Category: Think Sync

Connor sits in front of a spiked light glowing white with his head turned upward and arms by his sides. His shadow is cast against the wall behind. He wears a simple blue acid-dyed short sleeve shirt
A photo of Connor from Nextfest 2020 online performance.

On February 9, 2021, around 6 p.m., I was lying on the couch half-asleep and on my third episode of Disenchanted when I suddenly bolted upright, aghast.

A few hours previously, I had walked into my workplace of nearly 11 years and handed in my notice of resignation. It was the end of my full-time job, the end of benefits and discounts and stock options and free lunches. I had given up all of it – during a pandemic – and it was just hitting me. Much like Disenchanted’s Princess Tiabeanie, I was setting out in search of better futures despite the advice of so many to stay with what was comfortable, reliable, and known.

Had I gone mad? Part of me was already thinking about how I could walk this back – “He was in a fugue state, your Honour,” – but a few minutes later my heart stopped pounding and I had reminded myself of all the reasons I’d left. I was fortunate enough to receive some student and arts grants to pay the bills for the next few months, plus have a small freelance contract for communications work, and a few one- off consulting and acting engagements. In just a couple of months I would be starting a practicum to cap off my public relations diploma, after which I’d hopefully secure a job in the arts sector. It was simply time. But why now in particular?

What I had just done was lead with my heart. This had been a long time coming.

So long, in fact, that I can trace it all the way back to the first day of my final year of high school when I stubbornly sat in the vice-principal’s office. That morning, I and my class had realized there was no ASL interpreter booked. At all. For an entire year before I was supposed to start university. I was the sole Deaf student in the mainstream school, but most of my peers cared very much about what this meant for me. I had slowly risen from my classroom seat, taken a notebook and a pen, and walked down to the office where I sat and refused to leave until the vice-principal made specific promises to fix the situation.

That was my first real moment of self-advocacy – my parents didn’t even know until I got home that evening – and also my first run-in with a blunt truth:

Some people simply won’t have your best interests at heart.

This isn’t to imply that my “vice-principals” at Apple – the managers – didn’t care about me. They certainly did, but just as that sweating school administrator had been bound up in the hectic rush of school year prep, so my managers were bound up by the relentless push of corporate-retail work. This seems par for the course in most industries. Even the arts can fall victim to a numbers-driven cycle of cultural input and output.

I believe that managers and administrators should continue to be responsible for everyday accountability. We need that if we want to make any coherent progess as a society. However, I understand now that leaders are and must be different.

Leaders must be responsible for the longer arcs of accountability. They must be the heart-driven custodians of the beliefs and values that shape an environment and influence the amorphous formations of identity, motivation, and even trauma.

Our workplaces and institutions conflate management and leadership far too often. Perhaps there’s no way around the nature of consumerism, seeing how it is so deeply tied to the idea of capitalistic labour where inclusion is only valued for its productive output rather than its intrinsic humanity. Perhaps I’m calling for a revival of the town philosopher as a paid position on the executive board. But is that really such an outrageous suggestion in our information economy where we constantly bring in consultants to make sense of our scattered human movements?

That’s where I come in. The idea of a Deaf consultant is fairly new and still mostly contained to the arts sector where there are many efforts to meaningfully re- engage intersections of experience and marginalization in equitable ways. I believe there is a role for the Deaf consultant in the boardrooms of organizations that are looking toward sustainable ways of doing business: sustainable in the sense of treating each human body and internal world just as preciously as each of the million trees being planted or cubic metres of water being conserved.

We, the ones who so often witness and feel the death of empathy, are exceptionally well-suited to revive it.

I hope that my reflections on leading with the heart have been enough to nudge a few key decision-makers out there to shift gears, or at least inspire a new conversation at the next team meeting.

In this photo there are 4 women taking a group photo together. One is holding a sign that says 'for accessible shops' in French

A photo from 2019 of Charlotte (2nd from the right) with an ally and 2 elected officials from the City of Montreal

“I experienced ableism from Day 2 of the stroke

Charlotte Jacob-Maguire

The core framework of Sync Leadership learning is the 7 Elements and their application in Deaf and disabled leadership.  In a nutshell, the 7 Elements are Choice, Values or Beliefs, Skills or Talents, Passion, Identity, Vision and Purpose.  Developed by the Institute of Human Development, these 7 Elements are a way of understanding self and other’s responses when we spend time online together or in person, through group and 1:1 coaching conversations. 

In a catch-up conversation with recent Sync Quebec alumni, Charlotte Jacob-Maguire our session focused on considering the 7 Elements.  What quickly emerged were Passion, Identity, Vision and Purpose.  We also considered how a life-changing event can alter our life trajectory in a moment.

Purpose is what we were born to do. Corny as it might seem, in our lives we usually land upon something that is an overarching driver for our professional lives.

Passion is of course what inspires and delights us.  It is a state that we can recognise in others when they are speaking about something that really matters to them, both good and bad. 

Identity is who we are, the blend of our experiences, but also the useful or not so useful attributes we have or things we believe about ourselves that might help or hinder our progression.  What parts of our identity come to the fore at any one time?  

Vision is the picture we create of where we are going. A little fuzzy at times when life throws curveballs at us, we can work to clarify our vision through coaching, collective sharing and questioning, even in a time of ambiguity and flux.

For Charlotte, having a stroke shifted things in an instant, and pushed her love of museums and collections into new territory. Her identity shifted too, from someone without impairment to a lived experience of disability and these new facets have forced her her to constantly challenge what she believes about herself and her ‘what next?’.

Ableism had previously been more of an abstract concept.  It was certainly one that she challenged, but this change in her own life has shifted her thinking considerably. In our conversation she made a great distinction between accessibility and ableism, as well as describing the necessary shift she has made in her approach to policy and anti-discriminatory practice which she is enacting with a refreshed sense of purpose.

We’ll be sharing more about the 7 Elements in the next few months as we pool the thinking of our Sync Canada 16 with Sync UK 16 – a brilliant handful of leaders who undertook the Sync Leadership programme when it first emerged in the UK, in the lead up to 2012.

This Spring 2021 Alumni from both sides will connect online in an up-coming webinar where we will consider the individual and collective desire to spread the word that Deaf and disabled leadership is more than a notion, it’s alive and kicking!

Watch this video to see Charlotte talking through the 7 elements with Sarah Pickthall:

This picture is a poster from Maxime D.- Pomerleau's 2013 short film 'Batwheel'. In the picture Maxime is seated in her wheelchair wearing a black and red superhero costume, pointing at the reader with the words 'Batwheel wants you for her army, nearest recruting station' underneath
A poster from Maxime D.-Pomerleau’s 2013 short film ‘Batwheel’

I was able to meet up with Maxime D.- Pomerleau before the end of 2020 to explore her leadership style thinking. This short film shares her delight in discovering, as part of the Sync Programme in Quebec, that leading doesn’t always mean having to lead from the front.

This realisation has had a transformational impact, relieving Maxime of the pressure to be something that she doesn’t always want or need to be in her professional life.

Too often as Deaf and disabled leaders we feel the need to be out there and visible. Whilst we need to be recognised for our skills and talents, and to fight for the access and flex to do this, this doesn’t have to be achieved through strident flag-waving. We can be different things in different situations, following the ebb and flow of our interests, desires and energy.

It’s true that as Deaf and disabled leaders we often find ourselves to be the only disabled person in the room and having to use that opportunity to draw attention to challenge and be activist. With that comes a sense that our very presence can foist unwanted attention upon us in both good and bad ways. We also have choices to not be those things, to move away from feeling obliged.

Maxime spends much of her professional life in performance and media shape-shifting, taking on different roles whether she is part of someone else’s dance ensemble or driving her own ideas to fruition with or without a team following her lead.  She adapts her leadership as appropriate, responding to situations and needs with flexibility.  Very like her creation, Batwheel!

Batwheel is an additional and delicious case in point: she is the super heroine character that Maxime created some years ago.   The tasked crusader still has a dedicated following online and is currently being refreshed and developed for a new set of potential pandemic quests – a super heroine for crips and a leadership force for change in Quebec and beyond! 

What quests will Maxime explore that will enable her to throw light on the increasing barriers in Deaf and disabled people’s lives through this metaphorical character’s gritty endeavours?

Certainly, with and more and more of the population finding new ways to live with blocks and restrictions, Deaf and disabled leadership needs to throw lived experience of shape shifting into the mix? We have after all been on these survival quest for years. And we may just have the solutions.

Watch this video to see Maxime talking through situational leadership with Sarah Pickthall:

a picture of B.Paul Tshuma in a wheelchair, wearing a white shirt, wearing glasses

Listening is being able to be changed by the other person.

Alan Alda
B. Paul Tshuma conducts the choir from his chair in a church setting. There is a band playing instruments behind the choir.
B. Paul Tshuma conducting the United Tribulation Choir

B. Paul Tshuma is a published poet, musician, conductor and public speaker and now, a Sync Canada Alumni. Paul shares how Sync Coaching changed his thinking and his practice and shifted his focus onto the people he works with.

As a former Choir Director of United Tribulation Choir, I had a clear vision of how I would want a piece of music to be shaped and sung. As a motivational speaker or accessibility consultant, I similarly wanted to inspire people to make changes in their thinking and practice by sharing my story.

I used to be of the opinion that leadership needed patience, and that for people to change or improve they needed to practice. As part of Sync Leadership, a focus on coaching threw a different light onto how I might view the people I work with in music, motivation and consultancy. I could see how I tried to bring people round to my way of thinking and doing for a fairer more representative, accessible world.

Imposing my view of how things should be in the world, particularly an artistic vision or adjusting mindsets or architectural design for a fairer society, is one way. But it is very much about my story, what I want to see happen, linked to my values, passions and purpose.

Having spoken many times on a motivational podium and having listened to different speakers, I wondered what impact was I having? We often forget that the people sitting right in front of us may need more in order to make change.

Through Sync Coaching 1:1s and in the wider group, I shifted my perspective.  In particular, through the practice of active listening and letting go of my story, I realised that people need to find their own solutions in response to what I am sharing. This was the way that people would be more actively engaged and therefore more motivated to change.

To do this, they needed to find their own story within a shared performance or piece of collaborative work or public address to enable more change to happen for themselves and for others.

Sync Coaching changed my approach to being a better leader, helping me to know myself better through practicing active listening, and asking, or allowing others to ask me, questions.   Dialogue with the groups and teams I work with had to shift from me being the one who knows how it needs to be, to trusting that others have their own solutions. Using skillful questioning is an important part of my work moving forward, leading to pooling solutions to make for better outcomes.

My goal now is to think about the different messages that I want to convey through music, writing and speaking engagements, and to get curious about people’s relationship to the content through posing questions.  Leadership, I understand now, is about being curious about the other: to know more about my audiences, their experiences, their cultural references and what their stories are, and understanding that what I give to them is a chance to rewrite their own stories in relation to mine.

This feels like a completely different approach and one that is exciting. I am motivated to explore this further and am looking into coach training to develop my skills further so I can listen more deeply to people across everything I do.

When all is said and done, my prayer is that I leave those I work with – musicians, architects or audiences – with something that will allow them to create their own stories in response to my own, allowing them to pursue their own God-given journeys to success. As for me, I’m going to work with poetry to continue questioning whatever I can in the world around me.

Remarkable by Kelsie Acton

A screengrab of Kelsie's embroidery work.
Video: Remarkable by Kelsie Acton

A square white piece of cloth on a brown laminate floor. Words are written in blue marker.

They say:

“But what I find remarkable about (the) disability community is the intention and effort to include all of the people to the fullest extent possible, not just most of the people when convenient.”

“Convenient” is spelt wrong.

The image fades and a view of me embroidering the fabric comes into focus. I’m alternating light green and dark green thread for each letter.

The fabric is now in an embroidery frame and in the centre of the picture. You can’t see my face, just my arms and legs to the right of the embroidery. I’m dressed in dark blue and black with turquoise slippers.

The motion is steady, repetitive, pulling the thread smoothly through and then the needle diving down. A pause as my hand darts behind the fabric and then the needle and the hands reappear and all of this repeats.

This quote (that I am embroidering) was given to me by my dear friend Ash McAskill and is a quote from a paper by Carrie Sandahl. In this paper Sandahl proposes that it is not just disability but impairment itself that is generative and artistic. Impairment reconfigures space and time, opening up new aesthetics and new ways of being in community.

Close ups of three pairs of hand embroidering fill the screen from top to bottom.

If you know how to look you can see my impairment in the embroidery. The letters are not the same size despite my careful attempts to lay out the text. I have run out of room for the word CONVENIENT and it is crammed into the right bottom corner. It occurs to me that this jumble (represents) the beautiful imperfection of disability leadership and disability community.

We do try to include all of the people to the fullest extent possible; sometimes that’s a little awkward and imperfect but we make it work and we learn from this. It takes a long time: hours of repetitive tasks and motions, done with care.

The completed embroidery appears in the centre as my stitching blurs away.  It is simple, plain, revealing nothing of the hours of movement that created it and there is beauty and charm in the lettering that swells and shrinks and just manages to fit itself on(to) the page.

Quote from Carrie Sandahl’s article Considering Disability: Disability’s Phenomenology’s Role in Revolutionizing Theatrical Space in the Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism

Spring 2002

Remarkable by Kelsie Acton

Photo of Ingrid Palmer
3 hands pulling back a garment to reveal a silver and diamond encrusted Chainmail undergarment
A photograph of hands revealing a silver and diamond encrusted Chainmail

“There is a crack in everything: that’s how the light gets in.” 

“Anthem”, Leonard Cohen

This month I had the opportunity to touch base with the wonderful Ingrid Palmer, Sync Ontario Alumni storyteller and active community advocate in housing, child welfare, protection and Black Voices United.   Ingrid has an excellent and growing reputation as a speaker and performer, and she and I spoke about what’s been happening since Sync in June – our first online programme in Ontario.

“Sync has changed things for me, in ways I couldn’t have imagined,” said Ingrid. “Everything I do is about amplifying voices and reclaiming power – my own and others – and doing this publicly.”  And yet, working with the Sync matrix, Ingrid identified networking as an area of weakness. Or, as Ingrid put it so eloquently, “how I simply ‘suck’ at networking!”

The Sync leadership matrix, a model designed with our colleague Mark Wright from People Create Ltd at the inception of Sync, remains a staple part of our Sync Intensive course both face to face and now online.  The matrix allows us to map our leadership confidence and connection with self, our organisations and projects, and our wider constituencies and stakeholders. It can be quite a wake-up call to see reflected back through using the matrix the areas where things need some attention.

What Ingrid identified was the sometimes unnerving mix that she holds within her personality which makes her both an extrovert and an introvert.  The blend of these two traits is sometimes referred to as ambiversion or omniversion.

Jung popularised the terms extraversion (his spelling) and introversion, but he also acknowledged that they did not exist as polarities on a continuum but rather as traits that we all have, though one is likely to be dominant over the other. A challenge for us in our leadership is to identify how we can move towards controlling or shifting these traits within ourselves as part of the self-actualisation process, thus enabling us to step fully into our power and to capitalise on our propensities.

Ingrid shared with us the important role that introversion has played in her leadership development process because it allows her to reconfigure and to rest.  It can also have its drawbacks: “I’m in control when I’m delivering, I relentlessly prepare and when I step out I’m all there, yet the aftermath is when I tend to retreat back into my shell.” 

Since Sync Ingrid has been thinking more on how she might tackle her reluctance to network when she’s not performing or on the podium.  Is there a way of doing this that allows her to extend her influence further and get more of what she wants “I’m not how people imagine me to be. When I step out of the light, I’m a softer shade of myself.”

So how has Ingrid managed to build her confidence and move into the networking space, connecting more effectively with audiences? In part, Zoom has meant she hasn’t had to deal with being in the ‘real’ space and its challenges. Entering that space has, in the past, ended with her facing a wall because she can’t see, with people not telling her that she’s facing the wrong way. This kind of demoralising experience has certainly played a part in her reluctance to step confidently off the stage and into the group.

Ingrid’s leadership metaphor has proved really useful in this respect.  She had identified chainmail, of the beautiful and sparkly sort but nonetheless impregnable, as her metaphor.  Since Sync, she has realised that she doesn’t want to be completely defended: there needs to be a chink in her protective layer to allow her to connect in a reciprocal relationship with her audiences. There’s got to be that gap, that portal that connects, says Ingrid: that chink that “let(s) the magic out.”

Watch this short video to hear more about how working with Sync has enabled Ingrid Palmer to extend more into herself:

Ingrid is a finalist at Speaker Slam – The Grand Slam which takes place from 3-5pm on November 28th 2020. She’ll be wearing her chainmail on the inside, and letting chinks of light out to highlight the opportunities that will be tumbling her way thereafter.

Alex Bulmer wearing black glasses looking upwards to the sky

A needle sat upon a vinyl record - it’s centre decorated with a fuscia pink and orange design.
‘A record album spins around…’

Alex Bulmer joined the Sync Canada Ontario programme this June. An award-winning writer, director, actor and dramaturge and Artistic Director of Common Boots Theatre, co-founder of Cripping the Stage with British Council Toronto, and the Lead Curator of CoMotion 2022, an international Deaf and Disability Arts festival produced by Harbourfront Centre. Alex shares the spin and turn of her leadership metaphor and more besides.


Audio of ”Alex Bulmer: Leadership – The Virtue of Inefficiency

A record album spins round and around as the needle lowers its tiny metal tooth into an imperceptible groove. Metal and vinyl: opposite elements, yet part of a collective whole.

This is my leadership metaphor – a vinyl album in motion delivering a series of artfully-arranged sounds.  On their own the sounds produced by single instruments hold energy (violin/electric guitar) yet somehow together they transcend expectation (orchestra/rock band).

The idea that effective leadership can actually go around in circles intrigues me.  According to the Oxford dictionary, “efficiency” can mean ability, coherence, labour saving, systematic, productive, effective. To me, the word suggests doing more with less, getting quickly from point A to point B, profit, machines….and even sight.

While swimming in a hotel pool in Los Angeles in 1997, I discovered the virtue of inefficiency.  I was on a solo trip from my home city of Toronto, or more accurately, I was giving myself “travel therapy” as an escape from the reality that I was “going blind”. On my first day in L.A. I asked the hotel staff for instructions to the outdoor pool, then used my cane to find it.

After several minutes tapping cement and patio furniture, I felt the end of hard and the beginning of liquid.   I knelt down, and reached with one hand to confirm that in fact I had found water.

Positioning myself at the edge, I lowered my body into the pool.

Once in it, I realized I had no idea of its size, shape, or depth. Reaching out, I felt the pool wall and traced it, swimming round and round for quite some time to comprehend its shape and size.

I discovered

cracks in the concrete

chunks missing, filters

and flaps

I noticed the “slap thwap” of water against the pool edge

it washed into a hollow sound by the ladder

and

a “slap echo thwap”

underneath

the diving board.

Slowly, gradually, through cycles of not knowing to knowing, I came to understand…

the pool shape —

was that

Of

a kidney bean

round at one end and narrow at the other.

I discovered the pool, gathering individual pieces, that, with sight, would have been eclipsed by the whole.

“Going blind” – two words which had, until that moment, suggested loss, a lack of awareness, a falling away.  But there, in that particular bean-shaped LA pool, this “going blind” felt like potential, a becoming – becoming one who circles, a collector of “what’s this”, a perceptual archaeologist.

And so, to circle back to my vinyl metaphor…

It continues to spin…

the metal needle remains connected,

moving along the groove.

Notes, rhythms, phrases, beats of time –

the unexpected, an emergence,

a work of art,

a song.

I am my metaphor. Blindness is a kind of time zone. Perceptual archeology nourishes a sense of meaning and connection. With this, I – and others should thrive. But we live in a “one size fits one” society, designed to streamline most of what we do, to make us “efficient”.

We need to build more liveable futures imagined and designed to enable rather than disable. Being enabled, or having access needs met, should not be a privilege held by some. It must be a shared public value, along with clean water, public health care, electricity and roads.

Imagine a Canada wide access grant to cover personal support workers, interpreters, adaptive technology, direct funding available to those who experience barriers or are at risk of exclusion.

Such a thing exists in other countries. Imagine shifting the politics of “help” toward transactional rather than charitable.

Imagine beyond the assumed….

Une femme blanche avec des cheveux bruns bouclés regarde par-dessus son épaule vers Finn, un chat noir et blanc
A weathered grey signpost with blue skies above, green trees to the right and a path winding off into the distance to the left. The sign pointing left reads ‘Richmond Park and Holly Lodge’, the sign pointing right reads ‘Barnes, London, Roehampton Gate.

Kelsie Action has dual nationality and with the programme delivered virtually for the first time, Kelsie was able to secure one of the 2 places made available to applicants living beyond Ontario from her current base in London, UK.  Kelsie shares the impact that Sync has had in allowing those taking part to rethink unhelpful narratives as an essential and empowering  leadership skill.


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks in her TED talk about the danger of the single story. And while Adichie has fallen into the dangers she describes when it comes to speaking about the stories and lives of trans women, I think the idea of the single story is useful. The single story is when only one story is told about a group of people, and usually told by people outside that group. The danger of the single story is that it limits the ways people can be, and grow to the story.

I think about the dangers of the single story a lot. I think about it in art: that disability arts exists as a corrective to the single story of disability as tragedy and suffering that should be cured or eliminated by medicine. I think about it in access: the idea that access is an ongoing, changing relationship, not a Universal Design that you can get right, and then invest no more effort in. Every part of my work in disability arts and access is about undoing the dangers of the single story.

I think about the dangers of the single story a lot because I find the single story so seductive. It’s so hard to imagine other ways of doing things. And the feeling of rightness, of righteousness, is very compelling. But the single story keeps you stuck in a particular time and place and a particular way of being.

The events of my life this year – leaving Edmonton and moving to London (England) – were about gaining access to a myriad of new structures, models and stories of disability arts. My understanding of how disability arts could exist and could serve disabled people expanded. My understandings of access expanded. I gained new tools and new possibilities to try. New stories.

Sync was a very similar experience. I realized that I had been working with old understandings and an old story of leadership that did not serve me in my old life, does not serve me now, and will not serve me in the future. Sync introduced me to the idea of leadership models. In the past, I thought the only way I could be a leader was through the model of the servant leader. While this leadership model will work for some people, it left me feeling exhausted and like I could not say no to requests that drained me.

Mia Mingus writes about how ableism encourages her to always be “erasing my edges and redrawing them” and how knowing your limits in this world is so very difficult. It is very hard for me know my limits, to know where I should stop. Thinking the way I should be a leader was through endless giving made knowing my limits even more difficult.

Through Sync, I realized there were many, many ways of being a leader and many stories I could tell about myself. I also learned to think critically and compassionately about crafting the stories I am currently telling about myself and my leadership journey. I’m not quite sure what model of leadership I want to inhabit now. I am still crafting the story I am telling about myself. But I know that story can be something that I consciously choose and that can change if it is not serving me.

Learning that there were many stories is the gift disability arts has given me. Learning there are many leadership stories, and that I can change the story, is the gift Sync gave me.

Exploring the single story with Chimanda Ngozi Adichi

Edges

Portrait en buste d’une personne portant une chemise aux couleurs vives et des lunettes

Sean Lee joined the first online Sync cohort in Ontario in May.  They share their experiences of the programme and how they are exploring the qualities and constructs of coaching to impact and empower curators and artists to find their own solutions.  Coaching is an essential part of the Sync programme where participants receive professional 1:1 coaching as part of the programme and learn how to coach as part of their leadership, moving forward.

 A collage made in a Sync Canada session. Logo’s and slogans are cut out from household items, arranged in a collage on a pink hued rug.

This year, I took part in the 2020 Sync Canada Leadership program – a disabled-led program exploring Deaf and disabled leadership with Sarah Pickthall and Jo Verrent. Sync was the kind of disability-led program that I felt had been desperately missing during my academic training and I felt it was of vital importance to my own career trajectory to be able to expense mentorship from other disabled arts leaders.

Of course, it was also during this time that the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible for our cohort to meet in person, and thus we moved to an online platform. My online experience with Sync and the ways the arts ecology has shifted to online, have played a big part in developing and strengthening my perception of the importance of intimacy.

In particular, I continue to come back to the idea of access intimacy as provided by Mia Mingus — as that ‘elusive, hard-to-describe feeling when someone else ‘gets’ your access needs’ — and how this concept might help us understand the nuanced factions of togetherness in a community that has historically been in isolation.

Sync’s shift to online meant the ways a program was accessible suddenly shifted, and they admirably modified the program in a way that allowed our cohort to come together meaningfully in a time when isolation was the norm.

It’s with this frame of mind that I found the Sync Leadership program has helped me to continue exploring how I might think of the intersections of Disability Art and accessible curatorial practices. These ideas are inextricably linked, but one does not imply the other; for example, a disabled artist may not be considering other avenues of access within their work or an accessible exhibition may not include any disabled artist representation.

To realize both is not as straightforward as one might assume. In many ways, when approaching accessible curation as a framework, it may be enriched through coaching, as a way of drawing out the political potential of an artwork rather.

Accessible curation and coaching both involve letting go of the world as we currently know it, and aim to draw out the potential of its engaged party. When I think of accessible curatorial practice – a concept that I believe must come from those with lived experience of disability – I believe the choices we engage are in many ways world building and dismantling.

Rather than adapting disability to fit art, when engaging accessible curation, it is art that has to fit disability. In doing so, engaging disability arts creates a sensation of the political possibilities that nod to new frameworks of gathering and creating community.

But in order to reach this potential, it is the artistic choices of the artists that ultimately drive our movement forwards. It’s here that I feel the ideas of coaching, as applied to frameworks of creative access, can tap into the political potential of disabled artists in ways that allow us to express a sense of interdependence in our worldly arrangements.

In the Sync Leadership program, our cohort of disability artists, curators and arts leaders were given a number of coaching tools that we could apply towards our own practice and I found the idea of a Coaching Cycle formalized many of the ideas that I feel I already practiced in working with artists. The cycle included:

  1. Equality
  2. Letting Go Of Your Map Of The World
  3. Absolute Attention
  4. Curiosity
  5. Open Questions+
  6. Light Bulb Moments

As a curator employing accessible curation, the Coaching Cycle clarifies a structure of working with new and emerging disability artists who are hoping to engage creative access or go beyond “standards of accessibility” in their work.

I feel that many of these elements in the coaching cycle embody a framework of access intimacy, and are about creating trust between the coach and the coachee – a similar dynamic to the curator/artist relationship that I am working towards establishing.

For me, the Sync Leadership program was about instilling in myself a sense of structure in my work – that the underpinning element of successful arts leadership is to allow our passion and identity to drive our purpose. In doing so, our choices would create the gateways towards true access intimacy.

Are you living and working in Quebec, apply to Syncleadership.com for our new online 5 day intensive 19th – 23rd October 2020. Applications close on the 29th September.

Une femme noire avec des cheveux noirs mi-longs fait face à la caméra et porte une robe bleue, une veste en denim et des lunettes. Elle sourit.

Jenelle Rouse has just this month received her doctorate in applied linguistics and has shifted her trajectory in new and exciting ways.  Her Sync Think piece focuses on the courage it has taken for her to move from the shadows into the light in a new tack, she’ll be developing her arts concept Multi-Lens in the months ahead with the learning from Sync.


A manipulated photo of a black woman slightly out of focus. 3 handshapes partially cover her face illustrating different lenses through which her eyes shine through her splayed fingers. A Multi-Lens logo is present.
In-n_Out of Focus (c) alice-lo.com

I have always been fascinated by the word ‘transformation’ and what it takes to transform. I have never been shy of carpe diem, or seizing the day. Yet, still the idea of leaving a known place to embark on a new unknown path up until now has felt frightening. While thinking about the Johari window model, shared with us as part of Sync, my reluctance to tread into unknown territory has meant that I have remained hidden in some aspects of my life. What if I didn’t have the skill or resources to move forward effectively?

With encouragement from a colleague, I applied and secured one of eight places in the new Sync Leadership Canada Programme. I took part in in a week-long, online, intensive session with in-depth coaching one-to-ones. The programme gave me the opportunity to connect with other leaders and facilitators who were like me, who had embraced individuality, and all of us with different ways of working through the siege of medical and societal barriers.

Although there was no in-person interaction amongst us, I felt positivity and a high level of energy. An authentic connection, engagement, openness and encouragement at every single online session. I took a pause and listened to words they used during our discussions through a real-time captioner and American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters. While internalising words, I captured their meaning linking ideas, strategies, models, and metaphors, and that led me to think about my past, present and future.

My experience in the session led me to seriously reflect and delve deep into my desire and dreams. I was figuring out my purpose as a Black Deaf person with many roles, as an artist, educator and scholar. I learned more and more about who I am, the choices I make, and why, and I started to formulate goal-oriented actions to put myself in the best position possible to lead. Whilst listening to each leaders’ story, I looked at other role models in my life as examples of a type of leadership role I want to be – and what mission I have for my arts project, Multi-Lens.

Sync made me feel at ease to share my thoughts naturally in ASL and skill-fully supported me to reveal the hidden areas that I had not allowed myself to tap into – until now. The experience of collaboration, planning, creating and sharing whilst being rewarded with a lot of effective tools inspired me to have courage.

With courage as my friend, I shared a short stop-frame animation I made in response to one of the Sync challenges we were set. The film was an alternative version of a model showing my next steps showing a germinating plant, morphing and moving into something new. My very own transformation leadership journey.

After the intensive week of leadership learning, I realised I will not go on to unknown areas alone. I have a group of incredible, like-minded, and motivated leaders within Sync and outside of Sync too, who will back me up as I go on to grow and make innovatory changes.

My next step is to be comfortable with the idea of publicising Multi-Lens on a regular basis. In doing so, I will regularly post videos and images of ‘sneak peeks’ to guide the public as they become more familiar with the purpose behind the implementation of Multi-Lens.


You can follow Jenelle’s next moves on social media

Instagram: dancer.multi.lens.existence

Facebook: Jenelle Rouse