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Colin Hambrook visited Art + Power to find out about their work

At the beginning of 2005 I had the pleasure to visit an exhibition of painting, drawing and poetry by Art + Power in Faith House, Holton Lee. Art + Power are a learning disability group based in Bristol. At the time I was particularly drawn to a poem by Brenda Cook called the Fire Artist It sums up an essential feeling that perhaps most visual artists - and especially painters - must have to get to grips with. I say that because I think painting, of all the visual arts, demands a personal exposure of who and what you are, as a human being.

Art + Power have an ethos which focuses on the artistic strengths of their members. The group are in control of the process and the ideas they generate are collaborative efforts. It takes motivation and dedication to create a body of work for exhibition, or a play for performance. You may be lucky and get some rewarding comments from people who like your work. Or even, if you're really fortunate, as well as talented, you might sell something, get a bursary or win a prize. Mostly that doesn't happen. And so you have to concentrate on what it is that makes you want to go on producing work in the first place.

Art + Power artists have a strong sense of what they want to achieve. Marketing is one of the key areas where the members take control of the direction the organisation is heading. They share and record ideas about how to get their work out into the world. Their work isn't about creating something worthy, which will make people feel sorry for them. Instead they are about creating work from a uniquely professional approach. And they have some great ideas about how to get their work noticed.

Art + Power are also collaborating with Bristol City museum and Art gallery to create a training program for their artists to become stewards in a forthcoming exhibition in the gallery. The idea is to create better access by giving the trainees the opportunity to describe to the public what the works on show are about.

See Art + Power's Gallery
A poster highlighting how small text is inaccessibe information

Actor training course

During my visit I sat in on an Actor training Stage 2 script writing session. The group are working towards devising a play for performance early next year. Angie, the course leader, took the group through their paces, looking at where emotion is located in the body. Using a variety of techniques they explored how the body moves and expresses itself.

And how you recognise the different emotions that are being expressed. I asked the group what inspired them about the work they do with Art + Power. They talked about how acting gave them a positive sense of who they are. One participant said it helped her come to terms with upsetting real-life situations.

Because the ideas for performance come from the group, it means they are focussed on the power that they have as individuals - and how they can make changes that better affect not only their lives, but those of other disabled people.

Paddy Masefield Award

In partnership with the Arnolfini and Paddy Masefield, Art + Power are involved with helping to coordinate the Paddy Masefield Award, now in its third year. The award offers £1,000, an exhibition and some creative professional mentoring for the winner. It is a unique award celebrating the talents, vision and images of people with learning difficulties, who are among the most disregarded and disrespected people in the country.

To find out more about the work of Art + Power visit their website at or contact them at:

St Werburghs Community Centre, Horley Road, Bristol BS2 9TJ
Tel: 0117 9089859
Fax: 0117 9089861
Minicom: 0117 9089860

Art + Ride

For the Art + Ride Programme, Art + Power artists have created a unique series of four posters, currently on view on billboards around Bristol's city centre.

The posters challenge what advertisers and designers sacrifice in communication, when presenting inaccessible information. And it's a great way of getting artwork by artists in the group out in the public arena - to show what they can do.

See Art + Power's posters in their Gallery...