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The Factory street view across the river.

Meet our presenters: Kate Fox

Meet Kate Fox, Access Manager at the Manchester International Festival, who will present as part of the Aesthetically Accessible Arts and Cultural Experiences panel on Tuesday 16th March 2021.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got to where you are today.

I’m relatively new to the arts in terms of my professional experience, I actually began my working life as a bookseller, and then an academic publisher before working for an NGO as a ‘new media manager’ back in the time of MySpace and the early days of Twitter! From there I joined the BBC just as it was moving to Salford, and spent eight years working in various roles for CBeebies. Towards the end of my time in MediaCityUK, I took part in a project focused on workforce representation with a group of other disabled BBC staff which I loved, and when I saw that Manchester International Festival were looking for someone to focus on accessibility, it seemed like a good chance to combine my professional and personal experience to create change.

What organisation do you work with / for?

I work for Manchester International Festival. MIF is a biennial artist-led festival that brings together artists from different art forms and backgrounds to create dynamic, innovative new work, which we stage in a rich tapestry of venues across Greater Manchester, UK – from theatres, galleries and concert halls to railway depots, churches and car parks!

Manchester is currently building The Factory, a world-class cultural space in the heart of the city – which will be a year-round home for MIF, where we’ll stage one of Europe’s most ambitious and adventurous year-round creative programmes.

What access and inclusion provisions, services and programmes are currently in place in your organisation?

We’re currently in the process of creating MIF21, which will take place in July 2021 (in some format, as we see how the current pandemic unfolds). In terms of that, we have a programme of accessible performances across the Festival and we’re working closely with our artists and creative teams to support them to integrate thinking about accessibility and disability representation in their work as they are creating it. We also incorporate disability awareness training for our Festival staff, our large volunteer cohort and our freelance workforce. Internally, we’re engaged with the UK Government’s Disability Confident scheme for employers, and working hard to overhaul our recruitment and HR processes to make MIF an inclusive place to work.

We also have an Access and Disability working group which involves staff from all parts of the organisation and ensures that thinking about access happens in every department, as part of everything we do. Of course, The Factory is a big focus for us at the moment too, and our Disabled People’s Engagement Group (which is facilitated by the amazing folk at Breakthrough UK) is a key part of that programme of work – it’s a group of experts with disabilities who have been consulting with us on every stage of The Factory build. Our Young People’s Forum has also recently formed a Radical Access subcommittee, which has already started some excellent conversations about how we might take our work in this area forward in the future.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I am focused on plans for how The Factory will operate, and on making sure that we’re thinking strategically about how to make the building and the work that happens inside it as accessible and inclusive as possible. I’m also working on various MIF21 commissions, and collaborating with our International team to look at how we can support our partner organisations and touring venues to present accessible work.

What has been your greatest accomplishment?

Completing a postgraduate degree while juggling multiple temporary jobs after being made redundant in 2010.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Just before I left the BBC I was lucky enough to have some career development coaching, and they encouraged me to think about applying for board/trustee positions. It’s not something I ever would have thought I was experienced or ‘good’ enough to do without that prompt, but I did apply, and I ended up joining an amazing board – it’s taught me so much that has been useful to me in my day-job at MIF (not to mention in my personal life) and enabled me to work with a fantastic group of board colleagues from completely different personal and professional backgrounds.

What surprises you the most about your job?

I think it’s still relatively unusual for an organisation like MIF to have a role like mine that’s dedicated to accessibility, so when I started I wasn’t sure what sort of reception I’d get from my new colleagues. Initially, I think I was a little bit surprised by how enthusiastic and supportive everyone was of my role, and how excited they were that it had been created – nowadays I’m constantly surprised and delighted by the creativity and commitment everyone I’m lucky enough to work with brings to the challenges of making accessible work.

Where do great ideas come from in your organisation?

They come from everyone – from the diverse, creative and wonderful bunch of humans that make up MIF. And I think they also come from the ongoing efforts we make together to try and ensure that MIF is a place where everyone can bring their whole selves to the work, and safely draw on their lived experience to inform what we do.

Describe an access and inclusion solution or innovation that has inspired you and / or your work.

I absolutely love the Relaxed Venue Methodology developed by Jess Thom and the team at Battersea Arts Centre in London. They took the idea of relaxed performance, and thought, what if the whole venue was ‘relaxed’. From my understanding, they applied that idea systematically across the whole organisation, so, what would it mean for producing work, what would it mean for the bar staff, the cleaning team, the front of house offer…and so on. That was really inspiring to me, because it chimed with the idea of placing accessibility at the heart of what you do, and making it part of your DNA as an organisation. I was lucky enough to go down to BAC and hear Jess and David Jubb (BAC’s former artistic director) talk about their work on the project – and it got even better for me when they revealed that one of their principles for the project was to ‘reduce faff’. No-one needs any extra faff, admin or bureaucracy in their lives, but especially not people with disabilities – and I think that’s a really good, practical credo for those of us working on accessibility to try and stick to!

What is the biggest challenge that faces access and inclusion in arts and culture today?

I think, in light of everything that’s happened in the past year, it’s keeping access and inclusion on the agenda, in the spotlight, and – maybe most importantly – reflected in the budget when there is so much else going on and it feels as if the arts are sometimes fighting for survival.

What has been your access and inclusion highlight to date?

In terms of my own work, I think it has to be Atmospheric Memory, the project I’ll be speaking about at From Access To Inclusion – because the whole team really championed accessibility from the beginning, and that enabled us to weave access through everything we did at every stage of the project.

On a more personal note, in terms of representation, Ryan O’Connell’s character battling communal bench seats in restaurants in the Netflix series Special really spoke to me as someone with CP! Sometimes it’s the tiny details that make you feel seen.

What is your access and inclusion goal for the future?

To help ensure that in The Factory we create a place that works for everybody, and has equality of access at its heart.


The Factory build South end of Water Street in August 2020.

The Factory build South end of Water Street, Manchester, August 2020. Image courtesy of Manchester International Festival. Photo credit Pawel Paniczko.

Keeping access and inclusion on the agenda, in the spotlight, and – maybe most importantly – reflected in the budget when there is so much else going on and it feels as if the arts are sometimes fighting for survival.

Atmosphonia by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer for Atmospheric Memory in 2019.

Atmosphonia by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer for Atmospheric Memory, Manchester, 2019. Image courtesy of Manchester International Festival.

The Factory street view across the river.

The Factory street view across the river, Manchester, 2020. Image courtesy of Manchester International Festival. Copyright OMA.

Cloud Display 1 as part of Atmospheric Memory by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer in 2019.

Cloud Display 1 as part of Atmospheric Memory by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Manchester, 2019. Image courtesy of Manchester International Festival. Copyright Mariana Yáñez.

Inside the Chamber 5 as part of Atmospheric Memory by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer in 2019.

Inside the Chamber 5 as part of Atmospheric Memory by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Manchester, 2019. Image courtesy of Manchester International Festival.

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