A story that deserves telling

Yesterday I got an email from a research student called Chloé Bradwell who wanted to contact artists who had worked with older people during the 1980s. At the time, I was at East Midlands Shape, a small organisation working in the arts mainly with disabled people. Her request reminded me how much the landscape of participatory art has changed since then. Through EM Shape, 50 or 60 artists ran regular workshops in day centres, care homes and residential hospitals that defined social care in the 1980s. Some specialised in community art; others were fine artists or musicians (less often actors) for whom a weekly workshop was part of how they earned a living.

But the work was largely invisible in the art world and financed principally through social services. Community art was still struggling for recognition. Many of those artists have quietly continued their work during the subsequent decades, adapting to policy change and financial cuts in the care sector but never losing sight of the people whose daily lives they hoped to enrich. Some I’ve lost sight of and a few have sadly died, but others I am happy to count among my friends still. I’m glad to help Chloé reach out to these people whose work I value so much. This field of work deserves recognition, and so do the people who paved the way for such much of what happens today. If you worked as an artist with older people in the 1980s, please get in touch with Chloé. Your story deserves to be heard.

Seeking performing artists having worked with older adults before 1990

My name is Chloé Bradwell and I am a second year PhD student in Drama at The University of Exeter and Aberystwyth University. My research focuses on the cultural value of performing arts with people living with dementia. In the context of my PhD, I am currently trying to trace UK art practices that were taking place in care homes or with older adults before the 1990s. I am particularly looking for community theatre/performance-based practices which were not part of the Reminiscence Theatre Movement, as there is very little documentation about it. I am looking to interview artists which have been part of such practices and worked in either a formal or informal context as freelancers, students or as part of a broader organisation.

The photo is from an East Midlands Shape project about the closure of the Pastures Hospital in 1989/90, a residency by writer Rosie Cullen and photographer Ross Boyd.