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Science can be a dominating force in the lives of disabled people. Individual independence for many is often reliant on technology and on medicine. Yet disabled groups have little control over how technology and medicine develop, and little input into the parameters of what is explored scientifically, or insight into the activity of science.

Resonant Frequency is an arts project which asks:

Series of anatomical drawings by Rachel Gadsden Rachel Gadsden

Series of anatomical drawings by Rachel Gadsden

Image: Rachel Gadsden

What might be the consequences of scientists engaging with disability communities and disability art?

  • What kind of impact might this cross-fertilisation of experience have, nationally, locally?

  • How could disabled artists use interaction with scientists to illuminate their understanding of science?

  • How could scientists use interaction with disabled artists to understand disability culture? What themes would need to be explored in an exhibition that attempted to embrace these issues?

Resonant Frequency is a two-year disability, arts and science project devised in partnership between ITHACA, Science Oxford and Disability Arts Online to foster debate and collaboration between disabled and Deaf artists and scientists. It aims to create a dialogue between the two communities, and to explore how trust and understanding could be developed that goes beyond the stereotypes which abound on both sides of the fence.

Resonant Frequency has a national and a regional focus and will deliver:

  • A national high profile arts-science debate, both live and online;
  • A national competition for disabled artists commissions and exhibition;
  • High quality community art projects with disabled groups in Oxfordshire and Berkshire;
  • Mentoring and training to emerging young disabled artists, to equip them to work in community art within their region.

This project represents a fantastic opportunity for disabled and Deaf artists and individuals to participate in a national arts project which also has deep and powerful roots in the community. Resonant Frequency is a disability-led project: it is devised, lead and managed by and for disabled people and will enable and support vulnerable and disadvantaged communities and individuals to make their mark and participate in arts projects which are directly relevant to their lives.

Resonant Frequency aims to stimulate debate nationally regarding how science and scientific research can have an impact upon the individual and social experience of disability communities and also to explore how disability art, through a wide range of art forms, can illuminate such connections and interrogate how notions such as ‘normality’, ‘disability’, and ‘science’ and ‘scientific model of disability’ inform the implicit assumptions within both scientific research and art.

The project will achieve this in four key ways. Firstly, it will commission Disability Art on this theme for public exhibition, from excellent disabled artists.

Secondly, it will design the artist commissioning process to be a contribution to and extension of the debate itself, providing an opportunity for a wide variety of artists and scientists to be involved in the debate and development of what is, or could be a ‘scientific model of disability’ and how art can help illuminate and make such a model meaningful. This debate will also in turn inform the commissioned artwork from the outset.

Resonant Frequency’s artist commissioning process will be a two-stage process, involving a workshop debate day which will invite disabled artists to explore, in collaboration with scientists, the following:

  • Distinctions and commonalities between disabled artists and scientists
  • How the scientific community might more fully understand disability culture through disability art
  • How the scientific community might engage with the public through a collaboration with disabled and Deaf artists and disability arts to be socially inclusive
  • To challenge the scientific community in respect of the disability equality duty (DED)
  • How disabled and Deaf artists might engage with and more fully understand scientific pursuit and how such collaboration might push the boundaries of their work as artists
  • Whether there is a "scientific model of disability" that emerges when disabled and Deaf artists’ work considers the realm of science and the work of scientists.

Thirdly, the project is structured so that the debate inherent in the commissioning process at a national level will cascade down into regional community work designed to encourage public engagement with these issues. Participatory art projects will be run for a wide variety of disability communities, including the disabled, Deaf and those with mental health concerns. Built into these community projects will be the opportunity for the groups to visit the exhibition of commissioned work and view and participate in the online blog, enabling many individuals to participate in a national debate and consider and produce their own work in response to the discussions and exhibition.

The project is also designed to provide opportunities for emerging disabled artists regionally to receive mentoring and workshop training, with a view to increasing their employability as artists in the region, and employing them to be involved in running the community projects within Resonant Frequency.

Fourthly, the commissioning process, project debate and production of artwork will be interactively documented and broadcast throughout its duration by a digital artist commissioned by Disability Arts Online. This, and a profile on other social networking sites will provide the wider public with an opportunity to engage with the project, get involved and participate in the online debate.