A look into the work Zinc does in engaging disabled people and other excluded groups with the arts, and how Heather Stradling has endeavored to ensure exclusion is combatted.
I was fortunate enough to spend an Arts Award Youth Network Leadership residential at Zinc Arts Centre, a facility in Chipping Ongar. The centre has a long and interesting history, which is better explained on their website than I could ever paraphrase. It’s most recent transition has seen it become a National Centre for Arts Access and Inclusion, specialising in disabled and disadvantaged young people engagement, providing the help and support to ensure equal access to arts is available.
While there, I managed to get an interview with Heather Stradling, who has over 15 years of experience in the arts sector, and currently holds the position of Director at Zinc.
This article will not serve as a miniature autobiography for Heather, as it is focused largely on her operations within Zinc, however her job history is incredibly interesting, and if you do want to find out more about her, then I urge you to listen to the full interview.
When asked of her role and duties within Zinc, it is immediately visible what a huge level of responsibility rests on her shoulders. Included in the list is the “Day to day running of the organisation… human resources, legalities, finance” and programme development, and that was only a “snapshot” of her overall work, demonstrating how busy she is.
Further evidence is provided when an audience member asked what the biggest single difficulty faced on a day-to-day basis was, which for Heather is the workload. She believes it is probably quite a ubiquitous issue within arts sector organisations. Most prevalent in smaller organisations that lack the funding and resources of larger enterprises, it highlights the arguable lack of investment within the sector, which in itself can prove to be a barrier for access.
In my opinion Zinc is an incredibly suitable place for Heather. It is obvious that she loves her job, and her morals and ethics mirror what I perceive to be the core values at Zinc. Over the course of her working years she has provided significant and continued dedication to lowering the barriers for entry into the arts world. This can be witnessed in her actions in the wider community, such as her work with Momentum as ‘Inclusion and Regeneration Project Manager’, and the co-authoring of the book ‘Turning the Tide: Designing and Managing a Participatory Arts Regeneration Project’ The book serves as a how to guide for organsiations that want to start or manage a project, and tips on handling the budgetary side of things. This was published in 2007.
Her dedication can also be seen more intrinsically too. “Over a period of years [she] gradually learned sign language” so as to “be able to communicate with everyone who came to [her] classes”, which isn’t very often done. This has expanded to her being qualified up to level 3, with many staff within Zinc also having a level of sign language skills so as to be as accommodating to peoples’ needs as possible.
The salient point in this is that education is important. Heather re-iterates the importance of education several times during the interview, but emphasises that education doesn’t need to take place only in the classroom. Schemes like ‘Creative Apprenticeships’ can be crucial for young people not in education to acquire and retain the skills necessary to have future employability, in or out of the arts sector. Even a Bronze Arts Award could potentially open doors into future opportunities, which is why Zinc is a centre, and hopes to expand their involvement further as the Award grows.
The work and services Zinc provides are important for the continued combating of social exclusion, and ensuring equality of opportunity. More so in the current climate that ever, management and Government are looking to reduce expenditure, which in turn can equate to a reduction in funds available for arts projects. It is imperative that centres like this are retained, and Heather hopes that the Paralympics will raise awareness of the issue, and “showing what disabled people can do”.