PROJECT :  Out of the Darkness are a professional theatre company who create and perform an inclusive programme of theatre and training as well as providing opportunities for people with learning disabilities to be involved in performing arts activities including technical, stage support and performance.  My initial brief involved working in their studio as a visiting artist running a project called ROCKSTAR. This project involved the client group of disabled artists (around 12 people) creating musical instruments, masks and costumes from found and recycled materials.

OUTCOMES : We did complete the Rockstar project as planned and the artists involved did enjoy the process. The project was delivered at a time when social distancing was at its height, no performances could be planned or carried out and the staff were in a difficult phase keeping everyone motivated and safe. Desks were distanced and the client group could not wander freely around making it difficult to relax and enjoy their normal routines. Having a guest artist once a month on a durational project seemed to work for them and I personally had great fun working with Martin McAuslan Head of Learning and Development who like me is a devotee of adhocist practices, making much from the rubbish others throw away. While i did have fun here it perhaps felt more like teaching and less like a true engagement process. I’m sure it was valuable for a marginalised group of often overlooked people in our society and for that reason alone i must concede its importance.

However the most rewarding part of the engagement for me was the discovery of a very talented young outsider artist Ross McShane who has created a large scale group portrait made up of a series of small scale drawings on card of each member of OOTD. It is a fantastic portrait of diversity. We showed this work at the end of the project exhibition and Ross plus his family and friends all visited over the week. Whilst I was not present other artists who were have reported that the sense of pride Ross felt seeing his work shown professionally was immense, mirrored by those of his family. His mum was proud “fit to burst” and Ross himself was heard to say “ I am a professional artist now.” That he most definitely is. So many of the students passing through the exhibition loved Ross’s work, ensuring that his influence will be seen in some of their work or approaches.

Ross McShane is a twenty eight year old artist from Nairn. Ross has been drawing since before he can remember and has been attending Out of the Darkness Theatre Company (ODTC) since completing his studies at Moray UHI eight years ago. During this time, Ross has created many pieces of art that have been used in both ODTC film and theatre productions. Outside his daily work, Ross continues to work on his own art at home and loves to create portraits of his favourite film characters. Ross is currently working on portraits of all of the Stranger Things cast. Ross is a huge fan of both Marvel and D.C and often discusses his views on the comparison between X-Men superheroes and himself and others that are on the autistic spectrum and the challenges that they face. Ross states that Art is his super power.

THOUGHTS : This turned into a project which was very demanding and I should most certainly have not entered into it with a pre designed engagement strategy. The group were far too diverse in their conditions and abilities to fully engage with the brief without a huge amount of support in an organisation that is already stretched in this area. If I had entered into the project as more of a volunteer than as project lead I most definitely would have reduced my own stress and the pressure of expectation in proposed outcomes. I think I would have discovered Ross far more quickly and could have focused on my engagement with him more fully.

This I think brings up the subject of engagement in general, what is good engagement? Is it a numbers game or does a deeper engagement actually come from more interpersonal relationships with a single participants. How do we measure such things against what funders think of as successful engagement. This is something I feel we should now discuss much more fully as a collective before we begin to immerse ourselves too deeply in our own individual projects at the beginning of Phase 2.

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