Aaron McPeake, Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary Winner 2013. Photo: Rachel Cherry
Shortlist 6 exhibition at Shape Gallery, Westfield Stratford. Photo: Rachel Cherry

“We want to get back to a bit of face-to-face!” Ben Fredericks is programme coordinator at Shape, London’s disability-led arts organisation. This Thursday, 3 July, it launches Artist Network, a new quarterly event for emerging and mid-career artists to get together, develop new collaborations and share ideas for professional development.

“You can have a lot of contact and feel as though you’re part of a community through social media sites like Facebook,” Fredericks says, “but that doesn’t confront the problem of physical isolation, which can be an issue for disabled artists in particular, and is something we want to tackle.”

Artist Network meetings will take place at the recently opened Shape Gallery in Westfield Stratford City, the huge commercial centre next to the Olympic Park. With level access and BSL interpreters on hand, the relaxed evening events are open to all and, Fredericks hopes, will enable support, debate and exchange between disabled and non-disabled artists alike.

“We do a lot for disabled artists exclusively,” he says, “but if you build up a community it can be hard to break out of that circle of contacts and meet new people – the Artist Network aims to broaden this.”

Thursday’s event opens with a talk by the winner of the 2013-14 Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary, Shape’s prestigious annual prize for mid-career disabled artists.

Aaron McPeake, whose practice spans bronze casting, moving image, photography and sound, has recently completed a three-month residency at Bristol’s Spike Island as part of his award. Work by McPeake as well as the three other ARMB nominees - sculptor Christopher Sacre, artist and activist James Leadbitter (The Vacuum Cleaner), and painter David Lock - is currently on display in the gallery’s Shortlist 6 exhibition.

The launch also coincides with this month’s First Thursdays – the collective late opening event for galleries in east London. Just across the Olympic Park in Hackney Wick a host of venues – including Schwarz Gallery and Stour Space – will also be opening their doors.

“Preview evenings like First Thursdays are really important for emerging artists – they are where many of these ad hoc networking opportunities happen,” says Fredericks. “But all too often the venues aren’t accessible to disabled artists – we’re hoping the Artist Network will redress that balance.”

Artist Network, 3 July, 6-9pm, Shape Gallery, Westfield Stratford, 91/92 The Street, London E20 1EJ.

This article first appeared on 30.6.2014 at Artists Newsletter magazine