During a workshop at the 2017 Art and Disability Forum, participants were asked to pair up, hold a single pen, and draw a pineapple in two minutes.

The activity had two rules: They were to have a clear idea of how to draw the fruit, and not to give way. They were also not to communicate with each other, not even on basic things like which part of the pineapple they intended to start.

The result was 120 seconds of struggling over blank sheets of paper. Many drawings didn’t resemble a pineapple.

The exercise, supervised by Dr Alice Fox, the keynote speaker at the forum, was meant to illustrate the experience of collaboration between two artists who couldn’t communicate, each forging on with their own idea of what the work should look like.

The Arts and Disability Forum was a two-day event, with presentations by overseas and local experts and practitioners on the first day, and workshops on the second day. Here’s some of the lessons that we picked up.

1. There will be pressure on the product.

Meeting the expectations of the audience and sponsors can be a challenge for inclusive creative projects. It’s often the first time artists with very different abilities—physical, intellectual or sensory—are working together. The creative process can be very improvisational, the final work very different from what the sponsor had envisioned.

Two participants at the 2017 Arts and Disability Forum attempt to draw a pineapple with one pen, without communicating to each other

Participants at the 2017 Arts and Disability Forum attempt to draw a pineapple without communicating to each other. The exercise is meant to simulate two artists working together but unable to communicate with each other.

2. It will take more time.

Questions from the participants touched on the complexity of involving persons with disabilities and designing works so that participation was meaningful. As the speakers shared tactics and strategies to manage inclusive art projects, a theme emerged: Inclusive art takes more time.

Everything takes more time. Myra Tam, Executive Director at Arts with the Disabled Association (Hong Kong), shared examples artists creating tactile versions of paintings, and audio describers rehearsing the stage script ahead of time. All these accommodations have to be planned for.

The best way to avoid running out of time, Dr Fox summed up, was simply to include more time for the project. And it’s better to promise less than to fail to deliver.

3. Quality is important.

No one wants to spend time looking at art that has no skill or creative intent within it. And we don’t want to mistake art as therapy with creative work by a disabled artist. It may sound obvious, but artistic quality is important to inclusive art.

But what is quality in inclusive art? Is it art that most resembles works in the mainstream? Is it art that is most dissimilar from the mainstream? It’s all quite subjective, isn’t it?

Participants at the 2017 Arts and Disability Forum share their sign name with each other

Participants at the 2017 Arts and Disability Forum share their sign name with each other. Dr Alice Fox (5th from left) believes that artists with disabilities should be given as much choice as possible–even the names by which they are addressed.

There was a lively debate among the artists present, and the general consensus seemed to be that  audiences appreciated authenticity in art—art that was true to the creators and their ability. And it’s about creating the best art, not what’s the best piece of disabled art.

4. Surprise and unpredictability is a good thing.

When there’s more than one person working on the same project, it’s never about how much control each person has over the process. It’s about collaboration and creating a work that neither artist could have created on their own.

Collaborating with someone who has a disability often involves surprise and unpredictability because most of us are not familiar with how to work with a person with a disability. And disabilities are as diverse as personalities and skills. In inclusive art, you can expect plenty of improvisation.

No two artists will have completely identical visions for their work, and the difference is even greater when they don’t share the same set of senses. The creators will need more effort to communicate, and they will need the space for the work to evolve.

The inclusive element poses a particular challenge to performing arts, where artistic quality comes from repetition and practice in a performance space. In works that includes performers with intellectual disabilities, what we see on stage is often transient, and cannot be repeated in the next performance.

5. Focus on what we can do.

Proving to the audience that we can perform despite our disability isn’t the point of inclusive art; artistry and meaningful participation is. A sculptor who has no strength to work on marble can still work on clay.

Meaningful accommodation is a matter of design and good accommodation. Alirio Zavarce of No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability gave the example of marking the stage with tape, so that a performer with short term memory loss could make his way across the stage as required by the script.

6. Resist the urge to give control to the ‘expert’

A common dynamic between an experienced able-bodied artist and a less experienced artist with a disability is that the less experienced one cedes creative control to the “expert” of the team.

Participants at the 2017 Arts and Disability Forum discuss issues during a breakout session

Participants at the 2017 Arts and Disability Forum discuss issues during a breakout session

There must be a deliberate effort to fight that tendency from all parties. In a collaboration, all participating artists are equals. We must know when to step back and involve the other party, even when they are quite willing to defer to experience or skill.

7. Combat isolation.

When individual works are displayed together, viewers have a tendency to make comparisons. We try to infer differences in value, creative intent, skills, and so on.

In the case of art by disabled artists, audiences will inevitably make comparisons about whether it’s ‘as good as’ the works of an able-bodied peer.

That’s just how art is in the mainstream: Expressions of individuals, individually expressed, constantly competing for public space and attention.

Of course, educating the audience is one way. But as a practitioner of inclusive art, we can take a different approach. When artists with different abilities work as equals on the same canvas; when they perform in the same scene on the same stage; the audience will begin to appreciate the meaning of inclusive art.

And we leave you with the top tweets from the event.

The 2017 Arts and Disability Forum took place on 20-21 April 2017 at the Enabling Village. The event was organised by the National Arts Council, British Council and Singapore International Foundation.