Promoting progressive practice in the Arts with people with learning disabilities
Yarrow is a charity for adults with learning disabilities based in West London. The Gate, their Community Arts centre, will be hosting experimental Argentine musician Alan Courtis for a series of workshops culminating in a lecture on music and learning disability and a performance with the musicians. Alan is a successful internationally recognised experimental musician in his own right and has released over 400 records on a variety of labels. He has also worked extensively producing music with adults with learning disabilities over his twenty-five year career. Most notable within this would be his work with Miguel Tomasin, a musician with Down Syndrome, in the band Reynols. Where Reynols is particularly interesting is in the role that Miguel had in the band. It was Miguel who made many of the artistic decisions and controlled the direction that the band would take.
In an interview in the Wire Magazine, Alan says:
“The question is; what can people with learning difficulties and the music they make offer to the complex musical scene of today? In my opinion they have a lot to offer: they are doing experimental music without thinking or even knowing it’s experimental, so their position is unique. But also their approach to music is so open, so fresh, so unpretentious, so joyful and playful. They are a refreshing rush of energy for the whole music scene. So I think we have a lot to learn from them, in particular from their expressive potential and from the way the get in touch with sound. But are we prepared?”
Alan’s methodology is one which particularly chimes with The Gate, which aims to work in an honest person-centered and progressive manner giving their attendees as much control over any artistic process and the general running of the centre, whilst ensuring no one is left out for any reason. The Gate has been running since 1996. During this time people attending have produced plays and films, worked with the Institute of Contemporary Arts, the V & A and various other galleries with visual art. They have produced a huge amount of music themselves, which they showcase in yearly concerts as well as at smaller concerts across London and the South.
The Gate also currently runs a radio show Gate Kicks!! on respected London radio station Resonance FM and this is how this collaboration with Alan first came about. Through the radio show they have been promoting and linking up with other musicians with learning disabilities from across the UK and also internationally. The hope is that by linking up with international musicians and facilitating international collaboration they can provide the opportunities to their membership that their artistry demands and promote ways of working with adults with learning disability and valuing the contribution they can make in the arts world and indeed beyond.