Opportunities for autistic artists

Anna has two dreams: to train staff at every major art gallery around the world and to introduce nationwide sensory friendly quiet pods for adults with autism.

Here’s what she’s achieved so far…

How a photography project led to the TATE

When Anna first stepped into a photo development dark room, she felt at home. The atmosphere was calm and gentle on her over-stimulated senses.

Like some others with autism, Anna thinks in pictures and finds it easier to communicate through pictures.

Changing communities LDA Leaders' List 2018

This is why Anna founded Autography with Photofusion: a project for autistic adults to use photography as a way to explore their own autistic identity.

Anna designed and co-facilitated a series of workshops, not only to teach photography but to bring people together.

The project gathered momentum being contacted by 198 Gallery and TATE with a simple concept: to hold the first neurodiverse event at TATE, inspired by Autography.

“The goal for me was to tackle isolation, lack of self-esteem, depression and anxiety. I wanted to give people with autism the right to feel happy.”

On 14th July her Autography participants joined three other organisations to host a series of workshops and interactive sessions all designed to be inclusive and creative.

“We ran a badge workshop and asked people to put on what they want other people to know about them, without having to explain.

“The activities we ran, the badges, a pop-up photo studio with prints and a poem were to support the Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) and neurodiverse community but any community or individual facing mis-representation or a complete lack of it, stigma and hardship were able to engage.

“For example, sat round the tables working with and around each other were different abilities, races, genders, ages…it was great to see multi-representation.”

But there were many hours of preparation before the final showcase.

Training the TATE

Anna worked with the TATE Exchange to train the Tate’s Ambassadors in autism and neurodiversity awareness; helping to shape the whole event around her lessons.

“I ran training called: ‘Creating Positive Interactions With Those On The Autism Spectrum’ to help make sure everyone in any exchange can feel confident and positive.

“We started with a brief history of autism, then moved into what it is today. We did lots of activities to help prepare for the types of situations the ASD and neurodiversity community would encounter when coming to the TATE.

“It was really cool because the training informed how the event would then be structured. I’m proud to say all of the recommendations I made were used and they’re now embedded into the TATE Exchange’s protocol for future events.”

Workspaces for the neurodiverse

Anna is also Designer, Creative Director and Community Manager at ‘Place With Purpose’ where the trial has just come to an end and she’s already thinking of where else can host this project.

Anna Changing communities LDA Leaders' List 2018

‘Place With Purpose’ is a project to design co-working workspaces specifically for the ASC and neurodiverse community.

“In just one month, these bespoke accessible spaces gave 50 people a welcoming, sensory friendly and productive environment to run with projects, employment and tasks they’d not had the opportunity to pursue yet.

“It was an amazing opportunity for me. I was given a very basic studio space. I was responsible for constructing and curating the right environment for our members and creating solutions on how to make a space for people to reach their potentials”.

But neurodiversity is just that – diverse. Anna had to juggle adjustments for autism, dyslexia, ADD, ADHD, anxiety and depression (to name but a few).

“It needed to have personality but not be overwhelming; cosy but not gloomy; light and airy but not too bright; not be too cluttered or pristine and clinical…It was really hard.”

In the end, she transformed the blank white room into work pods, with a gender neutral geometric design. And they were a resounding success.

“My favourite success story is from someone I know. They had wanted to try screen printing for a long time; she had all the equipment and designs ready and waiting to go. But, she didn’t have the space or confidence to get started.

“After just two sessions at ‘Place With Purpose’ she not only managed to create a screen print, but also designed and produced some canvas bags for us for our final showcase event.

“We gave her the environment she needed to do something she’d wanted to for a long time.”

Sensory spaces for adults with autism

One of the reasons for using the dark room and creating the ‘Place with Purpose’ is because there is a serious lack of quiet spaces for autistic adults.

So, as part of the ‘Place With Purpose’ social enterprise she went away and created a sensory space especially for adults…

“It was beautiful. It was adult, sexy, mature and grown up. It had a beautiful black out curtain, nice fabric and carpeting all around the inside. It was textured and sensual, and had cushions all over the floor. There was a beautiful colour changing orb lamp in the middle.

“It was nice to create a sensory environment that felt adult. It had that feeling of luxury.”

Now Anna dreams of seeing her sensory pods available all over the place; “I keep seeing photobooths in public places. If there’s space for them, why can’t we have some sort of sensory booth?

“I want to patent it and work with a company to create a widely available, easy to construct, affordable, environmentally friendly, flatpack version. I think it is a resource that should be available for anyone who may benefit from it on a daily basis.”