Julia McGhee Imaginate at The Work Room

By Julia McGhee on 18.01.18

Over the last year I have been leading a project in collaboration with Quee MacArthur, Robbie Synge and a group of young people who have learning disabilities.  The project has been funded through a bursary I received from Janice Parker Projects and the Saltire Society, and it has been taking place in Easter Ross, where I live and work as a dance artist.  It’s called Interactive Experiments and it began with the idea of creating an interactive performance for young people with learning disabilities.  It began as an open invitation to young people who attend SOAR playscheme – a holiday club in Easter Ross for 5-18 year olds with disabilities - to meet with myself, Quee and Robbie to play music and move together, sometimes interacting with materials and experimenting with lighting. 

 See Interactive Experiments Video

 Over several workshops throughout the course of the year we’ve got to know each of the young people and their interests, we’ve met their families and some have joined us in our ‘experiments’.  We’ve spent time and made friendships together and experienced the loss of one of our group.  Through these experiences I’ve come to realise that it is the young people who really interest me – and their potential for creating art.


Securing the Imaginate at The Work Room residency in October gave me the opportunity to reflect on all this and has caused a real shift in the way that I think about this project and my ambitions for what it can achieve.  The week’s residency was planned as a time to reflect, to review, to invite other artists into the studio to experience the ideas we had been working with and gain their insight into what had been achieved so far.  I am very grateful to Amy, Julie, Sean and Ruth from Indepen-dance, Caroline Bowditch, Penny Chivas, and Luke Pell and Katie Miller from Janice Parker Projects for their enthusiastic and generous support. 


Following the chance to participate in Interactive Experiments and watching some film footage from our workshops, we asked our guests what stood out for them about the project:

“The emphasis on autonomy and young people having the artistic decision making”, Amy Stevenson, Indepen-dance


“I was really interested in how much freedom comes when there are less rules.  I was really excited by the lack of words and also that there wasn’t a correction of behaviour by you.  That it actually is a place for play, not a place for being appropriate or getting it right. ” Caroline Bowditch


Inviting these other artists to join us in the studio, underlined the importance of being able to articulate the project and its values clearly.  I knew that this was something I lacked confidence in doing and that I needed help with. When Luke Pell visited us on Tuesday afternoon, he led myself, Quee and Robbie through a process called personal cosmology - a series of exercises about articulating artistic practice.  This was extremely useful in helping me to find the words to explain what Interactive Experiments has become and what its core values are:


Luke’s interview with Julia 


By the end of the week, we’d drawn up a mission statement for Interactive Experiments:


·         To work creatively and collaboratively with young people to create beautiful, exciting, high quality works of art.

·         To create an environment for young people to have artistic voice and means of expression.

·         To use minimal instruction and offer opportunities for decision-making and choice.  

·         To be led by the young people, to be ready and open to receive their ideas.

·         To invite other artists to the Highlands to be inspired by young people in Easter Ross.


My ambition for Interactive Experiments is to create an artist collective made up of young people and visiting artists that is supported by an organizational structure.  Through discussions with Anita from The Work Room, Noel and Fiona from Imaginate, possible routes were identified in how to take this forward from seeking out organisations to collaborate with to secure funding, to setting up a limited company and aiming for charitable status in the future.  What is certain is that as an individual artist, I have faced a number of challenges in developing this project so far and feel a very great responsibility to everyone involved to keep it going.  My next step is to find the necessary support networks to enable it to grow and achieve its ambitions, whilst continuing to sustain my connections and work with the young people.  I am hugely grateful to Imaginate and The Work Room for their support in helping to make this happen.




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