A free digital arts festival featuring the work of learning disabled people - so often excluded from the creative and social benefits of digital technology - is taking place in the West Sussex town of Horsham this summer [10-12 July, 2015].
SprungDigi Festival is the first of its kind and will feature digital interactive artworks using music, film, mapping, gaming and performance dotted around the town centre, all created by learning disabled groups from the area.
A highlight of the programme is Relix, a video game with an autistic character, based on one of the Sprungdigi Crew created in partnership with games producer Creative Assembly.
SprungDigi is the brainchild of Diversity Arts Specialist and Digital Producer, Sarah Pickthall, who having worked with disabled people for decades began to notice the impact of social care cuts on learning disabled people’s lives.
“I noticed how some of the learning disabled people I worked with were becoming more withdrawn and their language and communication was suffering,’”says Sarah.
“By partnering with digital creatives at the top of their field, such as Dave Packer, Lynn Weddle and Exploring Senses, learning disabled people are finding new ways to express themselves in ways that surprise, delight and sometimes frustrate them.’”
At the heart of this approach is the desire to use digital technology to help learning disabled people feel more connected to the communities in which they live. SprungDigi participants are offered social media training to support them to share what they do with confidence, creating new networks and developing a more active social life with an emphasis on safety.
SprungDigi Festival is the culmination of months of creative workshops involving local groups of learning disabled people from a variety of settings, including schools, day centres and clubs.
The work includes filmed living portraits of local learning disabled people projected onto buildings in central locations, digital street theatre featuring young learning disabled performers, a game of dares played around town using a festival mapping app on a mobile or tablet, and a workshop in which participants can create their own digitised dream Horsham open to all across the festival.
Designed as a showcase of the creative and developmental possibilities offered by digital, its organisers hope more learning disabled people – and ultimately those who support them too – will be inspired to see the benefits digital technology could bring to their lives.
Nick Jenkins, Community Development Officer from Horsham District Council, which is supporting SprungDigi, says: “This is about offering learning disabled people the same social and creative freedoms as everyone else, with an emphasis on positive integration and safe autonomy.
“We want everyone in our community to feel safe and valued and we’ve long seen the benefits of using arts and creativity to achieve that.
“We’re using the festival as a springboard for a scheme – Sprungdigi Safe that involves everyone taking responsibility for learning disabled people’s safety and inclusion; training local businesses to support learning disabled people and become safe havens where they know they will be welcome and understood.”
Sarah Pickthall hopes SprungDigi will help offer a model whereby society can move towards greater integration and equality between disabled and non-disabled people.
‘Everyone has the right to a creative life, everyone has the right to be part of a community and no one should feel excluded from the digital revolution happening around us,’ she says.
‘Without support and encouragement to take part, learning disabled people risk being left behind and becoming even more socially isolated in this climate of austerity.’
For a full SprungDigi Festival programme, please visit: www.sprungdigi.com
Pictured are SprungDigi Participants from QEII School in Horsham.
Report contributed by Chloë Barker. Photo Stephen Candy.