Emily Jost: Making galleries accessible

Our Head of Education talks about the important of access in the arts, and our pilot Accessible Family Art Days

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  • Emily Jost
  • Education

At House of Illustration we welcome people of all ages and levels of education to our school, family and adult workshops, projects and programmes. I believe that anyone can be an illustrator and learn to communicate visually while having fun, and this ethos underpins all my programming.

I am also aware, however, that there are significant barriers for many people in accessing our offers and so when illustrator Sarah Underwood came to me last year with the idea for an accessible family day for children with physical or sensory disabilities I immediately agreed to do whatever it took to make this happen.

The school holidays can be a particularly difficult time for disabled children, as without the structure of the school day and transport, they can often spend more time than their able-bodied peers alone at home.

So we started planning for two school holiday days: the first took place on 18 February and we invited deaf children, their siblings and parents. The second is on 1 April when we will be welcoming not only deaf children but children with other physical and sensory disabilities – and of course their families.

We have consulted with local charity KIDS, whose Home Learning Co-ordinator Celia says:

“It makes such a difference to be able to offer our families activity sessions that are completely tailored to their child’s needs. Disabled children often miss out on leisure activities in the community, which is a real shame as these activities can make a huge difference to their learning, well-being and social development. We are really grateful to House of Illustration for creating these accessible workshops for disabled children.”

On 18 April, we delivered a day of BSL interpreted gallery tours of our amazing Comix Creatrix: 100 Women Making Comics exhibition. It’s a complex exhibition for children, but they were really fascinated and engaged, asking some great questions and definitely being inspired by the artwork to design their own characters and comics in our BSL interpreted workshop that followed. The children created comics representing their ideal day – the results were stunning.

One of the parents said:

“Our son is really creative but he doesn’t like going to mainstream art sessions as it makes him feel left out. He absolutely loved being here today, thank you.”

And we had this email to say:

“We have just ordered a frame in which to display Barnaby’s cartoon strip from the day. A few days later, back at school, the children were asked to create a poster for Safe Internet Day. Barnaby’s poster was chosen as the best from his year group and he was given the Head Teacher’s Award!”

Our next day is more of a takeover, with tours and five illustrators running an array of exciting workshops in our galleries as well as our learning space. We know that the children will blow us away with their creations, and have loads of fun trying things out as a family. We can’t wait!

Following these pilots we very much hope to make this kind of offer a regular feature in our calendar, and to welcome lots more talented young people to enjoy themselves with us. We want to keep learning and making our programmes accessible - this, hopefully, is only the beginning.

These days were made possible by the generous donations of the Lakehouse Group and the Bruce Wake Charitable Trust.

Emily Jost
Head of Education