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26th June 2023

Ableism in galleries: The Lowry offers a solution

The Mancunion speaks to The Lowry about their solution to galleries being inaccessible to people with additional access requirements.
Ableism in galleries: The Lowry offers a solution

Galleries are, of course, some of the most exciting places to be. Galleries are bustling, they have new and old art on display and they’re social. We queue for hours to see an exhibition and walk around to music that soundtracks our experience. However, all of this chaos can be alienating to those with additional access requirements. The large crowds can be overwhelming and the music can cause someone to become over-stimulated. This makes art, something meant to be for everyone, inaccessible to those with additional needs.

The Lowry, however, has offered a solution in the form of its ‘Relaxed Hour’. The ‘Relaxed Hour’ takes place from 10am-11am every Sunday, and, during this time, The Lowry will reduce the volume for ambient music in the gallery, limit the capacity in each of the galleries, and offer ear defenders at the front desk. The Lowry hopes this will allow more people with additional access requirements to be able to come to the gallery and enjoy art, an ethos that extends to The Lowry’s Relaxed Crafty Families workshop where families with a neurodivergent child can learn about a different L.S Lowry painting each week.

The Lowry’s Relaxed Crafty Families workshop. Photo: The Lowry Press

It’s a change that is yet to be embraced by many galleries across the UK, so I spoke to The Gallery Team to get an insight into why The Lowry has decided to lead the way in making this change.

I asked how the idea for the ‘Relaxed Hour’ came about and the team told me “We recognised that many individuals and their families with additional access requirements would prefer to experience our Galleries in a calmer and less busy environment. We worked with the communities that are impacted by it and spent several weeks working with members of the community who have a lived experience and through their contributions we were able to create an hour that meets the needs of a broad number of groups.”

The hour is a step forward in how galleries can support people with additional access requirements, then. I asked the team how, specifically, the hour meets these additional needs. “Every Sunday,” the team says, “visitors will be able to enjoy all the exhibition spaces, as well as enjoying a quiet space to relax with sensory seating, toys and books, and TheCarole Nash Lookout, a space to play and create. Additionally, ambient music and announcements will be reduced throughout the building, ear defenders will be available, and capacity in the Galleries will be limited. As part of the Relaxed Hour, families can get creative with a Relaxed Crafty Families session which takes place on the first Sunday of every month.”

The Lowry is one of the first galleries to embrace a change, like the Relaxed Hour, as many galleries across the UK are yet to introduce similar measures. “The arts sector has community access at its core,” the team says, “and a project like Relaxed Hour needs time to get it right and it’s only through coordination with communities we can do projects like this justice. We are hopeful that our commitment to having a Relaxed Hour every Sunday will encourage more Galleries to introduce something similar, as we were inspired by other Galleries.”

The Lowry’s Relaxed Hour is from 10-11am every Sunday, so if you have a child with additional access needs, it’s a great time to visit. You can find more on the Lowry’s website.

Owen Scott

Owen Scott

Head Arts Editor at the Mancunion and culture journalist

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