Last week was national storytelling week. To tie in with this we explored the theme of heritage across all of our core classes. In particular, we focused on disability history.
In Katrina’s class (pictured), the dancers explored the challenges and celebrations of learning disabled people transitioning from living in institutions and asylums back into communities.
Up until the late 1990’s, there were still many learning disabled people living in institutes and asylums in Scotland, because alternatives had not yet been developed for those still living there. In Scotland, only 30 years ago, there were “4,817 children and adults with learning disabilities living in ‘mental handicap’ hospitals…despite the fact that, by this date, most ‘mental handicap’ hospitals had a policy of non admission of children.” (Scottish Consortium for Learning Disability, The National Confidential Forum Report, 2014)
Attitudes to this practise began to change in the 1960’s with public recognition of it’s problematic and reclusive nature. However, it wasn’t until the NHS and Community Care Act (1990) came into place that legislation changed and public resources started to become available which enabled authorities to put measures in place and to start transitioning people back into communities.
Karen Anderson, Artistic Director of Indepen-dance, remembers working with Artlink Edinburgh in Gogarburn Hospital in the late 1990’s, during it’s closure and transitional phase.
“Myself, Janice Parker and Rosina Bonsu were brought in as freelance artists with Artlink to use dance as a way of assisting people in confronting and preparing for their transition into the community. It was a grand building and had the feel of communal living, with a shop and beautiful creative space where they participated in dancing, music and art. Some people were accommodated in locked wards. There were some horrific stories. Some ‘patients’ found the transition too difficult and some even died from shock of the traumatic change. However, many did build new lives within their communities and Artlink in particular was invaluable at this stage, they created a lot of positive opportunities for people to be involved in creative projects. Artlink were a huge inspiration to me in the founding of Indepen-dance.”
This is a testament to the necessity and value of the arts. Creativity is universal and inclusive and has the potential to influence and enrich lives, particularly in terms of wellbeing during times of change and challenge. Thankfully for us in Scotland (not the case everywhere), nowadays asylums and live in hospitals for learning disabled people do not exist and our participants enjoyed exploring this subject in the class last week. Indepen-dance is committed to advocating for the rights of learning disabled people in particular, and although things have progressed there are still many barriers and challenges to be faced. We work to promote a diverse and inclusive society, which is not only enriching but is the foundation of a more sustainable future for everyone, in the dance field and beyond.