Week 9: Art and activism #107days

We start with an apology that Week 9 is having its first blog on a Friday! An all time delayed performance, even for us, however that’s partly because we’ve been out on the campaign trail this week and doing ‘art and activism’ rather than writing about it! Before you delve in to this post we’d like to remind you that Live at LICA have their Family and Community Day tomorrow (Sat 23 May) so pop along to see the #JusticeforLB artwork, join the pop-up picnic and survey the quilt in all it’s majesty. For now, Sara has blogged about the brilliance that was Monday:

On Monday, as many of you will know, the Sparrowhawk Art exhibition took place at the Peter Scott Gallery, Lancaster University as part of their Open 2015 event. Parcels of #JusticeforLB art were sent up north over the past few weeks to create both an exhibition and a political space. Richard Smith, the gallery curator, described what underpins Open 2015;

‘We feel an art centre should be communal and tell us who we are and who we want to be; if not a social movement, it should at least provide a deeper awareness and sense of place. It should have a design that can situate all disciplines together in the search for knowledge and understanding and have at its core the unique process and language of art, which is able to articulate things that cannot be expressed otherwise. During OPEN 2015 we’ll start this journey, exploring what an art centre could be and what it should do’

Sparrowhawk Art was clearly in the right space.

One thing I particularly loved was the way in which the exhibition was created during the exhibition. It started at 10am and we pitched up everything was pretty much on the floor or in boxes (other than the quilt that was being displayed for the month). We became gallery helpers, sticking up the remarkable pictures of the Justice flag at Glastonbury, guillotining a copy of Jeremy Hunt’s letter, thinking of ways of displaying the Justice cardboard (but deftly reinforced) bus and, for Janet Read, doing some on the spot stitching repairs to the quilt.

It was amazing.

Late morning there was wondrous excitement as the Guardian online gallery was shared. So moving, so stunning, so remarkable that the artwork has been created spontaneously and created with love and care.

This also stood out among the gallery team. They were accommodating, sensitive and handled every item with respect. Later, during the panel, Chris Hatton reflected on how unusual this was to witness. Learning disabled people are not typically afforded such respect.

The panel

At 3pm, the panel convened, chaired by Chris Hatton and consisting of Graham Shellard (My Life My Choice), George Julian (#JusticeforLB), Janet Read (Chief Quilter), Dominic Slowie (NHS England) and Imogen Tyler (University of Lancaster).

Dominic (via a video link) described how “the pain, anger and frustration has been reborn into something that’s captured the minds and hearts of people” and how the campaign has grasped practical projects that can make a difference. George emphasised how the campaign is about everyone and how it’s demonstrated that people do care. Graham said that My Life My Choice “knew what it was like to be someone with a learning disability and have something happen to you”. He talked about some of the activities he’s involved in and announced that LB had been made an honorary DJ at Sting Radio. Janet described the campaign as a choir without constraint; people lending an ear and pitching in together. “A talented, unconditioned choir of excellence!” She described how the quilt not only records the terrible things that happened to LB but also his life and his personality. Finally, Imogen talked movingly and powerfully about her cousin Rachel who loved cherry coke and cheesy wotsits. She ended by talking about an event at Inclusion Scotland where George Lamb announced “We are the revolting subjects and we are here to revolt”.

The discussion involved powerful stories from ‘just two mums’ as the founders of Unique Kidz and Co described themselves, as well as reflections about the role of social work.

It was powerful, moving, emotional and pretty humbling (not sure of the right word here) to listen to this, surrounded by LB’s artwork. I think Imogen summed it up perfectly.

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Thank you to Chris Hatton for organising so seamlessly, and to LICA for hosting with generosity and welcome.

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Making LB’s Justice Quilt #JusticeforLB

We’ve a guest post today from Janet Read to coincide with the launching of the amazing quilt that emerged from #107days.

I’ve just seen a photograph on Twitter of George Julian taking LB’s Justice Quilt to the Lancaster conference where it will see the light of day in public for the very first time. If you were travelling north by train today and saw someone carrying a very large multi-coloured sausage, it was probably George.

Quilt_train

This reminded me that I’d better get a move-on with the post I promised Sara I’d write about the making of the quilt. I started it the other day but I was feeling a bit inhibited and it all turned out rather stodgy and boring. And the quilt (and the process of making it) is about as far from stodgy and boring as it’s possible to get.

The inhibition came from feeling that it’s hard to write honestly about something I’d had a hand in making, without fretting about looking as if I’m blowing my own trumpet. The thing is, there’s no getting away from the fact that I think the quilt is bloody marvelous and so do the other makers, Janis Firminger, Margaret Taylor and Jean Draper. It ‘s everything we hoped it would be and much, much more besides. It’s given us immense joy every time we’ve worked on it, looked at it and talked about it. We’ve been incredibly moved by it, too. But of course, the whole point is that it wasn’t really down to us at all. The main reason for its magic is that a whole bunch of you people who care about what happened to Connor and who want to change things for other dudes, rose to the occasion and set to. We said that we wanted to make something that reflected the campaign and its mood and energy. Well, you outsider artists sure didn’t need telling twice! The pieces that you sent us to work with were more arresting, inventive, moving, angry, irreverent, colourful, thoughtful, beautiful, affectionate and informed than anything we could have hoped for. They came embroidered, appliqued, crayoned, painted, felt-tipped, crocheted and knitted. They sometimes arrived with apologetic notes saying you hoped they were good enough. Good enough? Yes! Yes! Yes! More than! Every single one!

At the beginning, only Janis, Margaret and I were involved. We consulted Sara and George, did the post, asked people to take part and waited. Would anyone respond and if so, how many? We had no idea. We told ourselves that small could be beautiful but to be honest, ‘LB’s Justice Tea towel’ might have felt a bit of an anti-climax. On the other hand, where would Sara keep something the size of a football pitch? Then the contributions started coming in thick and fast– the patches and the gifts of thread and fabrics. I got the best job of opening the post and keeping tabs on what we’d had. It was so exciting. Apart from the individual contributions, we had the workshop at Cardiff Law School which Lucy Series wrote about on 107 days and the Messy Church in Kent organized by Beckie Whelton, also recorded on 107 days. I didn’t know what Messy Church was but I do now. I can tell you it sounds a whole lot more fun than the Sunday School I went to!

Shortly into the project, Janis, Marg and I found ourselves needing some help. Confession time now: we three are stitchers but we’d never made a quilt before in our lives! Sorry. I can almost hear a sharp intake of breath from all the proper quilters out there because they know better than most that The Great British Bake Off doesn’t have the monopoly on THE TECHNICAL CHALLENGE. So, we asked for a leg up from my big sister Jean whose day job is art textiles and who knows a thing or two about quilting and all sorts of other stuff involving fabric and thread. She loved the idea of the project and was busy stitching patches. After being bombarded daily with beginners’ quilting questions, she offered to join in.

One of the best times (and there were many good ones) was the very first time that we laid out all the patches in the same place. When we stood in front of this vivid mass covering my dining room floor, it took our breath away. We knew quite simply that we had something very special to work with.

And that’s about the top and bottom of it really. The end of May was close of play for contributions but of course, they came in for a while after that. What else would we have expected from a load of stitching rule-breakers? The patches came in all shapes and sizes, too, and were probably the better for it -though I did threaten at one stage, to stitch a patch that said’ Social justice activists can’t measure 4X6 inches’. When all the patches were in, we put the rather complicated jigsaw together ,and spent the summer machining, quilting and hand-stitching The People’s Art Work , as we sometimes called it. The final stitch went in a week ago.

JusticeQuiltfull

I don’t know how many patches there are because every time I started counting, I was distracted by something that I’d not looked at properly before. Living with the quilt has been a pleasure, and running our hands and eyes over your lovely work for the past three months has been an unforgettable experience. We’ve handled it nearly every day and that means that scarcely a day has gone by without our thoughts turning to Connor, his family and the other dudes. We’ve talked about them a lot too. We hope that the quilt will have the same effect on other people when they stand in front of it. Someone asked me last week when we were doing another one and the reply was that we’re not. LB’s Justice Quilt is a one-off for Connor, the dudes, Sara and her family.

Our heartfelt thanks, then, to all you patch-makers, protest stitchers and outsider artists. It ‘s truly brilliant that you created so many strong and beautiful fragments of resistance in response to something so terrible. What gifts you gave!

We couldn’t publish this post without acknowledging ourselves the absolutely phenomenal beauty of the Justice Quilt. There is so much love stitched into the quilt, which somehow perfectly captures the crowdsourced magic of the #107days campaign. The quilt would have certainly been a pile of patches if it wasn’t for the extreme dedication of Janet, Janis, Margaret and Jean, and we will be forever grateful to them for their work.

The quilt is officially being ‘launched’ at the #CEDR14 conference today (10 September 2014) and we will be looking for a number of venues to host the quilt over the next year. Given how delicate it is we don’t want it travelling every week so we’ll be looking for venues that can display the quilt, while also protecting it. If you have contacts in venues, organisations, galleries etc then feel free to leave a comment, drop us a tweet @JusticeforLB or send us an email with your suggestion and we’ll collect them in and make a touring plan. We are really keen that as many people get to see the quilt as possible, so we’ll keep you all posted on these plans.

Thank you to all our patchers, your contribution to bringing JusticeforLB and all young dudes is stitched into the fabric of this campaign.

Day 61: Justice – one stitch at a time #107days

Those of you who regularly read the blog (and someone is because our web hits passed 30k this weekend, thank you) will have noticed that Day 59 was adopted for a quilting exhibition. Today is another quilting action, adopted by Lucy and Cardiff Law School, to share their day. We hope that they will inspire others of you to take part in the Justice Quilt, there is still time, but you’ll need to be quick, patches need to arrive by May 31. Here’s what they had to say:

Connor regularly featured in his mother’s blog as ‘Laughing boy’ (LB), and became known to many within the disability and wider community through her tales of his jokes, creative endeavours and adventures. We learned about his love of transport, drum and base music, trips to London and his wide circle of family and friends. Connor’s death stunned those who had followed his mother’s blog, and its reverberations are being felt throughout the UK and around the world. A creative and organic campaign for justice – #JusticeforLB and 107 Days of Action – sprang up on social media, with a diverse range of people ‘adopting’ a day to coincide with Connor’s detention in the unit in 2013. Each adopted day involved an activity to raise awareness of what happened to Connor and the injustice faced by other people with learning disabilities in the UK and around the world. Connor’s own artwork features prominently in the campaign, adorning postcards, pencil cases, badges, and even our own conference flier. Buses also feature regularly, one highlight being a bus company dedicating three buses to Connor.

Here at Cardiff Law School, we held a very unusual and creative seminar, befitting an irreverent and creative young man, to join in the 107 Days campaign. We are very fortunate at Cardiff to have Professor Janet Read as an Honorary Professor of Law. Janet’s research specializes in the rights of disabled children and adults, and she also happens to be a super stitcher, and one of a creative trio who are putting together a Justice Quilt as part of the 107 Days campaign. Together with Professor Luke Clements, Dr Lucy Series and Erich Hou, we held a seminar explaining what had happened to Connor, describing some of the wider justice issues affecting people with learning disabilities and talking about a long and proud tradition of stitching and resistance. We were delighted that a delegation from Cardiff School of Art and Design came along, and around thirty or so of us spent a few hours stitching and gluing, knitting and drawing on squares for the Justice Quilt, whilst thoughtfully discussing what had happened to Connor and what needed to change.

Day61CdfQuilt

Connor’s death did not happen in a vacuum and was not an isolated event. A recent study found that 42% of deaths of people with learning disabilities were ‘premature’ (the CIPOLD study, 2013), a phenomenon which Mencap has called Death by Indifference. A major report by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Mental Capacity Act 2005 heard evidence from a wide range of sources of families of people with learning disabilities being pushed aside by professionals, as Connor’s family were found to have been. Several studies have raised concerns about unlawful de facto detention of people with learning disabilities; for the last months of his stay in the unit Connor did not have any formal detention safeguards which could have scrutinised the basis of his stay there.

The kinds of assessment and treatment unit where Connor was detained have been plagued by successive scandals over the last decade – from the Cornwall scandal (2006), to Sutton and Merton (2007), through to Winterbourne View in 2011. Each scandal has triggered waves of public outrage and national studies which have confirmed widespread problems with these types of units (A Life Like No Other, 2007; National Study, 2009; Learning disability services inspection programme, 2012). An annual ‘Census’ set up in the wake of the Winterbourne View scandal found that 3,250 adults with learning disabilities remain in these units; over half have experienced self-harm, an accident, physical assault, hands-on restraint or seclusion during the three months preceding the Census. Last week, the Minister for Social Care Norman Lamb described a scheme set up in the wake of Winterbourne View to move people out of these hospitals as an ‘abject failure’ (HSJ, 2014).

Connor’s preventable death brought home that these studies and reports are not just about statistics, they are about real lives ensnared in systems which deny people opportunities to flourish and leave them vulnerable to abuse, prolonged unnecessary detention and even death. As successive policy initiatives to address these issues have failed, it is clear that in some ways the problems have a very complex etiology – from a lack of resources and appropriate provision of support in the community, through to the failure of legal and regulatory frameworks which are intended to protect human rights. One study even suggests that the structure of our financial systems may favour models of care based on detention and ‘warehousing’ over support for independent living in a person’s own home and community, even though the cost of these units can be eye-wateringly high (NDTI, 2011).

Yet in another sense, Connor’s death reveals that the roots of the issues can be remarkably simple, even if they are not easy to change. They are about recognizing – in law, policy and in everyday life – that people with learning disabilities have lives of equal value to others, that their aspirations, relationships, talents and individuality should be valued and supported on an equal basis with others. This is why Article 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities emphasizes the importance of raising awareness of the rights and dignity of people with disabilities and combating stereotypes.

Activities like quilting may seem far removed from the law, but by creating a space to talk about Connor’s life – as well as his death – we hope to promote awareness of the capabilities of men and women with learning disabilities, and reflect on how we can contribute towards change in our work and everyday lives.

Day 59: Time and Place #107days

Day 59 was adopted by Janis Firminger, Margaret Taylor and Janet Read. This is why they are supporting #JusticeforLB and #107days:

We wanted to adopt Day 59 because like many others, we feel angry and sad about LB’s death, the manner of his dying and the truly terrible grief that his family have experienced as a result. Sara’s writing makes us want to really see Connor, to understand what a remarkable person he was and to appreciate how he enriched the lives of those close to him. Her blog and the responses of others have also laid bare the myriad ways that the lives of learning disabled people and their families are blighted by carelessness, neglect and disregard, by the limitations placed upon them by others and by assumptions about how little they have a right to expect and hope for.

The social media activity has also revealed a different world, however: one that is altogether more inspiring and is populated by people who do not accept these tawdry taken-for-granted ideas. The blog posts, tweets and the rest capture a lot of love, affection, fury, sharp insights, analysis, good politics, protest, brilliant stories and decent humanity all unified around LB’s story and the determination to get justice for him and for others with learning disabilities.

Day59T&P

Janis, Margaret and Janet are all currently exhibiting their work at their Time and Place exhibition.

Day 59 is part way though our textile exhibition, Time and Place 2014, in London and one of the pieces in it was made in memory of Connor.

We are also in the process of making LB’s Justice Quilt as a way of celebrating a remarkable life and raising awareness for the Justice for LB campaign. We are asking people to contribute by making a small patch to be sewn into the quilt (see below). We have a vision of a large, strong, colourful, quite disorderly quilt that reflects the mood of the contributions people have been making through social media activity. We hope that our adopted day will encourage more people to make a patch for the quilt. If you’d like to get involved please see how here.

Day59Patches