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  • Writer's pictureTzipporah Johnston

A Bit More About the Origins of Neuk Collective

As many of you know already, earlier this year I received a small grant from Creative Scotland’s Create:Inclusion funding stream to do a project around increasing inclusion of neurodivergent (ND) artists. I’ve had people ask me for more explanation of the project, its aims, and where it’s coming from, so I wanted to write a bit more about it here.

The kernel of the project is my own experience of struggling to get into the arts. The typical advice that early career artists get is to get yourself out there, start networking and somehow gradually, you will get known. But as autistic person suffering with depression and an anxiety disorder, you might as well tell me to flap my arms and fly around the room with my work. I wanted to explore if there could be alternative ways for a neurodivergent artist to make a career, so I fired off an application to Create:Inclusion, and to my astonishment, they said yes.

The C:I funds were to recruit and set up an artists’ collective, write a manifesto, and hold an exhibition of members’ work. In the art world, the term manifesto can mean just about anything – a political or aesthetic polemic, a set of guidelines, even a collection of work on a theme – so let’s start there. When I say I’m writing a manifesto, what I am imagining is a set of pragmatic guidelines, a list of ideas for how galleries, organisations, and neurotypical artists can engage with neurodivergent artists and bring them in to their work. I don’t see it as overtly political or partisan, and in fact I have consciously avoided thinking of it in terms of left or right – I hope that it will have something useful to offer artists and commissioners regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum. By focusing more narrowly on the practical challenges of working as neurodivergent artists, I hope we can create a manifesto that can be of real, practical use in opening discussions between neurodivergent artists and the people that want to work with us. At the time I was putting this project together, it felt like something that was really needed, though fabulous work is happening at the moment in various quarters. I recruited under the working title of the Neurodivergent Artists Network Project. This was partly because I wanted something general so that the eventual collective to be able to choose our own name together. It was also because one of my hopes for this project was that it would, in a modest way, help to contribute to a broader neurodivergent art community. I thought that having one new neurodivergent artists collective might encourage others, and that ultimately that would help to foster a more connected and active community of neurodivergent artists in Scotland. I also hoped that though the initial project is a very small one, over time it could grow and develop into a loose Scotland-wide professional network (note: not a representative body) where information and opportunities are shared. I’ve always felt that one of the issues we face is that a lot of us are labouring away in isolation, and it’s hard to find people to collaborate with or even find all the opportunities that are out there. The art world is very social, and that makes it really challenging for many of us to access the same opportunities that neurotypical artists can. A professional network could connect ND artists with one another and allow them to make connections and set up their own joint projects – finding a way of bringing each other some of the benefits that other artists get from conventional networking. This is obviously a long way off – something that could develop out of the project, rather than being in the project itself – but there’s no harm in dreaming. There are a few things that the project is not about, or is not able to do. It’s not a polemic – the focus is resolutely practical, the goal to help create opportunities for ND artists, not embrace any particular political theory. It also won’t address every facet of ND experience. The issues that ND people face are various and complex and we can’t possibly address them all. So issues like access to diagnosis, schooling, mental health services, or broader economic or demographic inequalities, while important, won’t form part of our remit. We are also not a representative body – we represent no one but ourselves. We are seeking counsel from other artists – via our surveys and events – but fundamentally we are presenting our own opinions, based on our research and experiences. We are also not saying that the collective has somehow created a wider ND community just by existing, only that we hope its work, once completed, can be one of the baby steps towards such a community.

I think it’s also important to state that the manifesto we produce will not be definitive – there is no such thing. A different group of artists with different priorities would produce a different document – and that is ok. We have no pretensions to being the “official” voice of neurodivergent artists, and I don’t believe there can be such a thing. Rather, over time I hope for the emergence of many groups with many different voices. We were not set up with the aim of advising Creative Scotland or other national bodies (if Creative Scotland wanted an advisory body on neurodiversity, they would have established something with rather more clout and funding than a tiny collective set up by very-early-career artist who has never been funded for anything before). The Create:Inclusion fund was set up to support early career artists from underrepresented groups to develop their careers. I’m enormously grateful that they took a chance on me and my idea. But it’s a small amount of money for a small project.

We’re beginning to receive survey responses from the wider community, so thank you to everyone who has taken the time to share their thoughts. If you haven’t signed up for the events and would like to, they can be booked here. I think it will be really nice to have a room full of neurodivergent artists talking about their experiences and making connections, and I’m looking forward to seeing how those shape our thoughts as we progress to the next stage.

Image shows the word Neuk surrounded by a jade green abstract blob shape
Neuk banner logo, designed by Max Alexander and adapted by Robyn Benson

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