Lessons Learned: Building Networks

We went into CRIPtic 2021 without a very wide network. We certainly had quite a few contacts and offers of support. A lot of our work centred around the few networks we had, which were London-centric, and didn’t reflect the diversity of the disabled community. We were very lucky to receive support from people associated with those networks, but we really had to reach out and focus on building networks beyond the people we knew. We finished it with a far bigger network than we started, and a clearer idea of what we needed to do next to further diversify our work and outreach.

In 2021, we had a range of activities on offer, including:

  • The 2021 development programme
  • Performance slots at the Barbican
  • Workshop facilitation opportunities
  • Workshops to attend

While these were successful, we didn’t bring the diverse, broad, and wide ranging networks to them that we would have wished. We have a number of lessons learned, and plans for the future.

Building Networks: the lessons we learned

A lack of diversity

When we advertised CRIPtic programme, the overwhelming majority of applicants fell into the same few diversity categories. This showed us both that the arts world is not as diverse as it should be, but also that our outreach was lacking. We had fewer applications from Deaf signers, people with learning disabilities, and people with mobility impairments than expected. There were also fewer applicants from places outside London, and applicants who experience racism and/or classism as well as disableism.

We tried to redress this lack of diversity when assessing applicants. We knew that writing an application and attending an interview required different skill sets from delivering a workshop or performance. Nonetheless, we weren’t able to be as diverse as we had hoped across the programme.

The same few faces

A significant number of our applicants were people we already had a relationship with – some of whom we encouraged to apply. We are glad we reached out to people, and some of those people were offered opportunities, while others weren’t. However, this was also concerning. We know there are a lot of deaf and disabled people across the UK that we don’t know, and we hadn’t reached out to them as well as we had hoped.

Fewer people facing specific and rarely accommodated access barriers

One of the key advantages of our team is that we’re used to working out accommodations for people facing some specific access barriers. We wanted to make sure we were reaching those people. We had significant provisions in place for Deaf signers and for wheelchair users. These are two groups of deaf and disabled people who often face specific barriers to opportunity due to lack of funding for BSL interpreters and lack of wheelchair access.

While we’re committed to working across the deaf and disabled community, we know that not everyone faces the same barriers. Sometimes we can put in place provisions in place that are specifically tailored to some groups of deaf or disabled people. If we have done this, we then want to ensure that we’re reaching those people.

This doesn’t lessen our commitment to all deaf and disabled people. We hope over time to be able to offer tailored events and workshops to people with different access requirements, whilst always working as hard as we can to be accessible to as many people as possible.

Building networks: what next

A lack of diversity

To reach under represented groups, we need to map out a plan of outreach before we develop our programmes. Then, we can pay people to meet with us and help shape the work we’re doing. We plan to put this in place with future funding bids.

We are also building an internal database of people and groups to reach out to, to ensure that our job offers and callouts reach more people.

The same few faces

In order to broaden and deepen our networks, we’re trying to offer a consistent and regular programme. This means people can reliably know there are events for them to come to.

We are also trying to engage new people by offering more tailored and 1:1 support, and by looking to recruit outside our established networks.

Hopefully, we will also partner with arts organisations around the country to put on local and online events reaching people in a wider variety of areas.

We have an informal policy of not inviting the same person to do the same job twice.  We want our work to be focused on giving people the development opportunities they need to jump up a level. That means both working with people to grow, but also bringing in new people. This isn’t complete – there are sometimes reasons to breach it – but by setting it as a target it allows us to assess our work on this and try and improve the size and scope of our network

Fewer people facing specific and rarely accommodated access barriers

Our Always the Audience research for Arts Council England focuses on people who use changing places facilities, constant support, or who use switch/eyegaze for computer access. We are looking at building networks with various organisations outside the arts who work specifically with people who have some of these so-rarely-met access requirements, to try and change the industry.

We are continuing to ensure everything has BSL interpretation as far as we possibly can, in order to make sure we are reaching Deaf signers.

Going forward

How would you like to connect to other deaf and disabled artists? What would you like in order for our work to reach you? How can we connect with people from groups we’ve traditionally done less well at connecting with? What do you need from us? Get in touch!