Jo Tolley: Mansions of the Future – Dispelling the myth that one size fits all

Jo Tolley is one of The Lincolnite’s first generation Community Voices columnists. She describes herself as a ‘curious curtain twitcher’ and a budding freelance writer. She believes that everyone has a right to have their voices heard. “It’s my life’s goal to make a real difference and show that people can achieve their dreams, regardless of their situation.” Jo has Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy and believes that the arts provide freedom and independence for all.

“We’re proud that such a diversity of local people feel welcome in the space and in engaging with our programme.” Kerry Campbell: Artistic Director, Mansions of the Future.

As a writer, I see the daily impact the arts has on disabled people. I surround myself with likeminded individuals who accept my scatty, unconventional brain which runs at a million miles per hour, irrespective of my wheels. Through my fellow creatives of Lincoln, I have discovered the way to fit in is to stand out – even if you can’t stand. And so, it baffles me that the statistics aren’t reflecting this. According to Scope, of the 13.9 million disabled people in the UK, only 3.7 million are in work. Couple this with the research carried out by Arts Council England, which states a mere 4% of that figure work within National Portfolio Organisations, and questions have to be asked as to why.

My first experience of Mansions of the Future came shortly after I made the decision to ditch my ten-year quarter-life crisis to go in search of my authentic self. A ball of anxiety and uncertainty: I sat in the back of a Coffee, Cake, Meet and Greet session, in the hope that no one would notice the imposter in the room. Everyone seemed so proud of their imperfections; so willing to discuss the vulnerability of their struggles. Something about the cultural hub made it okay to dance in the rain, the sun and the snow.

I have since fallen in love with Mansions of the Future’s interdisciplinary programme. It has something for everyone. Whether it be exhibitions, talks, workshops, communal lunches, public art projects or events; the team work tirelessly to maintain a culture centring around artists and citizens.

The Takeover Programme, which enables locals to cultivate their own initiatives, has seen over 70 regular groups using the free space. With thanks to the designs of inaugural artist, Kathrin Böhm, the ground floor is fully accessible, meaning disability inclusion is a key component to its success. From the perspective of an advocate for the disabled community, I am inspired by the integration the project has been able to achieve in its three-year lifespan. Without a doubt, this is a result of the team’s ethos to welcome and nurture the diversity already existing in Lincoln.

Mansions of the Future is entering its final months, which leaves us wondering where we’ll find the level of connection it’s offered to so many. What’s certain though, is it has made its mark within the city. It has offered a space where disabled people are valued, yet their disability is imperceptible. In providing a platform for different disciplines to meet, Mansions of the Future has led by example: To drive in your own lane whilst encouraging and applauding others who do the same.

I don’t claim to be an expert, but from my lived experience of disability, there seems to be an overarching notion that disabled people have to fit in a disability-shaped box. ‘You can’t be an artist because you can’t dance or hold a paintbrush’. In reality, it doesn’t work that way. Humanity is multifaceted: we are not defined by any one thing. By funding projects akin to Mansions of the Future, we dispel that myth. If more people living with a disability had the opportunity to engage with their creative culture, then perhaps the 4% statistic would be significantly higher.

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