Rant 108: Access for all?

Rant 108: Access for all? Katya Robin visiting the Stasi Museum, Berlin

There are still arts venues that don't provide adequate access for all of their visitors. Katya Robin has had enough of their excuses.

In his 2003 acceptance speech Grayson Perry famously said, “It's about time a transvestite potter won the Turner Prize”. It’s about time, in 2014, arts venues took disability access seriously.

They’ve been using the heritage trumps access line for too long. Likewise reasonable adjustments and alternative formats. Access for all should mean just that, not fobbing people off with sham gadgets. 

The installation of Perry’s Vanity of Small Differences tapestries at Temple Newsam House was notable for poor access that smacked of a one size fits all quick fix. Leeds Art Fund defended this.

Venues proclaim how considerate they are and demonstrate their provision of tech gadgets, with little regard for how useful or appropriate they are. These flashy alternatives do not provide a comparable experience to actually seeing the art as intended. It would be better to provide simple physical access.

It is possible to combine heritage, contemporary art, and access without dubious compromise. At Manchester Art Gallery Hiller’s 'Rough Seas' (2010) is shown alongside Turner. Collishaw’s 'Last Meal on Death Row, Texas' (2011) photographs are intermingled with 17th – 18th century Dutch and Flemish still life paintings. Perry’s vase 'Jane Austen in E17' (2009) is surrounded by 18th century portraits: a connection that causes a stir and delight in the gallery.

Presumably this frisson of old and new art is just what was intended for the Leeds installation of the Vanity tapestries.

The façade of access doesn’t mask the exclusion. No amount of zoomable interpretations or downloadable activity packs will make up for not being to get inside to see the art in situ. So don’t be dazzled by what Grayson Perry calls the 'refined entropy' of the faded bling of the old guard.


Contributed by Katya Robin, November 2014

Katya Robin is working on Hexopolis a project about geometric patterns and urban utopias.

She is also developing An Anthology of Catalogue Games as part of the Library Interventions at Leeds College of Art.

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