On Monday 25 March, Pallant House Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery collaborated on ‘The Art of Access’; a seminar providing an opportunity for museums, galleries and arts organisations to explore approaches and best practice when developing accessible creative arts and community programmes.
Pallant House Gallery were called upon for their expertise and experience in this area, having developed an innovative Learning and Community Programme that has achieved significant recognition within the sector and numerous awards including The Adapt Award for Excellence in Access for its work with people with disabilities, and the Museums and Heritage Award for its Partners in Art scheme. The development of the Programme over the past ten years has seen a gradual evolution of key principles that underpin it such as the importance of treating everyone fairly and equally and the entitlement of everyone to a creative life, as well as the growth and creation of a number of different projects which help to promote inclusion within the Gallery and encourage audience participation across a wide section of the community. These include Partners in Art which provides an opportunity for people who want to follow their interest in art but need additional support to be placed in a partnership with a volunteer, and Outside In, the pioneering project which was set up in 2006 to provide a platform for artists who find it difficult to access the art world due to health, disability, or because their work does not fit a prescribed art norm. Lucy Ribeiro, Learning and Access Manager at the National Portrait Gallery, spoke of the Gallery's interest in partnering with Pallant House Gallery: "Both our organisations share the same core principles about access and audience development practice." Similarly, Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, said of the partnership: "I am very pleased that the National Portrait Gallery was able to collaborate with Pallant House Gallery. Thinking and sharing creative practice in widening access to the arts, and particularly about the direct involvement of diverse creative artists, is vital for future development." During the lunch break delegates were invited to take part in a practical activity session led by Kate Simms and Stephen White, two artists involved in Pallant House Gallery's Outside In: Step Up scheme which provides professional training on leading workshops, curating exhibitions and conducting research into the Collections at Pallant House Gallery. The workshop received some excellent feedback from those who took part. One participant said that it was "freeing, exciting, it let you explore your ability in a new way," whilst another remarked that this was "not something I had seen or tried before." The day was successful in starting the ball rolling by addressing the issues of best participatory practice. Sandra Peaty, Community Programme Coordinator at Pallant House Gallery, says of the day: "it's really good to start having this conversation about a topic which is actually very broad and has many different viewpoints." The day was characterised by the creation of new partnerships and connections, with Sandra adding that "there was no distinction between the big and little organisations - everybody wanted to work together, to hear each other's stories." New and continued connections are a major outcome of the seminar; "we're hoping to continue our partnership with Pallant House Gallery and create an annual conference programme," says Lucy, "we are establishing a quarterly access group where representatives from other museums and galleries can come and meet to share best practice." Sandra adds that "there is so much room for partnership and working together, which would inevitably benefit those using these programmes. This is just the start of the conversation."