As we start to grow membership of Castlefield Gallery Associates we are asking current members to share their thoughts on what the programme offers and how it has been useful for them.
Cara Macwilliam recently became a member of Castlefield Gallery Associates. Her practice involves travelling into surreal landscapes and mythologies using watercolour, dip pens, projection, clay or textiles. Each material adds a different dimensionality. As a disabled artist Cara’s practice enables her to travel in ways she no longer can due to being mainly housebound. There is flow and energy and movement, everything her disability has taken away. Cara’s drawings, held in their collection, are currently on exhibition in Creative Spirits at The College of Psychic Studies, London. She is represented by Jennifer Lauren Gallery who shows her work at The Outsider Art Fair, NYC. She has developed works for the Mental Health Museum, Wakefield and exhibited with The European Outsider Art Association. She is currently in a phase of R&D having received a DYCP grant from Arts Council England.
Why did you become a member of Castlefield Gallery Associates ?
As a disabled, self-taught working-class artist, access to the mainstream artworld is incredibly difficult and I face many barriers due to these intersections. I am passionate about creating space for disadvantaged artists within our cultural institutions. Although I’m having good successes in my own genre and world, there remains a lot of ghettoisation outside of supported disability organisations and outsider related opportunities. There are still too few disabled artists in the mainstream being taken seriously. We often feel that we are still having to fight hard to be seen, heard and respected. I believe, disabled people’s voices and creative output are highly valuable to society as a whole and we have a distinct perspective to impart. And often a very unique practice. Being mainly house-bound, and not having attended art school, means I have very few arts based networks and even fewer in my home town of Manchester.
I decided to try out joining Castlefield Associates this year to see if this would help me in these difficult areas and to help me to get to know more artists and organisations locally. And by joining, in proxy, I hope to help open up spaces and platforms for other disabled artists along the way. Also, I’m currently completing an ACE funded DYCP R&D, and part of this was to connect more with local organisations, to help me grow as an artist, so the Castlefield Associates programme looked like the perfect fit.
What’s been the most positive/useful thing you have experienced about it so far?
To be honest I wasn’t expecting such a warm space, and I’ve felt welcomed and respected by the Associates and Laura. After my first event, I immediately felt at ease. There has been a lot of understanding around helping me access the programming with my often complex needs. It’s been really nice to meet the other associate artists and staff members. There is varied programming too. The gallery is perfectly accessible to a wheelchair user and alongside in-person events, there are still online events, which I appreciate, and which others seem to have now stopped programming. All organisations should offer this mix as it gives those of us with health needs more access, as we often have no choice but to be at home. But it also benefits other disadvantaged groups such as single parent families or those living further from the centre of town.
Would you encourage other artists to join – if so why?
I would definitely encourage other artists to join, even if it’s to try it out for a year. Take 12 months to see if you feel some benefits, whether that is growing stronger networks, learning from other artists or gaining access to the opportunities that being an Associate gives you. You may also bring with you an original voice and vision to share with the program, which will be invaluable in making it richer with wider inclusion.
Find out more about Castlefield Gallery Associates here
Apply for a fully funded Associates membership here
Image: Cara Macwilliam, Letter (2022)