For over a year Leftwing Idiot and I have been working with the Tate Schools and Teachers team to create We Forgot The Lot!, a huge event for children and young people with Tourettes and associated conditions. It finally happened on Saturday and it was absolutely amazing! I’ve already written an epic thank you post acknowledging all the amazing people who made the day run so smoothly. Today I’m going to concentrate on sharing my own day at We Forgot The Lot!
In The Beginning
I woke up early and finished off a few last minute tasks. Leftwing Idiot came to collect me and after making sure we hadn’t actually forgotten anything, we headed to Tate Britain. We arrived at 8am and along with some key members of the Tate team, had a quick and slightly delirious catch up, before the rest of the staff arrived at 9am.
Leftwing Idiot and I walked through the quiet galleries to make sure everything was ready. Ten artists would soon be leading workshops, and lots of things had been set up for them after the Gallery had closed the night before. The spaces looked amazing and I couldn’t wait for other people to see and enjoy them too.
Back in the briefing-room breakfast was being served to all the staff and volunteers who were arriving to help with the event. After taking a register, the Gallery’s Duty Manager and the Head of Security shared some essential information.
Then it was my turn to tell everyone about Tourettes, the day ahead, and why events like We Forgot The Lot! are important. As well as giving practical information about what would be happening I explained the four key ideas underpinning the event:
Permission to change space to meet individual needs
This was the starting point for the event. As a disabled person I know how important it is to have the confidence to adjust my surroundings to meet my needs when it’s necessary.
Permission to be ourselves in public space
People with Tourettes face many challenges in accessing public spaces, so finding places where we’re welcomed and encouraged to be ourselves can offer a lasting boost in confidence.
Access to Creative and Cultural Opportunities
Many people with Tourettes may be put off going to art galleries by the perception that there are strict behavioural rules and expectations. This event aims to help everyone feel more confident about visiting galleries.
Forming positive memories for the future
Having positive experiences can help children improve their confidence and their resilience, the benefits of which last long after any single event.
When I’d finished and everyone had had a chance to ask questions we all grabbed a yellow We Forgot The Lot! t-shirt and people split into groups to find out more about what was going to happen.
Meanwhile I rushed off with to the Security teams’ briefing. This was brief, business-like and professional. I hadn’t expected it to be so moving. One guard stopped me as I was leaving to tell me how enthusiastic they all were about the event. I felt elated – it demonstrated their genuine and deep-rooted commitment to the day. I left feeling confident they’d recognise and understand any tics the encountered.
There was no time to lose. The gallery was now open and our starting time was fast approaching. Next stop was the Social Space, where families would be able to meet and relax. After a chat with the team there I just had time to do a quick interview with a radio reporter before making sure getting in place to welcome children and brief them on their mission.
And what was their important mission?
‘Go into the galleries, get involved with the artists and help Tate transform to make sure that nothing gets forgotten.’
I made sure they were equipped for their task – everyone got a programme explaining what was happening where, a wristband, and a copy of the Hyperactivity Kit.
Everyone seemed up for the challenge, and I’m fairly sure they followed my instruction to “Leave your donkeys at the door” too.
The Hyperactivity Kit
The Hyperactivity Kit was created by artist Hannah Tait. Its aim was to help people explore and look for the art and also from it. It’s playful and designed to be fiddled with – there are pictures of eyes from six paintings and sculptures, and it invites you to hunt for them in the galleries.
The Way I See It
In a big gallery, its walls covered in paintings from the 1840s, was Adam Walker’s The Way I See It. Three large wooden structures invited visitors to get involved and plan their own tour of the gallery. Each wooden structure was full of stuff to help people record their journeys and there were cameras, walkie-talkies, and maps with acetate on to draw your own route and project it onto a screen.
It was surreal seeing this hub of activity in the middle of such a traditional room. Photocopiers whirred, printers beeped, walkie-talkies buzzed and children chatted as they created their own newspapers and added them to the pile for people to take away and enjoy.
When artist Shaun Doyle had first proposed a silent disco I hadn’t been sure how it would work. But once I’d tried it for myself I knew it would work brilliantly. The Henry Moore gallery was plunged into darkness and spotlights lit up his enormous sculptures. Donning a pair of headphones you could listen to punk music and dance with the sculptures and the shadows they were casting. This was enjoyed by children and adults and prompted some great tweets, like:
@grahamsalisbury What a fantastic idea from @tate: Henry Moore sculptures in the dark. Well almost! #weforgotthelot
One of the most talked about activities was Matt Shaw’s Box Clever. Martin Creed’s Work No. 227, The Lights Going On And Off, became home to 500 cardboard boxes that could be moved, piled, stacked, knocked down and ripped up. Fat Sister described this as ‘A room of pure joy’ and said that the lights going on and off reminded her of naughty children playing with the lights at an anarchic birthday party.
The Gallery Life Project
Longstanding Touretteshero supporters Chris+Keir invited young people to become researchers and investigate some pressing questions like, ‘Where’s the best space to sleep in an art gallery?’ and ‘How many people can you fit inside a doorway?’ The researchers were easy to spot – they wore white lab coats, glasses and were covered in neon stickers!
Let’s Get Together
The children were transforming the Gallery, but they were transforming into the building and the art at the same time. Artist Katie Schwab had prepared wearable costume templates and the kids collected, from different parts of the gallery, fabric that related to the architecture or art. They used this to decorate and customise their templates and make incredible costumes.
I loved seeing a gallery floor covered with fake leopard fur, and I wasn’t the only one: one child told us:
‘I’ve wrapped myself in leopard skin, and I’ve lined my hat and my shoes.’
His mum went on to say…
‘It’s nice that, when my son dives into a whole load of stuff in a corner and wiggles about in it, I don’t need to worry. In fact all that happened was that other kids came and lay down in the fluffy stuff and had a wiggle with him.’
Fat Sister, my friend Laura, and one of the young volunteers all mentioned to me that one of the Gallery Assistants was behaving in a very unusual way. This was Valda, one of two Tate Gallery Visitor Experience assistants who worked with artist Phoebe Davies to create a performance based on their observations of how people look at the art works.
I made sure I went and caught Valda in action – her brilliant performance was subtle, mesmerising and thought-provoking.
Being Tate Britain
Another performance and movement-based piece was Harold Offeh’s Being Tate Britain. Children and young people were encouraged to copy the movements of different sculptures and paintings. As one young person mentioned, some of the poses were more risqué than others:
‘I really liked the activity where you could re-enact the gestures of the paintings. There were some very suggestive poses in there as well which was slightly embarrassing, but brilliant.’
The Trolley Remembers
Roaming through the gallery and setting up camp in different places Jenny Moore and Judith Brockelehurt’s trolley started as simple wood and wheels, but with decoration it became a dramatic, colourful and noisy vehicle. It wended its way around the galleries and caught the attention and imagination of everyone who saw it.
The Social Space
As well as providing loads of creative opportunities the event also gave families a chance to meet and offer each other informal support. People came from all over the country, including as far away as Northumberland, Bradford and the Isle of Wight. Some knew each other already, but for many this was the first time they’d met other people with tics.
This was a lovely light space, away from the public galleries, with sofas, refreshments and biscuits (of course). The wonderful Dr Tara Murphy, from Great Ormond Street Hospital’s Tourettes Clinic, was there as well. She talked about Tourettes and answered loads of questions and was amazingly generous with her time and expertise.
The Social Space was packed with people throughout the day and I’m sure it will have been the location of many new and lasting friendships.
Midway through the day one end of the social space became a photographic studio and a place where people’s new creations could be shown off.
I’ve never felt so calm during an event before, and from my perspective everything felt smooth and relaxed. Lots of parents and carers said how nice it was not to worry too:
‘It’s the first time we’ve been anywhere where we can just truly relax because normally it’s quite stressful – we can just breathe for once.’
‘Today’s been really important because usually with Tourettes it’s not socially acceptable to go somewhere quiet. But to really feel able to is brilliant. I think we shy away from things because we think we can’t do it, but it’s nice to know we can, and to be amongst other people doing it too.’
The Final Event
In the last half hour the activities stopped and everyone headed for The Way I See It. The lights had been dimmed and coloured spotlights lit up a giant screen. A punk track from the Silent Disco blasted out to signal the end of the day.
Ably assisted by our resident sign language interpreter, I set out to discover what everybody had been up to. Children came to the front and shared their experiences on the mic, and we found the answers to the questions that were on everybody’s lips, ‘Had the Tate been transformed?’ and ‘Had the children helped save the day?’ The resounding answer was ‘Yes!’ But had anything been forgotten…..?
There was one thing that no-one had thought of – one thing that every good art gallery needed but that had been forgotten:
But this wasn’t a problem though – boxes of kazoos suddenly appeared and we had enough for everyone. After a triumphant group kazoo, it was time to kazoo home. I went and said goodbye to everyone as they left.
The Clear Up
As people headed home and the Gallery spaces returned to normal the tidy up began. Just as Leftwing Idiot and I were breathing a huge sigh of relief that no priceless artworks had been destroyed, the Duty Manger told us there had been one incident: one statue had had a neon sticker stuck on its bum! Thankfully she seemed very relaxed about this, and said it’d been a funny incident report to write.
It was a wonderful day and I was very proud to be part of the team that made it happen. To our knowledge this is the first time people with Tourettes have ever been invited into an art gallery to transform it in this way.
Events like this are key to making sure museums are accessible and welcoming to people with diverse needs, and to helping build the confidence of children and young people living with challenging conditions.
I hope everyone who was part of today will have left with strong positive memories, and some new friends too. I know how important these things are in helping you keep going when Tourettes is making things tough.
One of the volunteers brilliantly summed up what had taken place when she said ‘We saw the gallery from a completely different perspective and it was truly transformed into “the visitors’ own gallery, the art and building became ours.” Everybody’s creativity emerged!’
I certainly had an amazing and unforgettable day and I hope you’ll share your experiences of We Forgot The Lot! in the comments section below.