Category: Sync Coaching

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….

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.

A hand holds a glass sphere with a tree seen through it.
Photograph by Mark Pickthall

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies growth and freedom 

Hetty Einzig

Volatility

We are living through daily uncertainty, awash with challenges and the best and worst of our behaviours as human beings. Yet volatility gives rise to possibility. So how do we harness the heat of these uncertain times? Coaching is one way to tap into disturbance and disquiet within ourselves, seeing, feeling and reflecting on the possibilities, that changing our tack might bring. Meg Wheatley has more to say about the power of reflection and paradox questions here

Coaching and Bias

Coaching is a space for us to take time to think and reflect in relationship with another. Through absolute attention and questioning from the coach, the coachee is able shape new possibilities, challenging the default patterns that may not be serving them well.

So what are these patterns? We know as human beings we are very quick to react and that responding quickly to what happens is a natural part of how we defend ourselves at times of threat – but it’s not always a good strategy.

These well-trodden paths can also be about our beliefs and assumptions, ‘perceptual snapshots’ as Deepak Chopra calls them, and may be biased.

Bias is something we all have. To say that we are unbiased would be untrue, because bias is built from when we are young and not in control of how our life is shaping around us. As a result, however much we think that we don’t judge or discriminate, this simply isn’t the case. We may be negatively biased about what we ourselves feel we can, and cannot do, as Deaf and disabled people. We need to deal with this, but how?

Study and Practice

Every time our awareness is raised about the bias we have or the privilege we hold is an opportunity. These things are nothing but a mark in sand unless we look in the face of our bias and change our behaviours; to completely reshape the beach beyond the ebb and flow of tides.

To do this we need to take time to study and reflect upon the history informing our present lives; to see clearly the bias we hold and then be the change at every turn, asking ourselves – who is not in the room and whose voice is not being heard?

We can do this when we gather together and work things through in collective inquiry in a way that welds together our diverse lived experiences and differences of opinion.

Renewal and the New

At the still point of the turning world…..there the dance is.

 T S Elliot

Many of those who have joined us on the Sync programme have benefited from Sync’s blend of leadership, coaching and collective working for what it has revealed.

For instance, Sofya Gollan from Australia shed her skin through Sync, saying no to the discrimination she faced as a deaf woman in film and yes to different routes into getting to the position of power she now holds. And Won Young Kim from Seoul, who said ‘why not?’ to combining his legal career with a dance and theatre practice, reshaping ideas of kindness, beauty and form in South Korea.

Sync is dedicated to tapping into the leadership possibilities for Deaf and disabled people in arts, culture and beyond, unleashing this untapped potential for change.