. But if you have learning difficulties, or are blind or partially sighted, or have autism, or have restricted mobility but don't use a wheelchair, or .... well, you get the idea. If you are one of the majority of disabled people needing support who don't use a wheelchair, then the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) have decided that you have to enter a ballot for just one of ten free companion tickets available for each venue/event. This despite LOCOG's promise to make London 2012 the most inclusive Olympics ever staged. Ho hum.

If ever I was under any illusion that we are an inclusive society, though, my overall experience in Newcastle this year would have cured me of it despite my visit to the Baltic. My Abnormal exhibition went up at the Bioscience Centre at the Centre for Life at the beginning of January - and was taken down again after just 48 hours for being 'too controversial'. It was later shoehorned into a small space within the main visitor attraction, where people 'would only have to see it if they chose to'. It's a funny old world when you can hang a white coat bearing the word 'God' in a gallery window opposite the cathedral in Belfast and not attract a single complaint, but can't do the same in a university science centre in England.

Before this experience, I might have thought it quite cool to create work that was considered to be this threatening. However, I now understand just how painful the experience of censorship is for artists. I still seem to be banned by the Live Art Development Agency, too - at least I didn't receive an invite or any information about their weekend celebrating disabled artists last month. Oh well, painful or not, I guess I must be doing something right! And one day I will exhibit the audio-described tour of the original Abnormal Newcastle installation as a sound piece.

Regards and best wishes as always,

Ju
--
ju90
mail@ju90.co.uk
www.ju90.co.uk
Webmaster/site slave and Multimedia Storyteller
Created by Nature, Modified by Life


Subject: Training video
From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Date: 3 May 2011 11:12:45 BST
To: Fiach.Obroin-Molloy@edfringe.com

To: Fiach OBroin-Molloy
Equalities Officer
Festival Fringe Society Ltd

Dear Fiach

First, let me say how pleased I am that the Fringe is implementing a training programme around disability access. As you may know, I created my 'Letter Writing Project' intervention in summer 2009 following my own experiences with accessing the EIF in order to improve access to Edinburgh's festivals more generally (see www.letterwritingproject.com). Following this I also liaised with the Fringe Society about disability access in the run-up to the Fringe 2010. I am delighted that the Society has now appointed an equalities officer and is in the process of creating an access campaign to educate all of your participating venues. I am attaching the No Budget Guide for Artists to Disability Access which I produced for the New Work Network in case you do not already have this to distribute.

However, I was rather disappointed to see the advertisement that you sent out (below), asking for disabled people's video contributions to your training package. I am pleased to find out subsequently that you have thought to create BSL and audio versions of the advertisement, and to offer the use of equipment at your office. However, I am surprised that you have not thought about the large number of disabled people who would neither be able to film their own contribution nor access your office to film a contribution without help. (Indeed, I am unsure whether your office is now accessible to wheelchair users, since the first person who was appointed to your post was unable to take up the job because the office lacked its own ramp.)

I am sure that there must be a number of Fringe Society members and supporters who would be happy to go out and film people's contributions for them, and would suggest that a) you reword your advertisement to offer this option to disabled people; and b) advertise among members and supporters for volunteers to facilitate this.

Regards and best wishes

Ju

Do you have a story to tell about access at an arts venue or festival?

The Edinburgh Festival fringe are searching for members of the public who are Deaf or disabled who have a positive or negative story to tell about access. We want to get people’s opinion on accessibility at arts venues. We are making an exciting video in which we are using real people’s experience of access at arts spaces to improve the practice of our front of house and customer facing staff.

Have you bought tickets for a show only to turn up and find there is no flat access to the space? Have you arrived at a venue to find that a hearing loop isn’t working? Have you had a great experience with helpful staff?

So tell us in less than three minutes about your experience. You can film this on a webcam, using your mobile phone or video camera and then email it, along with your name, age and contact details, to:

equalities@edfringe.com

If you would like more information before taking part you can email us for more details.

You will be credited in the video which will be used to train staff at hundreds of venues across Edinburgh.


From: Fiach.Obroin-Molloy@edfringe.com
Subject: RE: Training video
Date: 3 May 2011 13:19:56 BST
To: mail@ju90.co.uk

Thanks for your email.

We have accessible spaces in our office where we can film people’s submission and are also running a video diary facility in our participant’s hub during the Fringe which will be accessible.

We have programmed a range of adaptions to our policies, practices and physical spaces which are already returning dividends in terms of accessibility.

We have drafted several pieces of guidance and information which we are giving to prospective performers and further detailed guidance for venues.

We are in the unique position of not being able to impose conditions on our venues and performers given our constitutional commitment to being an open access festival and so we have been tirelessly working to nudge forward toward best practice by highlighting examples and offering support and guidance.

The access project is in a pilot year and we have no budget to deliver wholesale changes in this year rather we are mapping and planning for larger changes which will have budget allocation during our next fiscal period. We run a fiscal year of November to October.

We are working to ensure that our developments are all user led. We have had 350 responses our consultations on access to date which are shaping our thinking and development.

The response we have had to our video project is already looking positive.

If you would like to make a submission please feel free to do so using equalities@edfringe.com

Kind regards

Fiach

Fiach OBroin-Molloy

Equalities Officer
t: +44 (0) 131 240 1903
m: 07765640283
e: fiach@edfringe.com

Festival Fringe Society Ltd
180 High Street
Edinburgh
EH1 1QS

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2011 runs from 05-29 August. Visit our website www.edfringe.com.

The Festival Fringe Society Ltd is a charitable company limited by guarantee. Registered in Scotland No SC002995. Its policy is the continual improvement of the world’s largest arts festival, where any person can participate without constraints by the Fringe Society. This email and any files transmitted with it are confidential and intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to whom they are addressed. If you have received this email in error please notify the sender and delete this message.


Subject: The Disability Rights Case
From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Date: 26 July 2011 17:03:49 BST
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Dear Lee

Is it really that time again already? It seems hard to believe that it's nearly two years since we began our correspondence, and that the Edinburgh Festival is about to begin once again. Maybe it's because so little has really changed.

This morning the Arts Council of England announced that it will launch its new diversity strategy at a symposium at September’s Decibel Performing Arts showcase in Manchester. ‘The Creative Case’ will, apparently, “set out how diversity and equality can enrich the arts”, and will “replace” arguments about the legal, ethical and business cases for equality.

The fact that we still need to argue the ‘artistic’ case for equality and diversity is depressing, to put it mildly. Is this the 21st century, or the 19th? As disabled artists and art lovers, we would argue instead that art produced from a narrow and rigid viewpoint, and which excludes many viewers or participants, cannot be good art at all.

This is why we still believe that the legal, ethical and business cases are important ones, and why I continue with this correspondence. According to the Arts Council’s website, within the arts organisations that the Arts Council funds on a regular basis, only 3% of permanent staff, 1% of contractual staff and 4% of Board members are disabled. Meanwhile only 50% of disabled people attend at least one arts event a year compared to 70% of the population as a whole, which must reflect the fact that so many publicly funded venues, as well as art works, are inaccessible.

It is clear from these statistics that not only is the Arts Council failing in its Public Duty to promote Disability Equality through the organizations it chooses to fund, but so is the publicly funded arts sector as a whole. In turn, this means that the UK is failing in its duty under Clause 30 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People to ensure equal access for disabled people to art and culture. But who, apart from disabled people ourselves, really cares?

It is significant that none of the speakers at the launch of ‘The Creative Case’ are disabled themselves. Rather, the speakers come from the ‘great and the good’, which apparently can never include us. Instead, across the country, former CEOs and other key staff from Disability Arts organizations remain unemployed and thus prevented from making their essential contribution to the debate.

It is noticeable that, following the closure of London Disability Arts Forum, funding ring-fenced for Disability Arts in London was funneled into projects managed by organizations with no experience of disability, and with no disabled staff members. In two cases, non-disabled freelances were taken on to run these projects without even advertising the posts. All of this undermines the Arts Council’s message, since it creates the impression that we are incapable of working to an ‘excellent’ standard ourselves.

The ACE media release states that, between 2011 and 2015, they will invest £1.4 billion of public money from government and a further £0.85 billion from the National Lottery in “creating great art”. This is within a climate of Government cuts, which are going to hit disabled people hardest of all.

Rather than wasting money telling people what they should already know, that diversity and equality enhance creativity, the Arts Council should surely be making funding dependent on an artist or organization demonstrating that their work reflects this? With some of the many savings that could be made from withdrawing funding from the artists and organizations who fail to comply, the Disability Arts sector could be reinstated to provide the expertise and models of best practice which in any case are essential to achieving the Arts Council’s goals.

One thing that characterises the Edinburgh Festival is the fact that the Arts Council refuses to fund the direct costs of showing work there. From ACE's point of view, this is because Edinburgh is "in Scotland". One of the many bizarre aspects about UK arts funding is that the various Arts Councils refuse to fund work taking place outside their own area, in this case England.

On the other hand, this helps to explain why the Fringe at least contains such a wide and diverse range of shows: there are no funding considerations to stifle creativity. (Is there a Creative Case for simply removing public funding from all?) I was simply too busy to prepare a show for this summer, let alone to raise the necessary financing, but am seriously considering returning to Edinburgh next year. I have had a one-woman show in development for several years now: The Dummie's Guide to Disability Discrimination. On the other hand, I have had more than one of our readers suggest that the Letter Writing Project - my one, that is - would make an excellent radio play, so perhaps it would work live as well?

Maybe I'll see you there?

All best wishes

Ju

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Subject: This year's art festival
From: mail@ju90.co.uk
Date: 22 August 2011 15:05:23 BST
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Dear Lee

It seems hardly possible that we are two-thirds of the way through the 2011 Edinburgh Festival already! I wish I could have gone, but am busy in London preparing for the climax of the Abnormal exhibition tour at the Royal College of Surgeons' Hunterian Museum from September.

It makes me sad, though, that yet again the Art Festival's star exhibit is completely inaccessible to a wide range of disabled and other people. Martin Creed's cladding of The Scotsman's 104 steps with 104 different types of marble has been revealed to universal acclaim. Commissioned by the Fruitmarket Gallery, 'Work 1059' cost £250,000, including £80,000 worth of public money from the Edinburgh Festivals Expo fund, and was initially due to be unveiled at the 2010 festival.

Granted, steps are a recurring motif in Creed's work. However, for a very substantial number of Edinburgh's visitors and residents, steps are entirely negative symbols, representing pain, fatigue - or indeed exhaustion - or simply an insurmountable barrier preventing someone from accessing whatever is at the top or bottom of them. In the Old Town, where the Scotsman steps are located, the sight of the steps also underlines the extreme inaccessibility of the surrounding built environment and the very few attempts that have been made to install lifts or ramp access to alleviate this.

Perhaps by now it is needless to say that all of this seems to be entirely absent from any critical review of the work, including the curatorial statement on the Fruitmarket's website. For example:

"Martin Creed, with his smart response to public space, his ability to engage with materials and their surroundings, and his understanding of the creative possibilities embedded in the act of going up and down steps, seemed an obvious choice for the commission. From the beginning, he considered the Steps as a thoroughfare, proposing to resurface them with different and contrasting marbles from all over the world, each step and landing a different colour... Creed himself has described the work as a microcosm of the whole world – stepping on the different marble steps is like walking through the world."

Within this discourse it is as if anyone who is old, or disabled, or who has heavy luggage or shopping with them, or who has a child in a pram or buggy, ceases to exist entirely. The world is remade to include only the unencumbered young, fit and childless. The fact that the steps represent stagnation, immobility, the cruel ending of the imagined act of accessing the city, becomes invisible.

The reality is that steps are NOT public space, but this is forgotten by the curator, festival organisers and funders. There are not even images available on the Fruitmarket's website to enable the rest of us to participate vicariously in the experience. Meanwhile £250,000 of money for public art has been lost; spent yet again on a 'participatory' project that will exclude all of us at some point in our lives.

We have certainly grown to accept the abnormal as being perfectly normal.

Regards as always

Ju
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Subject: Happy holidays!
From: ju90 <mail@ju90.co.uk>
Date: 15 December 2011 16:29:56 GMT
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Stylised red, black and white image of West Highland terrier in the snowDear Lee

I am emailing you to wish you all the best for the holidays and 2012. I can't believe it's the end of 2011 already! Although summer 2009 seems much longer ago than it really is, particularly given the progress that has been made since then in improving disabled people's access to all of the Edinburgh festivals. (There's still a long way to go, of course, not least in getting artists to consider accessibility.)

I've had a very busy autumn, with the Abnormal exhibition tour reaching its climax at the Royal College of Surgeons' Hunterian Museum in central London from mid-September. (If you are in London and wish to visit, it's on until 14 January 2012.) The Museum staff have been a joy to work with, and all of the associated events have gone extremely well. In October we published a limited edition hardback book, Abnormal: How Britain became body dysphoric and the key to a cure, which includes images from the exhibition. (There is also a Kindle version.)

You will be particularly interested to know that the 'Abnormally Arty' exhibit has attracted considerable attention. This consists of a framed version of the architects' drawing produced by the National Galleries of Scotland to show why your Letter Writing Project exhibit could not be ramped to enable disabled people to participate in it, due to lack of space. Of course, what it actually shows is how unimaginative the curator was, since all that needed to happen in order to make room for the ramp was to move the exhibit a couple of feet. The medical establishment have been especially pleased to see that the art world is more closed-minded than they are!

The exhibition has also been well reviewed, and I am including some links here in case you would like to read them: The Lancet; Culture24; and Roves and Roams.

Forthcoming is a spread in the January issue of Disability Now, but I don't know if this will be online.

Regards and best wishes

Ju
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Subject: Exciting news!
From: ju90 <mail@ju90.co.uk>
Date: 3 February 2012 12:21:09 GMT
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Dear Lee

I can't believe it is February already! Where is the year going? Anyway, I have some exciting news.
I have been invited to return to Edinburgh as the keynote speaker at engage Scotland's 2012 conference, 'All being equal'. On their website, they describe this as follows:

"The conference will reflect on engage Scotland's Everyone programme to improve access to galleries for disabled people, as well as bringing in a range of other voices and experience. Using the Everyone projects as a springboard we will think about how focusing on improving access for a specific group of people can have an impact across the way the whole gallery works - from the boardroom to the front door and beyond.

"We will share learning about reaching and working with specific audiences and creating and implementing achievable equality plans that allow us to drive practice forward. The day will be structured to allow you to take away a bespoke package of knowledge and the tools to get started, get better or be the best you can be."

It is great to see Scottish galleries and visual arts organisations taking the lead in raising awareness around access issues. On Monday I visited the Tate Modern here in London, where as always I struggled with the small size and lack of clarity of the signage. As always, my belief is that if it's important to know the title and other details about the work, then it should be big enough and clear enough for all to see, and if it's not important, then get rid of it all together and allow visitors to experience the art on its own.

Anyway, I will let you know how the conference goes - I am sure there will be plenty of interest in the letterwritingproject.com

Regards and best wishes

Ju
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Subject: London 2012
From: ju90 <mail@ju90.co.uk>
Date: 1 September 2012 23:57:02 GMT+01:00
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Dear Lee

Well, it's been a long six months since I last wrote to you, but it's flown by. My trip to Scotland went well, and I'm attaching the text of my speech FYI. As I thought, there was a lot of interest in my correspondence with you too.

Since then it's just been hectic, so forgive the long gap since you heard from me. I've been leading on a free Disability Arts, Culture and Human Rights festival, Together! 2012, in Newham, the main Host Borough for London 2012, on behalf of the UK Disabled People's Council, and it's been a difficult journey.

Article 30 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People gives us the right to access art and culture on equal terms, together with the right to be resourced to organise and participate in our own culture. However, the UK has spectacularly failed to deliver this in time for the Paralympics.

In terms of the right to access art and culture on equal terms, according to London 2012, just 141 of more than 3000 performers at the Paralympic Opening Ceremony were disabled, including 73 professionals. Only three - I still can't believe this even though the organisers have confirmed it's true - of the volunteer performers had learning difficulties. Apart from performers with learning difficulties, no one can fault the opportunities offered to the professionals. It would have been nice if directors, choreographers, designers etc had been allowed to pitch for work, though, rather than the chosen few simply being appointed.

However, ALL disabled people have the right to access art and culture, not just professionals. Three thousand disabled people, together with their carers, PAs and support workers, were denied their rightful opportunities to participate in the Opening Ceremony - opportunities that would have been life-changing, not just for them, but also for the international television audience. I've been leading on the monitoring of Article 30 for the past two years on behalf of a government-organised disabled people's committee, and will be writing the 'official' shadow report to the UN next month. What a disgraceful thing to have to record on behalf of my country.

Meanwhile disabled artists were denied the opportunity to participate in the wider Cultural Olympiad - where the majority of opportunities were also not advertised or otherwise open to competition. Instead we were told - and as an artist who wanted to submit a piece which had nothing to do with disability, I have this in writing - that if you were disabled you had to apply to the "Unlimited" programme (originally entitled the cringe-worthy 'Extraordinary Abilities'). Criteria for the programme included having to work with the 'mainstream', where as you will recall, less than 3% of workers in Arts Council-funded organisations are disabled themselves.

Although Unlimited purported to be a Disability Arts funding strand, many of the projects funded had nothing to do with disability. Indeed, although one of the performers at the opening of the Unlimited season at the Southbank Centre last night was Deaf, the other half-dozen were actually non-disabled! Just like at the Opening Ceremony ... Given that the majority of the tickets for the Unlimited season cost £15 each, the performances are not aimed at disabled people either, so our right to access art and culture as audience members has been denied as well. Physical access is not enough; we need financial access too.

In terms of disabled people's right to be resourced to organise and participate in our own culture, the failures have been even worse. Three-quarters of the Disability Arts sector has been systematically destroyed by the Arts Council since we won the Bid, with officers even sending out public letters condeming the organisations they 'disinvested' in to scupper any chance these might have had of surviving independently. And earlier this year the biennial DaDaFest International in Liverpool, the leading Disability Arts festival in the world, had to cut its budget for 2012 by 80% because of lack of funding. This meant the loss of the majority of the festival's international artists during a summer when disabled people are visiting the UK from all over the world.

My own free festival, Together!, was refused any Arts Council funding at all despite Newham, where I've lived and worked for 26 years, having the lowest rate of arts engagement in the country. I have to say that the Greater London Authority has given us a huge amount of support, and we should have been hosting part of their Liberty festival tomorrow. However, our main venue, London Pleasure Gardens, an artist-run venture which likewise received no Arts Council support whatsoever, was forced to close last month, so we have had to postpone most of our activities until Disability History Month and lose Liberty altogether.

Despite the lack of parking for wheelchair-accessible vans and minibuses, I went to the Liberty festival on the Southbank today, hoping to meet up with dozens of people I knew the same as used to happen when the festival took place in Trafalgar Square. However, this year it was less than a dozen, and instead the majority of the audiences were non-disabled. Essentially, in the UK today disabled people are currently excluded from accessing art and culture of any kind, let alone our own.

So, it's an additional three months of unpaid work on top of my own practice for me before I've finished with Together!, which means I may not be in touch again for a while. In the meantime, all best wishes,

Ju

Colour photograph of a very dark brown puppy with brown button eyes, laying on green decking.PS: My little dog Genie died very suddenly in July, of a mysterious woodland-borne illness which only started infecting the UK in 2009. I now have a puppy, Jazz, whose mother was a Westie like Genie and father was a miniature poodle, and I am attaching his photograph to this email.

--
ju90
mail@ju90.co.uk
www.ju90.co.uk
Webmaster/site slave and Multimedia Storyteller
Created by Nature, Modified by Life
07973 252751
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Subject: Happy New Year!
From: ju90 <mail@ju90.co.uk>
Date: 1 January 2013 20:05:01 GMT
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Wishing you a great 2013
from Ju & new puppy Jazz!

Colour photograph of a small black dog dressed in a  dog santa outfit


Subject: "The Friendly Festival" ends on a high note!
From: ju90 <mail@ju90.co.uk>
Date: 1 January 2013 20:06:21 GMT

To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Thought you'd like to see this (from 19 December) ...

Together! 2012

"The Friendly Festival" ends on a high note!

UKDPC's Together! 2012 festival ended up a high note last night with a party at The Hub in Canning Town. Partygoers enjoyed performances by Mik Scarlet, Penny Pepper, Marcus Barr and Angry Fish, along with an Open Mike slot.

Despite losing our main venue and production partner, London Pleasure Gardens, three days into the Olympics, in the past five months Together! 2012 has:

Disability Arts Online has described the festival as: "A launch pad rocketing culture in Newham to the skies." It said of our re-launch event for Disability History Month: "The community is intact here. It shares a glory in the achievement of work well done, well presented and a festival well-organised."

UKDPC would like to thank Artistic Director Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90, Young Producer Malini Shah, Poetry and Spoken Word Producer Sarah Hughes, and key volunteers Dawn Barber, Blake Gibbons, Georgia Drysdale and Des Blake, as well as all of the artists involved and our partner organisations.

Together! 2012 has highlighted the significant demand for an ongoing participatory Disability Arts programme, as well as the potential to promote Newham as the most diverse and accessible borough in the country and to facilitate it to become an international centre of excellence for Disability Arts. UKDPC is therefore intending to work with the LBN micro-enterprise team in the New Year to set up a new organisation led by disabled people to take forward the work, including continuing to run an annual festival in Disability History Month.


Subject: Hi from Toronto
From: Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90 <mail@ju90.co.uk>
Date: 24 September 2013 22:09:12 EDT
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Dear Lee

I'm currently in Toronto, having been booked to speak at the Intersecting Abilities symposium and perform at the Common Pulse festival in Durham this coming weekend. I flew in last night, and am spending a couple of days seeing as much art as possible before going upstate on Thursday afternoon.

Today was devoted to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), and in particular to the Ai Weiwei exhibition According to What? Unsurprisingly, it prompted me to reflect on the role of art in promoting human rights, as well as related issues, and reminded me that I hadn't written to you in a while.

(In the interim I have helped to create a new Disability Arts, Culture and Human Rights organisation, Together! 2012 CIC, to develop the main Host Borough of Newham as an international centre of excellence for Disability Art as part of the Paralympic Legacy. We have been fortunate enough to have gained the support of Yinka Shonibare MBE as our Patron, and have come a long way in a few months.)

In some ways, the access to Ai Weiwei's show was pretty good. Toronto as you know is a very flat city, so we had no difficulty getting to the gallery, and Weiwei's work of course is accessible in the widest possible sense. The difficulties began when we realised that AGO had no mobility scooters available for loan, although this is common in most major Western galleries. Since my partner's travel scooter had failed to charge overnight, she was instead forced to borrow a manual wheelchair and use it as a walker - like most wheelchair users, she is no more able to self-propel a manual chair than she is to walk very far, and AGO itself is huge.

The combination of this experience and the content of Ai Weiwei's show made me aware throughout my viewing that, everywhere I looked, there were people engaged in a slow, painful dance - either shuffling along in obvious pain and fatigue, or creeping along as they tried to self-propel the loan chairs, or struggling to push someone else. Yet no expense had been spared elsewhere at AGO; we were surrounded by evidence of recent spending, and there was no discount on tickets for disabled people. There were also plenty of volunteers available to tell you about the art, just none to help you to see it by pushing you around.

One aspect of the curating throughout the AGO was very striking and that was the minimal signage, with labelling entirely absent from the Canadian galleries which followed Ai Weiwei's show. In the UK there is a constant battle between curators on the one hand and disabled people, education officers (and anyone over the age of 40) on the other about whether labels should be big enough to read, or whether this "spoils the aesthetic". My position has always been that, if you require the information to access the art, then labels should be accessible to more than the minority who can currently get close enough and have good enough vision to read them; if it is not required, then surely aesthetics dictate that you should have no labels at all. This, however, is the first time that I have seen a 'no labelling' policy in action, and I have to say that I would rather have legible labelling instead, particularly as there were no gallery guides available either. With Ai Weiwei's show, the need to hunt for information in far corners just increased the mobility difficulties for my partner, and I imagine for her fellow dancers too.

Of course, it is always easy to host a show that criticises a foreign country while missing the problems in your own - though I wondered what the residents of surrounding Chinatown have made of some of the marketing? I was amused that the video booth encouraging visitors to record their own messages restricted the subject matter to "freedom of expression" - though had it not crashed just as I got to it, I would have expressed myself freely about the above issues anyway. As Ai Weiwei says: "Everything is Art. Everything is Politics."

Kind regards

Ju


Ju sitting on a red mobility scooter in front of a sculpture made from wooden stools


Subject: More from Toronto
From: Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90 <mail@ju90.co.uk>
Date: 25 September 2013 17:57:48 EDT
To: leemingwei@aya.yale.edu

Photograph of Ju looking at a stone carving of the Inuit spirit SednaHi again Lee

I was thinking of you again today, which we spent looking at the work of post-war Canadian artists, and thought I'd drop you a line to update you on our travels. We began with a visit to the Harbourfront Centre, and Micah Lexier's 'One, and Two, and More than Two' at the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery. This showcases the work of Lexier and other contemporary and emerging Canadian artists, which was fascinating for a whole variety of reasons. We then saw more group exhibitions next door at the York Quay Centre: 'Wonderscape', 'Weird', 'Other Worlds' and 'Between the Lines'; as well as Alex Kisilevich's 'Vanishing into Thin Hair'.

One thing that has struck me repeatedly over the past 36 hours is that the standard hanging and display case heights here in Canada are lower than in Europe - not significantly, but just enough to make the work fully accessible to children, short people and to all of us who need to view art from a sitting position. I very much doubt that the shift is noticeable to taller pedestrians, and of course Canadians will take this for granted anyway. However, it is certainly worth writing home about - or to you about - from the perspective of a European wheelchair user.

Sadly, other things remain the same here as they are in London. We had an entire taxi rank refuse to take us on to the Dominion Centre's collection of post-war Inuit art, and again when we left the collection to return to the hotel. This was despite the fact that each time we finally found a cab willing to take us, we were able to fit into it easily, folding scooter, wheelchair and all. (Today it was my turn to struggle round in a heavy manual chair, as the British hire company had rented me a scooter that wouldn't work on American voltage. Fortunately I am now the proud owner of an international voltage converter and will soon be fully mobile again.)

The hassle with the cabs was particularly upsetting for my partner, who was recently unable to find a taxi in the whole of London willing to take her and her wheelchair to the station to catch a train to Scotland. She was due to address a meeting at the Lib-Dem Party Conference at the invitation of the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB), but in the end the money they had spent on her train ticket and hotel room was wasted and their CEO had to read her speech instead. Having so many taxi drivers refuse to take us face-to-face was a painful reminder of the length of time she had spent sitting in her wheelchair outside my studio on the pavement with her luggage, while the RNIB tried in vain to find a cab after the one they had pre-booked days beforehand cancelled without explanation.

However, we both agreed it was worth it to see such an amazing range of work by Canadian artists. I was particularly fascinated to see the predominance of small objects in the collected works of contemporary Canadian artists at the Harbourfront shows, echoing - consciously or otherwise - the object-based collection of contemporary Inuit art. This reminded me of my visit to Australia, where the predominance of painting in the work of Indigenous artists was echoed by a much greater emphasis on painting by other contemporary Australian artists than there is in Europe or North America. It was noticeable, though, that whereas Australian Indigenous art is highly sought after, the Inuit gallery is missing from the tourist maps here.

Anyway, our brief time in Toronto is almost over now, and tomorrow we leave to travel to Walkerton, ready for the beginning of the Intersecting Abilities symposium and the Common Pulse festival in neighbouring Durham on Friday. It's going to be great to meet, hear about and see the work of contemporary disabled Canadian artists and critics - I'll try to let you know how it goes.

All best wishes as always

Ju
--
ju90
mail@ju90.co.uk
www.ju90.co.uk
Webmaster/site slave and Multimedia Storyteller
Created by Nature, Modified by Life
07973 252751

Follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/ju90artist

Ju Gosling's book 'Abnormal: How Britain became body dysphoric and the key to a cure' is available for the Kindle price £3.09, or as a limited-edition hardback with full colour plates from the Abnormal exhibition for £20 inc p&p from Amazon or www.bettanypress.co.uk


 

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Abnormal Self-Portrait in Edinburgh

Colour photograph of the artist on her scooter in front of her white van reflected in the window of Theatre Workshop, with the exhibits Shai, Abnormal 3, Out of the Flesh, Men in White Coats and a text panel all visible through the window, and the turreted Edinburgh building opposite reflected in the glass too. The Theatre Workshop Fringe programme is displayed in the window, along with a sign identifying 'Fringe Venue 20.


This is me on my scooter in front of my accessible van (bought from a Glasgow taxi supplier) outside my Abnormal exhibition at Theatre Workshop Scotland (TWS) in the Stockbridge area of Edinburgh. Through the window you can see the exhibits Shai (on the window sill), Abnormal 3, Out of the Flesh and Men in White Coats. I took this photograph on the last day of my exhibition, Saturday 29 August 2009.

I was particularly proud to be invited to exhibit at TWS because the building was about to close due to cuts in grant funding, with most of the staff losing their jobs. Catriona Taylor and myself were the last artists ever to exhibit there.

In 2000 Theatre Workshop became the first professional producing theatre in Europe to include professional disabled actors in all main house productions. Now there are none.


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Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90's ABNORMAL: How Britain became body dysphoric and the key to a cure is available now for just 3.09 for the Kindle or in a limited-edition hardback with full-colour art plates for 20 inc UK postage and packing. Book cover