News

February 2024
Embracing the Inclusive Spirit

What an amazing day on Tuesday at Titanic Belfast for The Embrace the #InclusiveSpirit tourism event! The event was part of an Inclusive Tourism project that we have been working on with Belfast City Council, Tourism NI and Visit Belfast. 

We are so proud of our Lived Experience Team, which is composed of individuals with diverse disabilities. They have been engaged to provide insights on enhancing accessibility in the tourism sector. They have shared invaluable experiences and recommendations on intriguing destinations in a series of accessible itinerary videos that explore Belfast and have also helped produce a series of training modules to help businesses to communicate confidently with disabled people. 

The Embrace the Inclusive Spirit event, additionally supported by Titanic Belfast, was a full-day of interactive workshops, enlightening panel discussions, ample networking opportunities, and a dynamic drop in marketplace where attendees could connect with others and organisations dedicated to making Belfast more inclusive! During the marketplace, we had lots of interest in our Chatting for Change programme that offers the unique opportunity to talk directly to disabled people though Living Library events. 

The day was hosted by disability rights activist Seán Fitzsimmons and featured an impressive lineup of speakers, the most exciting for us was Irish writer and advocate, Sinéad Burke.

Delegates also enjoyed a brilliant performance of ‘Communication’ choreographed and performed by our amazing Luminous Soul dancers Andy Paton, Julie Anna Richmond and Talia McDowell and exceptional singing from our Open Arts Community Choir.

The next event as part of the Inclusive Tourism project is on 26th March in The Crescent Arts Centre. For more information and to register visit Living Library.

Dancers Julie, Andy and Talia standing beside each other at the entrance to the Titanic Suite in Titanic Belfast.

January 2024
Margaret takes home the prize at the Arts & Business Awards NI

Margaret is sitting at a round table with her award. It is very tactile and is constructed of two crescent shapes intertwined mounted on a round wooden base. Also at the table chatting are members of Open Arts board and staff.
A picture of chair Margaret Mann sitting at a round table at the Arts & Business awards. She is holding her award for Leaders on Arts Boards. She is surrounded by members of Open Arts board and staff.

We are delighted to announce that our chairperson, Margaret Mann, has won the Arts and Business Award for Leaders on Arts Boards! This award recognises the outstanding contribution of a board member to the arts organisation they serve and the wider arts sector.

We had a brilliant evening yesterday at the Arts and Business NI Awards ceremony at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, with fantastic performances and the opportunity to engage with different organisations that are an essential part of the art sector in Northern Ireland. But nothing could make us more proud (and a bit emotional) than the moment our Margaret walked to the stage and accepted her award.

Margaret Mann has been an essential part of Open Arts for 23 years. She is a founding member of our Open Arts Community Choir and an incredibly supportive, knowledgeable board member. As chairperson for the past 10 years, she has championed the organisation in our goal to provide opportunities for disabled people to participate in the arts.

Margaret is blind and has experienced barriers and lack of access herself. Using this lived experience and knowledge, Margaret has spoken on behalf of Open Arts at conferences and events within and outside of the arts sector to drive forward and promote access and inclusion. She has always been a firm advocate of personal and professional development for our staff. Her experience as an Open Arts participant gives her a unique perspective on what is needed to provide a safe and creative environment for our participants to thrive and develop their creativity and to advocate for them when needed.

We are very proud of Margaret and her achievements, and we are grateful for her leadership and dedication to Open Arts and we are really thankful to Arts & Business NI for recognising her essential role in our organisation and how her work on accessibility in the arts impacted the sector as a whole.

Below Margaret shares her thoughts about winning the award and on her journey as board member of Open Arts. 

I’m delighted about winning this award. I am truly humbled and grateful to receive the Arts and Business Award for Leaders on Arts Boards. Working with Open Arts, first as a board member and then as chairperson has been essential for my personal and professional development. For the last 23 years, as a participant and board member, I have seen the organisation grow and develop. I witnessed all the hard work done by the staff and artists to keep it running and experienced first hand the positive impact that Open Arts continues to have on myself, our participants, audiences and society in general and I could not be more proud of being part of it. Thanks to my role I have gained a deeper understanding of how an arts organisation operates and developed leadership, and strategic planning skills, that I applied in various areas of my life.It taught me how essential it is to look after the well-being of the organisation’s staff and participants. Being part of the board also has given me the opportunity to travel, meet different professionals in the arts sector and participate at events like this one.

We want to again thank Margaret for all that she did and continue doing for Open Arts and congratulate her and all the other winners and nominees.

November 2023
Open Arts Community Choir Christmas Jukebox: 2 Royal Avenue.

Come and get into the Christmas spirit with a live choral Jukebox!

Join us Saturday 2nd December, from 11am – 1pm.

The Open Arts Community Choir will be singing some of the best-loved Christmas songs and carols in 2 Royal Avenue this year – all they need is for you to choose your favourite from their Jukebox menu and they’ll sing it just for you and your family!

The OACC is an award-winning, dynamic, inclusive choir based in Belfast, demonstrating how people from different cultural backgrounds, with and without disabilities, come together through the medium of song. They have performed all over the UK and Ireland, as well as in America and Latvia. Their third album, entitled “Three”, is available on iTunes.

October 2023
Creative Conversations: The Big Open Arts Takeover!

Sunday 8th October, Creative Conversations: The Big Open Arts Takeover! 

With Monday Players, Open Arts Community Choir, Luminous Soul, Open Arts Creative Writers, Open Arts Visual Art Groups, Mae Murray Foundation.

Step into the world of Open Arts as they take over the Crescent Arts Centre!

During each event the audience will experience performances from Monday Players, Open Arts Community Choir, Luminous Soul dancers; hear readings from the creative writing group and participate in a workshop with visual art participants.

Inspired by the idea of a ‘Living Library’ you will also have the opportunity to chat with the participants, learn about the diverse perspectives and life experiences of disabled people.

There will be 3 events during the day. Each will last a maximum 1 hour 45 minutes including the dance performances below (which can also be booked separately).

3 groups will be guided through the building each time. One group will have an audio describer and another will have a BSL interpreter available for each event.

Event times:

12pm – 2pm – 4pm

You can book your tickets through EventBrite here.

1.15pm Mae Murray Foundation

Members from Mae Murray’s Teen Hubs took part in a summer dance intensive facilitated by Helen Hall & Linda Fearon with mentoring visits from members of Luminous Soul. They have continued to work and rehearse together to present this performance. The young people are also working toward achieving Arts Awards.

The work is supported by The Arts Council NI’s Young People & Wellbeing Arts Programme and BT Telecommunity Fund, distributed by Community Foundation NI.

3.15pm Fully Charged

Formed in 2022, Fully Charged is a duet of powerchair dancers, Cinzia Savonitti and Marylou McCord. Both are also members of Luminous Soul. Marylou McCord has been supported by University of Atypical through an iDA grant award to develop her music composition skills alongside her choreography.

Fully Charged was born because the dancers wanted to explore how movement and dance could be enhanced, not limited, by their powerchairs!

This piece explores the relationship between the dancers, their own powerchairs and each other.

5.15pm Communication

‘Communication’ is an innovative dance piece choreographed by Andy Paton, Julie Anna Richmond and Talia McDowell. All three are members of Luminous Soul and have travelled to Cork over the last year to participate in Ireland’s first accredited inclusive dance training programme – Inclusive Dance Cork – a partnership between University College Cork and others. Talia has been supported by University of Atypical through an iDA grant award.

This piece explores the theme of how we all communicate differently and the barriers which may be encountered. The choreography challenges the audience to be mindful of and to embrace diversity.

September 2023
Lets Dance!

Six teenagers are sitting with their backs to the camera in a semi-circle watching four of their peers in the middle dancing in pairs. Two of the teenagers are wheelchair dancers.
Picture of 6 teenagers from Mae Murray, three of which are wheelchair users are taking part in an intensive dance workshop. There are three wheelchair users and three non wheelchair users. All have their arms in the air and are moving animately.

We were delighted to kick off our Movement & Mentoring project in August, which is supported by ACNI Young People & Wellbeing Arts Programme and BT Telecommunity Fund distributed by Community Foundation NI. Twelve members from Mae Murray’s Teen Hub took part in a week-long dance summer scheme facilitated by Helen Hall & Linda Fearon with visits from members of our Luminous Soul dance company.

It was an amazing week where the young people worked with professional dancers, learnt different dance techniques and most importantly, had a ball! They also had the chance to learn from dancers from Luminous Soul, who are developing their own artistic practice: Talia McDowell, Julie Anna Richmond, Andy Paton and Marylou McCord.

Talia, Julie and Andy introduced the work they had created during Ireland’s first accredited inclusive dance training programme – Inclusive Dance Cork – a partnership between University College Cork and others. They also led a workshop for the young people, sharing ideas on movement and improvisation techniques.

Marylou McCord, who is a dancer, choreographer and composer also led one of the sessions. She discussed her choreography and composition work, which she is developing with a grant from University if Atypical, and shared her experience as a powerchair dancer and musician with the young people.

As part of the project the participants will also work toward achieving Arts Awards. Arts Award takes young people on a creative journey, exploring the arts world, discovering their potential as artists, developing leadership skills – and gaining a recognised accreditation from Trinity College, London.

The young dancers will continue to rehearse together in the coming weeks, working towards a final performance that will be showcased during Creative Conversations: The Big Open Arts Takeover at Crescent Arts, part of Bounce Festival on Sunday 8th October 2023 (more information on this coming soon).

August 2023
Theatre Delivery... At home!

A picture of Stephen Beggs and Paul Taylor, actors in our Take Away Theatre performances. They are both wearing bright yellow baseball caps and high vis vests over royal blue overalls.

Summer is in full swing, and our Take Away Theatre performers have travelled all over Northern Ireland to deliver free interactive, fun home performances for disabled people and their families! There is still time to book yours!

Stephen Beggs (AKA Barry!), one of our amazing Take Away Theatre performers tells us more about the project.

“What is great about Take Away Theatre is that each session is different. Using our ‘menu’ the family can choose a starter, which is a dance or a movement piece, and then there is the main course, the performance, which can be anything at all, a mystery, a love story an adventure that’s created there and then by the family, with our support, using all the props that we bring with us. So, it’s lovely because, you go in with a structure, but then essentially you do whatever the participants want to do… the story goes where they want to take it and it’s brilliant!”

Stephen’s favourite things about Take Away Theatre are working with a different artist at every session, the improvisation involved with the creation of the performance, and seeing first hand the positive impact that it has on the participants.

“It is genuinely a beautiful experience, a way for the family to create lovely memories. It is brilliant to hear from the families that their child, who usually finds it hard to engage with things, loves the performance, something just clicks and they are having great fun engaging with us and the story in their own unique way.”

When asked about what he would say to someone thinking about booking a session Stephen said:

“Worry not about whether this would be suitable for your child/friend/family member because the structure is such that it works for everyone regardless of disability, communication needs or mobility. A day or two before the visit we would have a chat to find out the likes and dislikes and individual needs of the main ‘protagonist’ of the session. No drama experience is needed because the facilitators are there to help. You don’t need a big space, we’ve crammed performances into tiny little rooms, it can be done in large rooms, in the garden, etc. We will work around you.”

To book a free place or for more information about Take Away Theatre please email info@openartsni.org or visit www.openartsni.org/projects-take-away-theatre.

This project is funded by Bank of Ireland’s Begin Together Arts Fund in partnership with Business to Arts.

June 2023
Pieces of Us Exhibition

29th of June – 28th of August

Monday – Saturday 9.30 am – 4.30 pm

Arts for All (CitySide Retail Park) Belfast

16th February 2023
"Chasing the buzz, the fun, the magic"

Don’t miss our Open Arts Community Choir Taster Nights on Monday 20th & 27th February

Do you like singing and meeting new people? We are looking for new singers to join the Open Arts Community Choir!

We will be holding auditions on the evening of Monday 6th March, if you are interested in auditioning we invite you to attend one or both of our taster nights on:

Monday 20th & 27th February, 7-9pm  

Divis Community Centre, Ardmoulin St, Belfast BT12 4RT

We are particularly keen for disabled people to join and you can read about our commitment to your access.

No musical knowledge is required and it will be the perfect opportunity to meet the choir and get a taste of our repertoire!

 

Not convinced yet? 

We asked choir member, Jolene Flynn to tell us about her experience with the choir and how it positively impacted her life.   

Jolene says:

I discovered the Open Arts Community Choir while attending an event at my local library in Antrim and I know that was the right one for me.

What I enjoy the most about the choir is the company and how it gives me the opportunity to get out and meet people. I also love performing and learning all the music. 

Being part of the choir has made me more confident, helped me to believe in myself, and have the confidence to do things that I wouldn’t have done previously like doing a ‘Stars in Their Eyes’ charity event as Kate Bush or writing a poem about the choir that was published in Open Arts’ anthology, ‘Words out.’

I also loved performing as one of the princesses in ‘The Spellbound Boy’ an Open Arts adaptation of Ravel’s opera, ‘L’enfant et les sortilege.’

Performing in an opera was an absolute dream of mine! I never in a million years thought I would sing in one, wearing an amazing costume! It was a great experience, all thanks to Open Arts.

If you’re looking for a place where you can just be you, somewhere where you’re not just a mum or an employee, something just for you to enjoy and feel a sense of pride and really fulfilled, something exciting with beautiful, fun music then Open Arts Community Choir is the right place for you!

To register for one or both taster nights and for more information please contact Bev McGeown, Musical Director, bev@openartsni.org

You did it!

by Jolene Flynn 

 

A darkened room.

A blinding spotlight.

No faces, only figures.

You step out onto the stage

Taking a breath to calm your heartbeat.

Again you take another breath, this time to calm.

 

In the silence before the music begins:

You know this, you can do this, you have practised.

It’s muscle memory now.

You take another breath and begin.

In through your nose out through your mouth.

 

You feel the energy in the room.

The electric energy, the rush,

The pull that makes this moment so special.

The draw that makes you keep bringing yourself

Back to this medium.

 

You did it and you will do it again.

Chasing the buzz, the fun, the magic,

The excitement, the adrenaline, the atmosphere.

In this moment you are free.

In this moment you can shine.

You did it and it feels amazing.

 

from Words Out (2022)

An anthology of work from Open Arts’ participants, a very limited number of copies available from Crescent Arts Centre.

Picture of Open Arts community choir member Jolene Flynn. She has shoulder length blonde hair and is wearing a black top and purple scarf. She has sparkly gold eyeshadow.

14th February 2023
Our new Blog is live!

A monthly space where we will showcase our participants’ work but  talk about arts and disability, disability equality,  representation, disability rights, ableism, and much more.

Check out our first post where powerchair dancer and Luminous Soul member Cinzia Savonitti shares her thoughts on the ableist backlash to the news that Strictly Come Dancing intends to cast a wheelchair user celebrity for this year’s series.

Strictly speaking, every body can dance!