Sean Lee – coaching curation

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 for our new online 5 day intensive 19th – 23rd October 2020. Applications close on the 29th September.

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