Neurodivergent Art Jam

By Hanna Randall

During March, April and May, the SHL was host to a series of weekly art-making and creative writing workshops for PhD researchers who identify as neurodivergent (autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, anxiety, depression etc.), which was funded by the University’s Researcher-led Initiative Fund.  

The Art Jam was primarily intended to be a way of creating access to a safe and validating creative space where neurodivergents are among other individuals with similar experiences, fostering a sense of community and support. Neurodivergent people are often forced to mask their true selves in public and in learning environments for fear of discrimination and oppression, which, of course, is both exhausting and detrimental to our mental health and wellbeing. But a dedicated community such as this can render masking unnecessary for its activity duration, and it’s super fun! 

The SHL is such a great space for this sort of community-based workshop series thanks to Silverstone’s accessibility, the SHL’s lighting and sound set-up which can adapt to suit sensory sensitivity, the outside garden suited to solitary creating, and the general adaptability of the room’s layout. Before and throughout the sessions I made it known to participants that social interaction was not expected, and non-normative social interaction and any sort of embodied expression of neurodivergence, such as using fidget spinners and tactile comfort objects, stimming, or using headphones or earplugs, would be met with absolute acceptance and fellow understanding.  

Embodied ways of thinking, such as art-making and creative writing, are often a neurodivergent individual’s mode of expression, thanks to our divergent minds and ability to make connections through non-linear thinking. A regular space with free access to art materials and creative prompts provides a perfect environment to engender embodied exploration and play. Thanks to the Researcher-led Initiative Fund, the workshops were furnished with a bunch of art and craft materials such as paints, pencils and drawing pens, clay, pastels, and sketchbooks. In the first few weeks, we responded to prompts and created drawings, short pieces of creative writing and collage poems. Some participants were keen to learn lino printing, so we got some more materials in and had several excellent sessions designing a print, cutting the lino and pulling some beautiful prints. In other sessions, we learnt embroidery and played with play-dough in a spaghetti maker. Watch this space for more Art Jam sessions in the coming academic year… 

Kate Shields, artist-in-residence

SHL welcomes our new artist-in-residence Kate Shields, who will be developing the project GUTS over the next three months. GUTS explores the experience of living with the long-term chronic health condition Ulcerative Colitis. Kate writes:

My residency began officially on Friday, and my aim is to write about my process each week here. Through the Lab, I hope to approach the subject of chronic health in more community-minded and digital-based ways.

Read more here.

Three high contrast black and white images of a performance artist, spot-lit on stage, straining their muscles as they drag a toilet to which they are tied or chained. Across the three images, it seems to barely move ...