The Blue Circus

We are Sininen Sirkus (The Blue Circus) art collective founded in Finland in January 2017. Our members are Otto Kasvio, Markku Tolvanen, Juhani Rusanen, Riina Noro and Joannis Clementides. We all work in the field of Fine Art in a shared art studio in Autismisäätiö in Helsinki, Finland. Otto Kasvio has a diploma in fine art and the rest of us are self-taught artists. We have organised three group exhibitions as Sininen Sirkus and several solo shows as individual artists. Two of us are participating in a collaboration with another Non Governmental Organisation, where we are working as peer art tutors with people with learning disabilities. We are unique individuals with our own strengths and weaknesses. Our strength is our unlimited imagination. We all have features of autism disorder.

At the conference we will talk about how we see the surrounding world and how we try to influence it through our art. One of our goals is to increase global autism awareness through our art. We have got a lot of positive feedback about our work in Finland and now we would like to share the benefits of working as a collective with colleagues from other countries.

Sininen Sirkus operates within services of Autismisäätiö (The Autism Foundation in Finland) in the Vallila unit which provides ambitious, long-term Fine Art tutoring by a multi-professional team of counsellors of social services, artists and artisans. Autismisäätiö is a non-profit foundation and a social enterprise that operates nationwide in Finland. The Foundation has strong expertise in neuropsychiatric syndromes, particularly the autism spectrum. The Autism Foundation provides versatile services related to housing, work and day activities, guidance and coaching activities, health care, and research and development activities.

Billy Man and Alex Brady from Headway East London

Five years ago, Billy Mann suffered an ischemic stroke, followed by complications that required emergency brain surgery. As part of his rehabilitation, he became a day member of Headway East London, a charity supporting survivors of brain injury. In their art studio, Submit to Love, he uses art to explore the events and emotions of his trauma and its aftermath.


Alex Brady is an Art Coordinator at Submit to Love/ Headway East London. She works with people who have suffered a wide range of brain injuries using her own skills as an artist to enable them to explore all aspects of creativity. Last year, Submit to Love held standalone exhibitions at Stratford Circus Arts Centre and at London’s Southbank Centre. More exhibitions are in progress.

Chris Leeds from the Sound of Joy

Joy of Sound volunteers have been developing and providing music and multi-arts workshops and events for disabled and impaired people, their support networks and communities since 2000. We host year-round weekly sessions in 3 London Boroughs and deliver extensive outreach in advocating for equitable society.

JOS overcomes social, physical and health related barriers to participation by enabling and acknowledging creative expression of people of all abilities as equals. Our workshops are uniquely open and accessible to all-comers of any background or circumstances. We produce bespoke and adapted acoustic music instruments, access devices and facilitatory approaches that enable universal access.

The theme of ‘The Artists Voice’ is particularly relevant to our work both literally - in that many of our participants experience vocal or linguistic impairment - and figuratively, in that many disabled people face physical and social barriers to having their voices heard, and their choices and ideas understood, accepted or developed.

We will show how we use instruments and non-verbal vocal expression as co-creative and co-learning pathways toward mutual acceptance and appreciation of every individual’s creative contribution.

The first part of the presentation will describe the artistic and practical approaches we have developed, while the second part will be a participatory and experiential exploration of questions,  such as 'What is music, who can play it, what is it for?'

Sarah Watson and William Hanekom from Carousel

Sarah Watson, visual artist, photographer and filmaker

Multi skilled, self-taught. I express myself through my art, experimenting with mixed media, drawing, animation and photographs. I am Chair of Trustees for Carousel, a member of Oska Bright international film festival team, and a digital artist for Creatures of the Revolution.


William Hanekom

I intend to explore more of the fuzzy side in which we confuse dreams and memories and how our modern world and the media we consume affects that. I wrote and helped direct a film which was recently shown at the British Film Institute covering my anxiety and fears about the people I encounter when heading home at night.


CAROUSEL is an award-winning charity supporting learning disabled people to achieve their artistic ambitions. We believe that learning disabled artists make a vital contribution to the world we live in. We put learning disabled people in control of their art; in film, music, performance and production. We challenge expectations of what great art is and who can create it.

Wonderland was a project by Sarah Watson and Will Hanekom, creating and presenting new work of their interpretation and artistic responses to Wonderland. It was exhibited in October and November at the Regency Town House, Hove alongside the Oska Bright film festival and HOUSE Biennial. This was the first time that Sarah and Will have exhibited together.

They will talk about what inspires them as artists and the experience of creating and curating Wonderland.

“Everyone has their own wonderland. I have explored what this word means to me with character driven illustrations and scenery. My wonderland art very much stems from my dreams; they express the surreal, the wonderful and the nightmares.”    Will Hanekom

“My wonderland is full of colour, a window to other worlds. I relate to the character Alice, she’s in all of us, dreams, imagination and craziness. I see wonderland as topsy-turvey, a place of dreams.”                     Sarah Watson


Helen Roeten from The Living Museum

The Living Museum NL is the first ‘outsider art’ programme in the Netherlands that belongs to the people who make the art. Since 2015, 45 artists have been running the Living Museum in Bennebroek.


Helen Roeten is a member of the Living Museum in The Netherlands and a peerworker in a psychiatric hospital in Bennebroek. Last year, she was invited to Korea to help set up a Living Museum in Yongin.


Laura King from Look Kloser

About Look Kloser

With a love of the arts and a passion for people, Look Kloser: Creative & Performing Arts aims to give people opportunities to explore their creative talents and interests. With a person centred approach, individuals and groups are mentored through a variety of creative processes. Look Kloser not only strives to provide a stimulating environment for creativity, the focus is also to integrate the film/art/performances produced within the wider community; most importantly, on the same platform as other professional artists. Collaboration has been vital in developing work to share. Most recently Look Kloser was commissioned by Paint The Town festival to open an arts festival in Medway.

#thisisme is a short film developing on from a dance performance by one musician and four dancers - one professional and three outsider dance artists that attend Look Kloser sessions and happen to also have a learning disability. The dancers spent six weeks exploring identity and the self through movement. This piece was commissioned by Paint The Town and launched the festival on Monday 23rd October 2017.

This film follows on from the live performance and has allowed the artists come together to develop the choreography and narratives from within the piece. Each dancer has expanded their movement and created more personal motifs. Both Anne Teresa De Keersmaker and Pina Bausch are influential choreographers for this. Bausch for her rejection of harmonious and aesthetic dance, and her focus on the expressionism of movement. De Keersmaker for her drive to allow for dancers to establish individual identity within a group piece. Both Bausch and De Keersmaker use compulsive repetition and exaggerated gestures within their work which has become integral to #thisisme.

Marie Remacle from Mad Musee


The MADMusee is the Creahm Museum, based in Belgium. The aim of the museum is to curate and promote works of art produced by Creahm artists throughout the world, revealing and deploying art forms produced by people with learning disabilities. Creahm has set up creative workshops led by practitioners of visual and live arts, placing this project in a fully artistic setting, rather than therapeutic or occupational.


Although the processes explored in each of these studios are diverse, the museum acquisition policy tends to respect this framework. The collection currently owns 2500 works and MAD’s documentation centre includes all kinds of ‘non-traditional’ artistic practices and processes (art différencié, art brut, outsider art, etc.). This documentation centre, which is updated regularly, currently includes over 2000 publications.


For the last two years, Creahm has been working closely with photographer Laetitia Bica (b. 1981, lives and works in Brussels). The meeting of photographer and artist challenges both parties, raising questions around the place of the learning disabled artist.

Bica has been working with Creahm artist Samuel Cariaux as part of a creative residency (December 2017 – January 2018), which will be the topic of an exhibition during the Biennale de l’Image Possible (BIP) in 2018.  

This presentation aims to highlight the work of a learning disabled artist and the relationship that exists and develops between the Creahm artists and the studio team. 

Morven Macrae from Garavald Artists

Morven Macrae is the Art and Design Studio Leader and Exhibition Coordinator for Garvald Edinburgh. She supports 22 artists with learning disabilities to explore and develop their creative potential in studio based art practice. In addition she curates the exhibitions programme for the wider organisation of 200 members.  Morven has curated solo and group shows at the Hidden Door Festival, Summerhall Galleries, and Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens.

Morven graduated from Edinburgh College of Art with a 1st Class Honours Degree in Tapestry in 1999 and a Masters of Fine Art in Sculpture in 2001. She has worked at Garvald since 2003.

Garvald Edinburgh’s work is inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s ideas of social therapy. We provide an environment for adults with learning disabilities to learn skills in art, craft, food and nature-based workshops. Our underpinning ethos is that each person has a valuable and unique contribution to make in life and we endeavour to enable every individual to fulfil their potential within this setting.  Many Garvald members identify themselves through their work and the skills they have developed, seeing themselves as Artists, Weavers, Potters and so on.

In the Art and Design Studio I enable 22 artists to explore and develop their creative voice in studio based art practice and support them to build a body of work to exhibition standard.  Each artist’s voice is already within them; I facilitate a space and use a range of processes to enable the artists to become confident in expressing their own creativity.

Exhibiting is a vital part of this creative process and has a significant impact on the artists. We use various physical and digital platforms through which the artists can share their work. This reinforces identity and confidence and encourages a dialogue with a wider audience.