Arts researcher developing circus app for autistic children

Dr Tracy Piper-Wright, a Lecturer in Fine Art at the Wrexham University’s North Wales School of Art and Design (NWSAD), teamed-up with Circus Starr – a charitable organisation that supports disabled and vulnerable children across the UK – and Therapy Box to garner £124,735 for the project.

Supported by the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts – Nesta, Arts & Humanities Research Council and public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, the ground-breaking Show & Tell venture will test the use of digital technology to widen audience access and engagement in the sector.

From next month, Tracy, from Ellesmere in Shropshire, will develop an interactive social story using performances by the troupe, preparing children with autism for the circus experience – the characters, loud noises, daredevil stunts, bright lights and thrilling aerial acrobatics.

Show & Tell will enable the children to gain prior understanding of an arts event and encourage attendance by alleviating the fears associated with the unknown. The app will also be used to assist concentration, understanding and engagement with the event, helping  to enrich children’s enjoyment of a performance prior to, during and afterwards.

The app will be trialled next spring at shows across the North West, and Tracy is confident the “rewarding” initiative will prove beneficial to youngsters living with the condition.

“As well as being very rewarding for the difference it could make to children with autism it will show how arts can benefit from technology, and vice versa,” she said.

“Therapy Box and Circus Starr looked at this earlier in the year and then approached me to help develop a research profile. The project has really captured the imagination and could be of international significance if rolled out.”

Tracy added: “When the app is completed it will basically be a container we can populate with any type of cultural experience, in this case the circus.

“All research is speculation but this will have an impact and could even be life-changing; we’ll be getting feedback from parents and the children – it’s going to be a very exciting year and I’m delighted to be a part of this.”

Neville Wilson, Director of Circus Starr, explained how the troupe performs three times a year at 75 different locations to thousands of disadvantaged, disabled or vulnerable youngsters.

“We continually strive to develop our reach and enhance the experience of these neglected and often forgotten audiences,” he said.

“The Show & Tell app will be the perfect opportunity for us to reach even more children by giving them additional tangible support before, during and after our show that we hope will also open doors to other arts and cultural opportunities.”

Jon Kingsbury, Digital R&D Fund for the Arts Programme Director at Nesta added: “Circus Starr’s exciting new project is a brilliant example of how the R&D Fund is supporting digital experimentation in the arts and cultural sector.

“They were selected [for funding] because the insights, practice and results from the project will benefit not just the organisations receiving the funding, but also many other arts organisations wanting to explore how digital innovation might help them better achieve their core mission.”

Follow Tracy Piper-Wright on Twitter for more on the Show & Tell app: @tracypwright. For more on NWSAD visit the website: www.nwsad.co.uk