How a Sheffield charity is making the arts accessible to all

A Sheffield-based community arts charity is making great strides to make the arts accessible to all – and has ambitious plans for the future.

Tuesday, 30th March 2021, 12:15 pm

Rationale Arts was formed in 2019 after it was identified that the arts were not equally accessible to disabled people as it was for those without disabilities.

The aim of the charity is to bridge the gap between disabled and non-disabled artists and to use a variety of different ways to teach members of the community various transferable skills to help them live fulfilling lives.

Rationale Arts director, Nathan Geering, said: “It’s really important that art is accessible to all. Art in general feeds the soul. It’s a great source of healing and a great form of expression.

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Nathan Geering.

“Historically, there are barriers to activities. Whether that’s accessibility due to disability, the class divide, not being able to afford classes – those things shouldn’t be barriers.

“We need to ensure that we can provide opportunities for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Nathan has toured internationally as a hip hop dancer and started a theatre company in 2010.

He describes himself as an ‘accessibility innovator’ and also runs Rationale Method, an audio description and technological innovation company which focuses on enhancing accessibility in artistic and creative ways.

Nathan Geering.

Nathan has used his skills to help make art accessible to all in various community settings, for example, special educational needs schools.

He was appointed as the artistic director for the Special Olympics Opening Ceremony in 2017, in which he described as a ‘proud’ and ‘monumental moment’.

Watched by 16,000 people, the Special Olympics brought people together and Nathan believes it gave the disabled participants the opportunity to have ownership of the artistic content included.

He said: “It succeeded in showing that people with disabilities can achieve incredible things.”

Rationale Arts director, Nathan Geering, pictured outside Sheffield train station.

In 2018, Rationale Arts partnered with Future Venture and The Royal Opera House to deliver a pioneering Injury Prevention Course.

The course is made up of a series of breakdancing classes and helps those with visual impairment to improve spatial awareness and prevent injury.

Nathan said: “They are more than just dancing classes. It is teaching them valuable life skills.”

Participants of the course – which have included individuals from Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind – are said to benefit from improved strength, coordination, fitness and overall confidence when dealing with day to day journeys that have previously proven to be quite hazardous.

Nathan has toured internationally as a hip hop dancer.

Rationale Arts has also been working with Sheffield Children’s Hospital, where children have been learning how to beatbox.

Despite some of the children having limited mobility, it is a chance for children to engage with and be inspired, through participating in an artistic activity.

Nathan told how beatboxing was an especially powerful tool for the children who cannot form words but can make sounds, as it encourages them to exercise their vocal muscles and stimulate their senses.

He added: “It can help to control breathing, teach emotional regulation. They are life skills.”

Smashing Street Arts is another project designed to help child development.

A street artist provides sessions that help children create their own art, boosting their self-confidence, as well as improving their fine motor skills.

Rationale Arts strives to make the arts accessible to all.

Young people at Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice are just some of the people who have benefited from the project.

Other projects run by Rational Arts include those using hip hop to help improve mobility of wheelchair users and theatre workshops.

The pandemic has meant that most activities have moved online but Nathan told how classes have still ‘gone down like a storm’.

He is about to start a project tackling mental health, which will be piloted in schools across Derbyshire.

Nathan said it would make a real difference for pupils. “It aims to reframe mindfulness in a fun way,” he added.

He is currently working with a cognitive behavioural therapist to find out how hip-hop dance can be used to treat depression, anxiety and PTSD.

Rationale Arts is not only passionate about creating diversity amongst its clients, but its staff too.

Nathan, who is also a commissioner for Sheffield Race Equality Commission, wants to create a ‘culturally diverse’ organisation.

He is hopeful that good practices surrounding race equality in the city will be observed and recommendations for struggling organisations will be made.

At Rationale Arts, the current structure is made up of 60 percent of individuals from a Black, Asian, or minority ethnic background.

40 percent of paid staff are female and of this 40 percent, half are people of colour.

As a growing company, Rationale Arts is now looking to expand its Board of Trustees to support that growth.

In keeping with its core values of inclusion and diversity, it welcomes applications from people with disabilities and those from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background.

Nathan said: “We want to ensure that everyone has a voice on the board, to continue with the whole ethos. Those with similar backgrounds can have a say in how we can serve communities.”

People who are interested in becoming a Rationale Arts trustee should write a personal statement explaining what they will bring to the role and why they are an ideal fit.

This should be no longer than one side of A4.

To ensure the opportunity is accessible to all, a personal statement can also be recorded via a video message or an audio file.

The deadline for applications is April 15 and should be emailed to: [email protected]

For more information, visit: www.rationalearts.com

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.