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BEYOND – Learning Disability and the Arts in Leeds

Leeds has always cared. From its status as a City of Sanctuary and its award-winning work with migrant communities to its work to reduce homelessness and domestic violence, we have a history of radical activism and are used to fighting a cause in this city.

Perhaps no better example of this is the many people and organisations who work to support individuals with learning disabilities, not only to provide the basics of health and social care, but to celebrate, support and promote people as artists, musicians, performers and poets first. Led by a collective of organisations including Arts & Minds, Pyramid of Arts, Mind the Gap, Northern Ballet, Interplay, East Street Arts, Yorkshire Dance and People in Action, who provide classes, exhibitions, workshops and support year round, BEYOND is a biennial meeting of minds, spotlighting artists with learning disabilities.

Founded in 2016 the festival is planning the second incarnation of BEYOND for July 2018 and has big ambitions including a new commission supported by Leeds 2023, and not one but four European partnerships. The 2018 festivals will see artists from Leeds collaborate with: Co-operations, based in Wiltz, Luxembourg; Ensemble BewegGrund, Trier in Germany; KCAT, Kilkenny in Ireland; and SKID GMBH, Uberlingen in Germany.

Dance party for BEYOND Festival

Tom Bailey, Development Manager at Arts & Mind who is one of the founding members of the festival said: “Leeds is a city which is rich in organisations supporting people with learning disabilities to get involved in the arts. In some cases, people are able to fill their week with activity – Mind the Gap on Monday, Buzz on Tuesday and Wednesday, Pyramid of Arts on Friday… However, not everyone in the city knows the full range of activity that might be available to them, thus BEYOND aims to raise awareness of work produced, but also of opportunities for more people to get involved.”

The festival aims to not only support artists with learning disabilities, but to bring their work to a much wider audience. The development of this festival in the run up to Leeds 2023 will challenge both organisations and individuals with learning disabilities to develop in new ways and will create an international reputation for Leeds as a city in which artists with learning disabilities can and do create excellent work, and receive excellent support.

James Hill, Director at Pyramid of Arts and fellow founding member adds: “In general, Leeds is a city where the grassroots, emerging, DIY or marginalised are good at working together to support exciting ‘scenes’.  This is evidenced particularly by the DIY music scene, and the amazing support that entities like Live Art Bistro give to emerging or avant-garde artists. We really believe that there is an untold story about Leeds as a city where people support each other to create and that Leeds could be famous nationally and internationally for this culture of support in the same way that it is currently famous nationally for shopping and dance.  It might need a bit of a snappier title than ‘culture of support’!”