Fostering inclusion in the arts: the mission of Les Muses school takes on a new dimension

A unique art school

Founded in 1997 by Cindy Schwartz, Les Muses was created to fill a void in the artistic training of people with disabilities.

Since then, the school has been offering professional training in theatre, dance and singing to artists with disabilities (intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, physical or sensory limitations) and it collaborates with the Quebec artistic community to promote the integration of students into the professional practice of the performing arts.

Credit: Sandra Lynn Bélanger

To be in tune with current artistic practice

Although the training program offered by Les Muses is recognized and successfully contributes to students’ participation in renowned artistic productions (such as Louise Archambault’s award-winning film Gabrielle, starring artists trained by Les Muses), the teaching team wanted to harness the potential inherent to the strong trend towards inclusion that is currently sweeping Quebec culture.

In looking for a way to further encourage the growing openness of the arts community to the idea of collaborating with artists with disabilities and enhancing their training, the school has conceived an inclusive laboratory for artistic research and creation whose purpose is to bring professional performers and atypical artists of great talent closer together.

« It seems to us that the meeting, exchange and collaboration of these two professional artistic communities are too rare, although essential for the vitality of cultural practice. This initiative seems to us particularly relevant and highly welcome in a context where it is necessary to find avenues to fight against the standardization and uniformity of culture, and at the societal level as well. »

Agathe and Claudine from Les Muses

By placing creation at the heart of the process, the laboratory will bring together a heterogeneous group of artists in a process of inclusion within the practice. At the crossroads of the stage and the rehearsal room, each creation laboratory will be led by a seasoned artist from the world of the performing arts (dance, performance, theatre, music), invited to deepen his or her own artistic practice in contact with a cast of performers with and without disabilities. 

Exploring the field of social innovation

Led by Claudine Robillard and Agathe Henninger, the inclusive laboratory project was selected to join the second cohort of the MIS Civic Incubator, which began in the fall of 2019. Arriving just at the right time during the implementation phase of the project, the program was quickly seen by the team as a stepping stone to test the idea of the lab as a pilot project.

« To enable Les Muses to develop and find its rightful place in the ecosystem of vocational training schools, the social innovation sector seemed to me to be a field to be explored and invested in. »

Agathe

Claudine Robillard and Hugo Steben – Civic Incubator workshop

At the heart of their vision, which goes well beyond introducing more people living with disabilities to the practice of the performing arts, the inclusive laboratory for artistic research and creation aims to develop and demonstrate the distinctive value of these artists, and thus nurture the experience and creative process of all artists, whether or not they live with a disability. It is also a way to bring about a systemic transformation in the perception of the contribution to society made by people with disabilities.

With the experience drawing to a close, the coaching and workshops offered by the Civic Incubator allowed Claudine and Agathe to delve deeper into the essential points of the project, to reflect on its positive and negative impacts, and to target the right audiences and key stakeholders to carry out such a laboratory. In short, it allowed them to put in place strategies to ensure that the project would bring real added value to all artists, to Les Muses and, by extension, to the performing arts community and its audiences.

We asked them about their experience with the Civic Incubator. For Claudine, the program’s stakeholders and instructors certainly contributed to the development of their project.

« Indeed, showing great generosity, a real ability to listen, curiosity and undeniable expertise, the MIS team has, throughout the program, actively participated in the evolution of our vision of the project. The tools they made available to us helped us develop and deploy a clear vision of the different stages of the project’s development, which is very reassuring and a confidence-building vector. »

Claudine

Agathe Henninger – Civic Incubator workshop

The participants also noted the enriching encounters with the other winners in the cohort, the exchanges and sharing of experiences that open up new horizons.

The launch of the first inclusive laboratory

In anticipation of the first lab scheduled for May 2020, many challenges still await the team, such as launching the call for applications, selecting the artists and the joint development of the principles and functioning of this first intensive lab, which will involve just over 50 hours of studio research. A documentary will also be produced, recounting the experience of this unusual encounter in the world of creation, which we hope will be entrenched with time.

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