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A 50 Person Zoom Disco

2nd November 2020

Laura Aldridge & Leanne Ross Artist, KMAdotcom

KMAdotcom is a working art studio that describes itself as a space of originality, collaboration and imagination. It’s an artist collective, where artists with and without learning disabilities can develop their own creative practices. They make work for themselves, each other, for their local community and for contemporary art audiences.

Glasgow artist Laura Aldridge said: "Creativity is fundamentally important to us all. It's about creating the space to communicate ideas and find your voice, it's really empowering.

"People with learning disabilities often have less choice or are more reliant on others to make things happen . So, to have the freedom to be creative , to express ourselves in very different ways, is really great for all of us."

For artist, Leanne Ross, the Dalkeith studio in Scotland has become a lifeline. Prior to the pandemic, Laura was working with Leanne on an exhibition for the Glasgow International festival, until it was cancelled. But, the pair continued to collaborate.

“We've all learnt that although virtual interaction doesn't replace being together in person , we now know that if someone can't come to the workshop, we can still keep working together,” says Laura. “In the past, nothing happened if people couldn't come to a workshop but now we just turn on an app and everyone can see each other.

For Leanne, lockdown would have been six months of shielding, being in the house and not being able to do the things she normally would. “She’d be lost if she didn’t have this, she wouldn’t be doing anything, or seeing anyone” says mum, Liz.

“Life just shrunk and at the start of lockdown, it was really frightening, especially when it’s harder to understand what lockdown is and you can’t go see your friends But being able to work virtually has given all of us new enthusiasm.” says Laura

"The Monday and Friday art sessions have become a big part of Leanne’s week. It's all about keeping friendships going and whilst we've not been able to do quite the same work we might have done in the studio, we've all stayed in touch virtually, had the odd garden workshop with a bit of singing and dancing."

"Leanne loves to chat and show us her work when we meet up on Mondays. Together, Laura and Leanne have created a colouring book to keep people occupied during lockdown. Leanne has also been commissioned by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Trust to brighten up their Rest and Relaxation Hubs across the Glasgow and Greater Clyde area with her beautiful ‘shout out’ art works.

Leanne’s ‘shout outs’ stem from her conversations about what’s happened that week, or things that she says are important to say. Leanne says ‘I like it, I like painting and my artist friends - it’s good - Good Mondays”.

Another positive is the chance to get to know people in a whole different way. "We've met families, and carers – and understanding these different circles of support around an individual means you're getting to see a clearer picture of the person and what interests them. This has allowed us to introduce new ideas based on what we are learning about each other, hence the singing and dancing in the garden.

Mum Liz says ‘She loves her artists, it’s her best day when there’s a session. When they were making artwork outside, the neighbours told me they loved watching them dance in the garden. Even people driving past love it”

"Probably the best thing that's come out of coronavirus, its that we have got to know each other better and we’ve been able to stay working together. For a lot of people, things just stopped and that was it. To stay connected has been really important. We even organised a zoom disco for all the studio artists and their friends and had about 50 people on screen at one point!, everyone that came said it was great to see lots of people all together. It was the perfect tonic to the isolation of lockdown. Everyone was dancing in their own homes, in their bedrooms and living rooms , we had different sound effects like air horns and disco whistles, it was great fun."

"People joined in on their own terms, – one person switched the camera on and just sat at the end of the bed and ate a cookie, while others kitted out their whole living room like a disco with flashing lights and backdrops.

It felt like you were really part of something bigger that was based on pure enjoyment. .

“As much as we want to be back in the studio, we now understand that there are many ways to reach each other. We will always find a way to work together."

KMAdotcom is just one of the many causes that are supported by players of The National Lottery who raise £30 million per week and for Laura, it is the “support that enables us to keep going, whether it's in a virtual or physical space,” says Laura. “We provide space, where art is used to provide exciting ways to communicate and collaborate with each other , which is really important and something we need protect.”