Gill Crawshaw graduated from MA Curation Practices at Leeds Arts University in 2018.

Here Gill tells us about her current projects and experience of moving into curation after a career working in health and social care.

I started using curating as a tool for activism in 2014 when I organised an exhibition of textile art by disabled artists, The Reality of Small Differences. Originally conceived as a response to Grayson Perry’s tapestry series, The Vanity of Small Differences, being shown in a venue that wasn’t fully accessible for many disabled people, this exhibition became significant in its own right.

Building on this I organised 'Shoddy', another exhibition by disabled artists featuring textiles and social comment. It was a greater success, with greater impact and reach.

Image: Shoddy exhibition, 2016. Photograph Mat Dale

These projects led me to study MA Curation Practices. This gave me a better understanding of the field and allowed me to explore areas I felt I could have improved on in the exhibitions, particularly interpretation and access for visually impaired people.

Studying for the MA was a massive change for me, returning to study after 30-odd years working in jobs that weren’t arts-related (health, social care, equality and diversity). Having organised a couple of exhibitions and other events in my spare time, I wanted to get a better understanding of the field of curating, both theoretical and practical.

MA Curation Practices at Leeds Arts University attracted me because it covers curation across the arts, heritage and beyond. My particular interests include disability arts, access and inclusion and curatorial activism. I wanted to take the opportunity to expand my thinking and put my interests into a broader context and the course enabled me to do this.

We were encouraged to think critically and to experiment, to try new things and get out of our comfort zone. For example, working with sound as part of a collaborative project in the first term gave me a much greater appreciation for, and enjoyment of, this medium. The critical study completed the following term meant I could home in on the topic of activism and curation and think about where my own practice lies. I’ve also enjoyed working with archives, which I hadn’t done before.

Image: Gill at the Piss on Pity exhibition, September 2019

In my own practice I make and seek opportunities to take a creative approach to accessibility and to raise disability issues. This is rooted in my long-standing interest in disability arts and activism, although it is a recent change in role and a new experience for me.

Since graduating, I’ve been involved in different projects. I’ve run a couple of workshops for artist-led organisations on accessibility. These have encouraged people to identify barriers that might prevent disabled people and others from accessing exhibitions, events or studio spaces. They then share ideas for tackling these barriers, focusing on realistic, low cost solutions and on working collectively and strategically with others.

Building on my final MA project, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to develop creative audio description of an exhibition at The Tetley, at an event during Leeds International Festival. Support from the festival meant I could include a description in British Sign Language as well as spoken descriptions.

My most recent project was an exhibition, Piss on Pity: Disabled Artists vs. Charity. Coinciding with Damien Hirst’s sculpture, Charity, being installed at Yorkshire Sculpture Park during Yorkshire Sculpture International, the exhibition took the opportunity to show how disabled artists have approached this subject.