Category: Uncategorized

Meet the Artist – Elspeth Wilson

We meet Elspeth Wilson – writer, poet, and Neuk Collective member – to talk embodiment, appreciating pop culture, and finding community with other artists.

Hi Elspeth! Could you say a little bit about who you are and what you do?

I’m a writer and poet who writes across non-fiction, fiction and poetry. I’m super interested in hybridity and blurring the lines between different genres. I often find myself coming back to the question of how we live in our bodies and I hope my work can widen the possible answers to that question. I’m really interested in how we make our bodies homes too!

I started out writing nature writing – ever since I was a child, I’ve loved spending time outdoors, exploring, playing and getting to know the world around me. I try to keep that sense of curiosity and playfulness in my work, but I also am very aware that writing about ‘nature’ in an era of climate crisis has a duty to confront that and even to problematise what we think of as ‘nature’. For instance, I’m fascinated in the distinctions we draw between animals we consider ‘wildlife’ and those we consider ‘livestock’. I hope my work can help pick apart some of the euphemistic language we use around other beings and consider different possible futures; I truly believe art – particularly art created by marginalised people – has a crucial role to play in climate justice.

Since I started writing, I’ve written more and more fiction and poetry but both are still very much imbued with a strong sense of nature and place. I’m currently working on my second novel and my debut novel, These Mortal Bodies, is coming out with Simon and Schuster in 2025 which I’m really excited about (as well as a little nervous!).

Pull quote saying: I thoroughly reject the idea of there being things we should and shouldn’t write about or things that are ‘worthy’ of art and poetry and things that are not - Elspeth Wilson

You write about pop culture in your work a lot. Can you say a bit more about that?

Elspeth’s debut poetry collection, Too Hot to Sleep (2023, published by Written Off Publishing)

Absolutely. Pop culture, particularly teen dramas and The Sims, are at the heart of my poetry pamphlet, Too Hot to Sleep. When I was at school, there was definitely an idea of what poetry could be about and it was quite limited and limiting – it made me feel like poetry wasn’t for me. But in my early twenties, writing about games and TV shows that I loved became incredibly important to me – it felt fun and exciting but also cathartic

and like a reclamation. It was a bit like unmasking something – here were these things that I was so invested in, that I loved, that helped me to discover myself and I was able to re-examine all those aspects through writing.

It was also about shedding shame – often as neurodivergent people we can have a special interest in a piece of pop culture or love a certain world so much and find it supportive of our mental health. That’s something I wanted to celebrate; poetry is often about articulating emotions and experiences that can feel hard to describe in any other medium. In poems like ‘In Sims, I WooHoo with a Girl’ I wanted to communicate how euphoric and validating pop culture can be. Although my more recent projects don’t focus as much on pop culture having that kind of poppy, irreverent vibe at the heart of my work will always be so important to me. I thoroughly reject the idea of there being things we should and shouldn’t write about or things that are ‘worthy’ of art and poetry and things that are not.

Pull quote reading: Neuk’s work and being part of the collective has shown me a practical, hopeful vision for what a different art world could be like. - Elspeth Wilson

What drew you to Neuk Collective?

Community is probably the short answer! I’d been feeling quite lonely for a while in the art world because opportunities often felt inaccessible and a lot of things were centred in London. I’d made some really close friends through writing pre-Covid but in lockdown I moved away from where I’d been living previously, and was looking to connect with other artists across a range of mediums as I expanded my practice. I was also just really keen for any information about accessibility and neurodiversity in the arts so when I saw Neuk’s initial research project on neurodivergent artists and their experiences I thought yes! I previously worked as a mixed methods researcher and this kind of research felt so sorely missing – I knew I’d found a special space.

What impact has being part of the collective had for you?

Being part of the collective has been hugely important for me in terms of community and confidence. It’s enabled me to develop new skills through paid work and make new connections with lots of really interesting people. Perhaps one of the most important things for me is how Neuk has showcased best practice for

working with neurodivergent artists – or any artists really! Neuk pays fairly and on time, supports the development of its members and is really transparent and open. Whilst these things should be expected, they are all too infrequently provided in the art world, and it can become easy to settle for far less than ideal working conditions, especially when opportunities feel so few and far between. This is especially difficult for neurodivergent artists as in such a precarious world our needs are often (wilfully) overlooked, and it can feel difficult to ask for accommodations when even the most basic things like fair, on time payment are not being provided. Neuk’s work and being part of the collective has shown me a practical, hopeful vision for what a different art world could be like

You can see more of Elspeth’s work on her website and social media:


Instagram: @elspethwrites

Twitter: @elspethwriter

Photos courtesy and copyright of the artist.

Protected: Neuk Exhibition 2024 – Visit to Patriothall

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Meet the Artist – Gaelle Chassery

We meet Gaelle Chassery, Neuk Collective member and textile artist, to talk about her work, the beauty to be found in neurodivergent spaces, and ways the art world can effect real change for neurodivergent and disabled artists.

Profile by Elspeth Wilson

Hi Gaelle! Can you tell us a bit about the work you do?

A young white woman with glasses and dark brown hair lies back against a pile of crocheted throws, with other throws piled on top of her. She is smiling gently.
Gaelle surrounded by her work.

I champion pure Scottish wool by crocheting intricate throws and shawls. I mostly use undyed wool sourced from small producers with high welfare flocks and solid regenerative practices.

All my work is improvised, each design being inspired by the landscape, topography and atmosphere of the land that grew the wool used for every piece, making each project completely unique and precious.  

Sometimes I use botanically dyed yarn, which offers an extra layer of connection to the land I am paying tribute to. 

I love to think of the things I make as little pieces of a landscape to rest in. They offer an invitation to relax in nature while being at home, and give the eyes a lot to perpetually discover. They are also very tactile and offer an interactive experience, like a mini journey. Wool is a very soothing material for many people: using pure wool means that the gentle smell of sheep is preserved, which can offer a nurturing experience while cosying up. For me, each stitch in the work is like a step on a walk. It offers an alternative to remaining connected to nature when it is not possible to go outside.

So, what drew you to join Neuk Collective? 

I was looking for a support network that is aligned with the way my brain works. I felt exhausted and disheartened trying to fit into networks that don’t have an awareness of how being neurodivergent impacts my practice and lifestyle.

Neuk Collective is a safe space where being my full self is not only encouraged, but beautifully supported. My potential is seen and I am invited to participate, always with full respect of my fluctuating capacities.

Close up of a rippled crocheted shawl, in various shades of green. It looks naturally dyed. There is a quote superimposed on top, reading: "Neurodivergent artists are amongst the most quietly gifted and strong I know, and I would love to see more space made for us" - Gaelle Chassery

Does being part of a network of neurodivergent artists impact your practice at all?

View of a crocheted shawl or hanging held up against the sky. There are big enough holes in the fabric that you can see the blue sky and green landscape showing through. There is a subtle pattern in the weave of the fabric.
Detail from inside Gaelle’s installation, Dawn to Dusk on Uist, 2023.

All the awesome and challenging aspects of being neurodivergent are totally understood in Neuk Collective because they are lived by all of us. There is a wealth of experience generously offered by other members, and a space to discover my creativity and take it in directions that have not been available to me before.

As a disabled artist, there is an understanding that my capacities and availability vary, and I never feel discriminated or ignored on that basis. This is a first for me. I have been offered work as part of Neuk Collective and been paid for it – fairly and on time – and with complete transparency and support. It’s been wonderful for my confidence and has opened up some exciting doors in a life that is really quite limited otherwise.

The way Neuk Collective impacts my practice is beautiful, firstly in supporting me to give myself permission to follow the fluctuations that come in the creative cycle due to various symptoms and levels of energy. To have support to relax into those cycles and do what is needed to take care of ourselves is still revolutionary in our society. 

I also love the practical aspect of Neuk in terms of legislation and what support is available so that we can take clear steps and implement the structure and help we need. This reduces stress and confusion and can redirect energy towards the essential act of creating.

And I am always amazed by the incredible kindness, skills and artistry in my fellow members. To be inspired and received in such a way is not something I have ever had before.

Close up of a grey crocheted throw, with pebbly sections and sections with ripples like waves. There is a quote superimposed on top, reading: "We don't always have the energy to educate and advocate; it would be great if people could willingly make the effort to inform themselves and engage in conversations"

As a neurodivergent artist, what changes would you like to see in the arts sector?

I am tired of hearing about inclusivity without seeing actual inclusive practices when it comes to working with me as a neurodivergent and disabled artist.

Too many people I have worked with are very active on social media while being hopeless at communicating by email, therefore a lot of things remain unanswered, there is no clarity and no ongoing contact, which for me is a huge source of stress and confusion when collaborating.

Detail of a grey woollen blanket. It is made up of at least 3 separate sections, with the "weave" going in different directions.
Detail of Song of Wave and Stone, 2023

Because my work does not fit into the way things are generally done, I have also been ignored on multiple occasions. This had felt incredibly isolating and discriminating. It has hit me in a way that was hard to process, especially because there was no acknowledgement of it. 

Whenever I mention that I am neurodivergent, disabled, housebound, and therefore very limited in terms of what opportunities are available to me, I am met with standard sympathy but no practical alternatives. The lack of interest, awareness and understanding is gruelling when repeated systematically over a period of years. It takes unimaginable persistence, strength and confidence to keep going.

It can be devastating to feel so unseen and irrelevant, especially within established circles that function primarily on travelling for physical interactions within groups centred around well-oiled events and rituals, which are completely beyond my reach on so many levels. That emphasis on huge communities while neglecting the core is something I can never get used to. It is overwhelming and makes me feel displaced.

Neurodivergent artists are amongst the most quietly gifted and strong I know, and I would love to see more space made for us. Not just in words to look good and politically correct, but in actual opportunities that are truly informed and inclusive and don’t force us to shape-shift just to get a look in. A lot of flexibility is needed. We don’t always have the energy to educate and advocate; it would be great if people could willingly make the effort to inform themselves and engage in conversations that clarify the situation.

You can see more of Gaelle’s work on her website and instagram:



Photos courtesy and copyright of the artist.

A Visit to the V&A With Sensory Consequences

Guest blog post by Neuk Collective member Libby Lilburn

This a review of my visit to the V&A Dundee, through the lens of someone who is Autistic, has Sensory Integration Dysfunction[1] and Fibromyalgia, and my thoughts on how galleries can be more accessible to all disabilities.

Walking into the V&A Dundee, I get anxious knowing the stares I get going up the ‘grand stairs’ to reach the exhibition spaces. I mean who wouldn’t when you’re wearing noise-cancelling headphones and sunglasses, with a comfort plush on hand to help keep anxiety at bay. Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID) is along for the ride knowing ‘they’ can have ‘fun’ at my expense in situations like these, and although I have my support sister by my side out and about, I’m still apprehensive yet hopeful my visit won’t end in a Sensory Overload like the times before.

A notebook page with a handwritten mind map. It's difficult to read the writing, but text includes: "What I feel visiting the V&A Dundee: Hyperactive, overstimulated, anxious, catious, careful, inspired?, overwhelmed, stressed, annoyed, sad, judgemental, contemplative, unbearable."

Although the V&A has a larger open space and is physically accessible, more could be done when it concerns those with invisible/dynamic disabilities, or even us on the Neurodivergent spectrum, to be considered truly accessible. In venues like the V&A all noises echo down from the upper floors down to the lower foyer, whilst constant chattering from visitors bounces throughout the space as I walk up the grand staircase, already tingling from SID’s excitement and anticipation for the unknown. As I step onto the upper floor, I don’t see a place where I can escape to get some quiet and unwind from the already oncoming overstimulation, except the toilets, which are not an ideal location as they are a prime trigger that SID likes to latch onto with racing thoughts about ‘germs and wet hands’ going through my head meticulously without pause.

Walking into the ‘Tartan’ exhibition I’m met with a multitude of screens, bright lights and reflections galore all vying for my attention, making reading any form of text explaining the content within the space almost impossible. This isn’t to mention the auditory ambiance I hear echoing throughout the space all the way from the other side of the room, in a section of the exhibition I have not even seen yet.

I’m already feeling stressed from all the sensory stimulation around me, (which SID finds all very appealing) that I find it hard to focus on and take in the actual contents of the exhibition. This ends up with me almost speed walking and skipping to-&-from sections of the space in order to take it all in as quickly as possible before I inevitably get overwhelmed.

By the end of the exhibition, I’m on high alert and eagerly awaiting the moment I can get out of the V&A as fast as possible, skipping sections- and the potential quieter more enjoyable moments- in my haste to get out of the space before my stress and senses get the best of me. I’m contemplating on my way out from our visit on what more could big institutions like the V&A be doing more for inclusion of disabled & Neurodivergent voices in order to be considered ‘truly accessible’. The topics and exhibitions the

V&A feature are intriguing to me, but I can never truly let myself get ‘immersed’ in or to even relax during my visits as I’m always on ‘Alert Mode’, looking out for the next potential trigger that my SID is gnawing to cling onto.
Something as simple as the inclusion of quieter spaces within museums would let those like me unwind whilst feeling overwhelmed and would enable us to enjoy these visits to our fullest.

Well, these are my thoughts back in the car, feeling melancholy and trying not to focus upon all the negatives of my visit as they race through my head. Wondering what could have been considered in order to have gallery visits like these be less stressful on my senses, and the boundaries that bar me from being inspired, not overstimulated by a visit to the V&A.

About the author

Libby Lilburn is an artist whose work primarily tackles nuances around disability and mental health. Much of her work is based on her experiences living as a neurodivergent individual in a neurotypical world.

Libby’s website:


[1] Sensory Integration Dysfunction is a fancier name to describe someone who has either hyper (more) or hypo (less) sensitivities to one or more of their senses, e.g. I’m hypersensitive to visual and audio stimuli, meaning I’m more sensitive to bright lights and loud noises.

Neuk Gift Guide 2023

Green banner with the words "Neuk Gift Guide". There is a cartoon of 2 dogs holding bunting up, next to a pile of presents.

It’s that time of year again! Christmas is just around the corner. If you’re looking for gifts for friends, or family, or want to treat yourself, why not support neurodivergent artists and creative businesses?

To make it easy, we’ve created a round-up of some of the amazing, out-of-the-box gifts you can buy directly from Neuk Collective artists.

Banner reading "Lindsay Dudley Art", with a photo of a seascape painting and hand-painted landscapes on christmas ornaments.

Lindsay Dudley Art

To start us off – why not buy a one of a kind, hand-painted Christmas ornament? Lindsay Dudley Art sells original paintings and small gifts. Lindsay’s work is available on her website,, or you can email her directly if you see something you want to buy.

Blue banner reading "Buoy Oh Buoy (by Sophie Demery)", with a photo of 2 sea-themed riso prints, and a photo of simple hoop earrings with pale blue beads on them.

Buoy Oh Buoy

Run by Sophie Demery, Buoy Oh Buoy specialises in colourful jewellery and beautiful riso printed paper goods

You can buy online at:
Or at the following winter markets;
Saturday 25th November ~ Your Space, Kirkcaldy
Saturday 2nd December ~ Out of The Blue Drill Hall, Edinburgh
Sunday 3rd December ~ Portobello Town Hall, Edinburgh
Sunday 17th December ~ Edinburgh Printmakers

(The next one is a bit NSFW so if you’re sensitive, scroll past now… )

A Barbie-pink banner reading "Megan Devenny", with a photo of a woman's neck wearing a crudely sculpted winged phallus necklace, and a photo of a similar sculpture of a heart with an eye in it, and big black eyelashes.

Megan Devenny

Megan Devenny makes art wank – hand stitched, studded, knitted & hand painted clothing items. They have items throughout their social media, Etsy shop, and Vinted, and they are also open to commissions. You can find their work at their linktree:

Blue banner reading "Uniquely Abbie (by Abbie Gladwin)", with two black and white drawings/monoprints. One is a continuous line drawing of a bird on a branch. The other is a highland landscape.

Uniquely Abbie

Abbie Gladwin is a mixed media artist, whose work is inspired by nature, animals, landscapes & pop culture. You can add one of her vibrant oil pastels or evocative monotype prints to your collection by visiting her etsy shop – Uniquely Abbie

Banner in pale brown reading "The Foraging Gardener (by Johanna Koen), with a photo of some delicately embroidered zines with watercolour illustrations of wild flowers.

The Foraging Gardener

Run by Johanna Koen, The Foraging Gardener offers queer nature prints and zines about queer mycology, foraging, witchcraft and fungi. Check out her beautiful selection of wares at The Foraging Gardener.

Brown banner with text reading "The Starving Artist (by Ally Zlatar)". There is a photo of a book cover with a blurred silhouette and the words "the strings that bind us", and a photo of a box of cards with a continuous line drawing of a two men back to back, and the text "the vulnerable man".

The Starving Artist

There are plenty of thoughtful gifts for the artists in your life at The Starving Artist, run by Ally Zlatar. As well as publications showcasing the work of artists with lived experience of marginalisation, The Starving Artist offers reflection cards – sets of thought-provoking art cards specifically designed to address the topics of climate anxiety and eco-mental health, men’s mental health, experiences of migration, and disordered eating.

Buy online at

Purple banner with the text "Cathy Phillips Brady, professional mezzo", and a photo of a woman singing.

Cathy Phillips Brady

What do you get for the person who has everything? How about a unique, musical experience?

Cathy Phillips Brady is a professional choir fixer. Need a group of amazing professional singers for an event or special occasion? Contact Cathy to fix singers suitable to your event needs from opera to carolling, from jazz to pop! Her singers work across Scotland, the UK and beyond.

Prices vary depending on the engagement, please contact to enquire

Visit or email directly

A banner with text reading "Narture CIC - by Saskia Jae Singer)", with a photo collage of bread, two ceramic ornaments, and a christmas wreath.

Narture CIC

Narture CIC is a social enterprise co-founded by Neuk member Saskia Jae Singer. Based in Ayr, they bake bread to earn the dough to fund arts projects.

As well as selling delicious artisanal bread from their cafe at 22 Sandgate and at Ayreshire Farmers Market, they have MAKE, with an exhibition space, ceramics studio, riso printer, and events by local makers. Upcoming workshops include

Christmas Wreath Making Workshop on Thursday 23rd November 6pm-8pm

Book here: Wreath Workshop

Parent and child Ceramic workshop making Christmas tree decorations with Creadh Ceramics, Saturday 2nd of December 10:30am-12:30pm

Book here: Ceramic Workshop

For a full list of events, check out their website.

Blue banner with text reading "Gaada". There is a photo of a range of bright colourful zines, a print of a pink pterodactyl, and a cotton bag with "Gaada" written on it.


Gaada is an artist-led social enterprise which develops creative support alongside meaningful and critical art activities in Shetland. It was co-founded by Neuk member Daniel Clark.

Their online shop sells a range of quirky gifts including prints, zines, keyrings, pins, bags, homeware and cards. Every one is a limited edition and only available whilst stocks last. Every artist gets 50% on profits + Gaada reinvests in artist support

You can also book onto a screen-printing workshop at their Toogs Artist Workshop – a great gift, or even a treat for yourself. Their special Yül-themed Screen Printing workshop is already sold out, so act fast to book your place on their next workshop here: Gaada Screenprinting Workshop – January.

And finally…

Green banner reading "Donate to Neuk", with a screenprint of 2 hands, one orange and one green, reaching out and overlapping.

Neuk Collective Gift Donations

How about a gift that gives to others? Make a gift donation to Neuk Collective and support our work with neurodivergent artists.

Your donation goes towards running Neuk Collective programmes and events and providing 1:1 access support for artists who need it.

It makes a great, eco-friendly, socially-conscious gift!

You can choose to receive a physical card that you can give to the recipient, or download an electronic version to email or print at home.

Find out more and donate here: Online Shop

Membership is open!

Want to join Neuk Collective? We’re accepting new members!

Membership is now open until November 30th – sign up here:

It’s free to join, and you get:

Who can join?

You must be

We also ask that you broadly support the aims of the Neuk Manifesto

Sign-ups close at 5pm on November 30th, and we aim to confirm by 15th December.

Sound good? then sign up here:

A pale green square on a jade green background. Inside the square there there is a graphic of a loudspeaker, and the words Neuk Membership Open.
Text reads Membership Benefits. There are 4 icons, each labelled: 
Icon of a person - Artist profile on Neuk website
Icon of a gallery - Member-only exhibitions & opps
Icon of people holding up a heart together - Join a community of ND artists
Icon of a package - Receive a membership pack.
Text reads: Who can join? 
There are 3 icons and labels:
Icon of a paint palette - Neurodivergent artists working in any media
Icon of a 18+ sign - Aged 18+
Icon of a hand holding a Scottish flag - who live, work, or have a significant connection to Scotland
text reads: How do I join?
Icon of a mouse clicking a website bar - Fill out the online form
Icon of photos - Upload a photo of your work
Icon of package - Wait for your membership pack
Sign up link in post
Text reads: Important Dates
Icon of a calendar and clock - Apply by 5pm on Thursday 30th November
Icon of a check mark - We'll try to process your application by 15th December.

Accessiblity Centred

We can hardly believe it but in just one week’s time we will be installing our exhibition at Custom Lane gallery! So, now might be a good time to talk a bit about some of the features we’re trying out to make the exhibition more accessible, particularly for neurodivergent visitors.

Ear Defenders

The exhibition in in open plan building, sharing space with a busy cafe. Noise can be overstimulating, so for those who would benefit from them, we have six pairs of ear defenders to borrow

A simplified drawing of ear defenders.

Quiet Evening

Places like cafes have plenty other sensory distractions – for instance the bustle of people, movement, vibrations and smells. Plus, there are some people who just prefer to go out at quieter times of day, avoiding commuters or crowds. So for folk who prefer a quieter environment, we’re running a special Quiet Evening on Tuesday 23rd November. It’s limited to small numbers to help people not to feel overwhelmed, and you’ll be able to wander around the exhibition with the cafe closed and quiet. If you’d like to visit during the quiet hour (actually 90 minutes!), we still have tickets left – book them here, for free:

Communication Badges

Sometimes, you would like to be able to speak to someone, but maybe don’t know how to get things started, or who might welcome a chat. Other times you just want to be left alone! Communication badges make it easy to know who is up for a blether, and who isn’t, or to let people know, without hurt feelings, that you just don’t want to talk to strangers.

There are three colours of badge – Green, Yellow, and Red.

Green means that you are happy to chat with anyone

Yellow means that you would prefer just to chat with people you already know

Red means that you don’t want to be approached

We will have lanyards with coloured badges on them for you to borrow, if you would like to. Not everyone will want to use them, but for some folk, knowing they can wander round without worrying a stranger might talk to them can make a huge difference to their anxiety.

A drawing of a lanyard and badge, with green, yellow and red rectangles beneath it.

Audio Description

A lot of text can be intimidating! So, all our signage and labels will have a QR code you can scan with your phone to hear it read out

A drawing of a hand holding a smart phone, with a QR code on the screen. A speech bubble comes out of the phone, saying "AD".

Reading Aids

Having text on coloured paper can make a big difference to readability for folk who have Irlens, visual sensitivity, or dyslexia, but which colour is helpful is really personal. So rather than try to have materials printed out on every colour of paper, we’ve got coloured overlays in 11 colours for you to use with any of the printed material in the exhibition. We also have reading windows and line trackers which you’re welcome to use.

All our signage/label text is sans-serif, right-aligned, and no smaller than 14pt.

A drawing of 3 different coloured overlays, a reading window, and a line tracker.

The Chill Out Nook

Sometimes you just get a bit overwhelmed and need to have a quiet sit, away from overstimulation. So we’ve carved out a wee nook in the exhibition space, with some beanbags, cushions, and ear protectors, where you can go to calm down if you need it. No need to ask – just pop in! These signs will point the way:

A circular green sign with a little figure sitting cross-legged in the middle, wearing headphones.

Manifesto Formats

We want our message to be accessible to everyone! We are making the manifesto text available in 6 formats

We hope there will be something for everyone. If you need it in a different format, please do get in touch.

A set of 5 icons arranged in an arc. They show: a plain tet document, a figure reading a book that says "Easy Read", Braille, an ear hearing audio, and two hands signing with the label "BSL".

Wheelchair Access

Custom Lane is a wheelchair accessible venue, with a ramped entrance and accessible toilets in the cafe. The nearest Changing Places toilet is either in Wardieburn Community Centre or Edinburgh College’s Granton campus (approximately 10-15 minutes by car).

The door/aisle clearance is 120mm.

Improving access is a continuous process, as we learn more and get more experience. If you have any feedback about access at the show, we would love to hear it! Please send us an email at and we’ll get back to you.

Hope to see you from Saturday 20th!

About Neuk Collective

Neuk Collective is a new collective of neurodivergent artists, formed as part of a project funded as part of Creative Scotland’s Create:Inclusion funding stream. Over the next year, we will be working on a manifesto outlining our vision for the inclusion of neurodivergent artists within the Scottish arts scene, culminating in a group exhibition in 2021. As part of this process we are reaching out to other neurodivergent artists to hear about the barriers they face and what their priorities for change are. For those who are interested in the project and would like to get involved, we have three ways to get involved:

We welcome input from all neurodivergent artists but particularly invite input from artists from marginalised or underrepresented groups.

Why a neurodivergent artists collective and manifesto?

The contemporary art world is in many ways inherently hostile towards people with social disabilities, and there appears to be little understanding of the problem, let alone the will to change. Neurodivergent artists are frequently shut out by the system of networking for exposure. Issues with executive functioning and cognitive load can make dealing with funding bodies and applications overwhelming. Neurotypical gatekeepers often insist on work that fits with their ideas of what autism is or should be, as something tragic and pitiable. But when artists do create work around our difficulties, it can keep us siloed in a separate “disability” or “outsider” arts track, devalued and tokenised.

We are more likely than the general population to be unemployed and to experience poverty. We can’t afford to “work for exposure”, and our slow, considered artistic process doesn’t fit with the pressures of the commercial art world. The system simply isn’t built for us. And as budgets are squeezed and priorities shift in a post-Covid-19 world, these issues look set to get worse.

On top of this, neurodivergent artists often face these issues alone, without support structures or bodies to advocate for them. If we are to create alternatives to the current exclusionary model, neurodivergent people need to organise. The current state of dislocation and uncertainty presents challenges but it also an opportunity to remake the system – to imagine and demand a better one.

This project uses an artists’ collective as a starting point to highlight and challenge the exclusion of neurodivergent artists through the development of a manifesto for neurodiversity in the visual arts. We will then stage an exhibition that showcases the work of neurodivergent artists, and challenges public perceptions of neurodivergent people more generally.  

My hope is that long-term, the collective will be a starting point for a broader network of neurodivergent artists, a peer group that can support one another, advocate for our place in the arts, and help create opportunities and forge alternative career paths outside the mainstream.

– Tzipporah Johnston, visual artist and project originator

Neurodivergent Artists – What’s holding us back?

Last year Neuk Collective conducted two surveys investigating the experiences of neurodivergent artists in Scotland. We wanted to find out what ND people felt the barriers to them working in the arts are, and what ND people felt would help them to overcome those barriers. We’d like to take this opportunity say a massive thank you to the 50 people who shared their experiences with us across our two surveys, and the 10 people who came to one of our discussion events.

Today we’re publishing our report on the findings of the research. This blog post is a very brief summary that necessarily leaves a lot out, but you can access the full report, a shorter summary, and an Easy Read summary below and on the Resources page of our website. We also have audio versions of the two summaries.

Key Findings

Neurodivergent artists face a lot of additional barriers to working in the arts. Financial insecurity (specifically as a result of their neurodivergence), challenges in social settings, and, in particular, difficulties with the administrative tasks associated with a career in the arts (e.g. disproportionate time required to complete tasks such as applications, emails, or research) were considered the most important barriers. However artists also reported that difficulties accessing fundingnegative attitudescommunication gaps and barriers, lack of access to peer support, lack of access to quiet spaces/rest breaks, and unfeasible workloads/pace of work all also represented significant barriers.

The survey also showed that neurodivergent artists believe there are concrete, short- to medium-term improvements that would make the arts more accessible for neurodivergent people. All the possibilities suggested in the survey received high levels of support, but those considered most important were: assistance with administrative tasks (e.g. advice and support with writing applications), providing access to quiet spaces and rest breaks, and tailored mentoring schemes, opportunities and funding streams for ND artists. Longer-term, artists also favoured incentivising accessibility through attaching conditions to organisational funding. There was also strong support for setting up a professional network for ND artists that would enable supportive community-building.

A couple of issues were also brought up spontaneously in the free text section of the surveys:

–       People expressed a lot of anxiety about selling work, or receiving funding to make work while on disability benefits and there was strong support for lobbying on this issue.

–       Some artists reported frustration that ‘disability art’ is siloed and treated with less respect than mainstream art, and were uncomfortable being classed as disabled artists.  

What’s Next?

We’re currently writing a manifesto outlining our vision for the inclusion of neurodivergent people in the arts, due out in autumn 2021, and our research will feed into this. Longer term, we hope that understanding other ND artists’ priorities and experiences will help us to advocate for ND artists and produce resources to benefit the neurodivergent creative community and the organisations that want to work with us.

Download the reports Here

Survey Update

Firstly we would like to say a massive thank you to everyone who took part in our survey and discussion events. We really appreciate people taking the time to talk to us about their experiences and priorities for change.

We are still fully analysing the data but wanted to give people a look at some preliminary results of the two surveys – the long, in-depth survey and the Easy-Read survey.

The In-Depth Survey 

An amazing 43 people responded to our in-depth survey on the barriers ND artists face, and the changes they want to see. It was great to see so many people interested in the project! We still need to do more analysis of the monitoring section, but early results show a diverse group of artists responding. 

The first section of the survey asked people to consider potential issues and rate how much of a barrier these were to them working in the arts. Most of the issues listed scored fairly highly but the three issues consistently rated as significant barriers were financial insecurity (specifically related to your neurodivergence), challenges in social settings, and difficulties with administrative tasks.

A bar graph showing the % of people who answered important/very important to each survey question about barriers. The highest numbers are for financial insecurity, challenges in social settings, and unfeasible workloads/pace of work.
Graph showing the percentage of survey participants who considered each issue to be a significant/very significant barrier to them working in the arts.

Participants also had the option to write in and tell us about issues they felt we missed off the survey, and a number of people raised the issue of disability benefits. In particular, artists reported feeling caught in “benefits traps” where disabilities, health conditions, or issues related to their neurodivergence made it impossible to earn a living, thus qualifying them for disability benefits, but receipt of those benefits then meant they were unable to sell work or pursue even a small side business: 

“Money [is the] biggest issue. U get trapped. I’m too sick to work, I can’t earn enough in the hours I can manage to pay my bills, so I get ESA. But then u get stuck not able to do anything, I worry if I sell a painting I’ll lose my benefits. But I couldn’t make a living selling paintings or even working part time. So I get stuck in between, can’t advance my career but I don’t just want to sit about. But even the £20 a week allowance is no good cos they use it as an excuse to take ur benefits away saying ur clearly able to work if you can do 2 hrs a week […]”
– Survey respondent

Another issue that artists brought up was frustration about being marginalised as “disability” or “outsider” artists, and the sense that by making art about their personal experiences they would be taken less seriously, or feeling that they were only allowed to make work about their neurodivergence or disability:

Not having to “commodify our cripness”. What I mean by this is that there is often an attitude in the art world that if your work is not about your disability, of if your disability does not have some kind of marketable value, then your needs are not taken seriously.

– Survey respondent

People only want to see art about my illness but when I make art about it, I get put in a separate box as an “outsider artist”

– Survey respondent

The second section asked participants about what changes or improvements would make it easier for them to work in the arts. The results of this were very tight – pretty much all the potential solutions we listed were scored as Important/Very Important by most participants. But the five highest (scoring over 90%) were 

Administrative assistance/advice and support with writing applications (90.7%)

– Access to quiet spaces and rest breaks (93%)

Tailored mentoring schemes that support neurodivergent artists (90.7%)

Tailored opportunities and funding streams that specifically support neurodivergent artists (90.7%)

– Establishment of a professional network for neurodivergent artists to meet, collaborate and self-advocate (93%)

– Lobbying for financial support or policy changes to enable disabled artists to create work without fear of losing their benefits (97.7%)

A bar graph showing the % of people who answered important/very important to each survey question about ideasthat might improve things for ND artists.
Graph showing the percentage of survey participants who considered each potential solution to be important/very important to them.

The Easy Read Survey 

In addition to the longer in-depth survey, we also had an easy read version foor people who prefer less text. This followed the same structure as the in-depth survey, except that it didn’t have a monitoring section. This was because we felt that monitoring questions would be more for our benefit than the artist respondents’, and they could add a layer of difficulty and inaccessibility. Seven people completed the easy read survey, and the results were broadly in line with those of the in-depth survey. 

What are we doing with the results?
I think it’s important to note that the surveys will help inform our manifesto, but they won’t dictate it. It’s not a matter of excluding any issue that scored ‘low’, or only picking the ‘top’ five issues to focus on. It’s really helpful to get a sense of the wider community’s priorities but issues that affect smaller groups within the community are still important. For instance, the survey found that the majority of respondents didn’t find it difficult to access formal education, but for the 30% who do, that could be a major barrier with a significant effect on their life chances. We also had the opportunity to hear in greater depth and nuance about some of these issues at our two discussion events, and the final manifesto will reflect those discussions too. 

The surveys are also giving us a broader, more holistic understanding of the community in terms of age, ethnicity, geography, and co-occurring disabilities. For instance, 40 out of 43 participants (93%!) had at least one disability or long-term health condition in addition to their neurodivergence – something that institutions will also need to understand when working with us. The monitoring section has also helped us see if we have been successful in reaching out to marginalised parts of the ND community and ensuring those voices are reflected in the final manifesto. 

What about the discussion events?
We held two discussion events in November and December 2020. These aren’t the kind of events that produce tables or graphs, but they were very helpful as they have added a layer of nuance, allowing us to hear about people’s experiences in greater detail and drill down into why people felt things, and we want to thank everyone who was involved for sharing your time and experience with us. 

One of the more interesting findings from the events was that although in many areas survey and discussion participants agreed, in a couple of areas they notably diverged. For instance, the survey results have quite heavily favoured tailored opportunities for neurodivergent people, whereas participants in the discussion groups were much more ambivalent about whether these were a good thing. Having the time and space to talk about why this might be has really improved our understanding of the broader issues that hold neurodivergent people back.

What next?
As I said at the beginning, it’s still very early days – there’s still lots of data analysis to be done! But I wanted to give people a sense of where we’re going with it and what all this research has revealed. We’ll share more information over the coming weeks and months and of course keep you posted once the manifesto is a bit further along.