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Come as you are

Grand Union is an arts organisation located in Digbeth, Birmingham. It is a place and an art practice that holds space for developing artistic, cultural, social and environmental relations for building equitable living.

Harvest Picnic, Birmingham, September 2023, Image by Nina Baillie.

Come as you are

As a group of artists, curators, ecologists, and activists we have housed a gallery and artists’ studios for over a decade, and regularly work with a range of community groups and partners. We continue to produce artworks, exhibitions, and creative projects that connect our past and present with our future.

The work is held in careful relationships which are forged in making, planting, cooking, listening, learning, questioning, and advocating together.

The work happens and is experienced through different sites, spaces, and environments: the gallery, garden, kitchen, and studio. Our programme weaves in and out of the gallery space through a series of happenings and environments. We believe context is everything and we work with the idea of connective aesthetics, shifting our understanding of hard-edged individualism towards a programme that presents an exploration of deeper meaningful relationships between artist/artwork/audience.1

We explore openly what it is to be human and vulnerable. What if being vulnerable was a powerful state of being? That we are safe for others to see us with all our cultural, emotional and physical differences, to see our authentic self with no filters or control, where we will be supported to be with our fluidity and queerness. Our programme invites you to be, or to come as you are and your whole true self will belong.

Starting from a fundamental baseline of access as ‘the means or opportunity to approach or enter a place’, we understand access as a place of dignity and care, access as support systems, whether physical, sensory, physiological or psychological.2 Access references our positionality from many perspectives, and recognises that it is impacted by many possible barriers set up by society. We operate from a place of active care, developing collaborations that centre the needs and desires of those we work with and for, building access intimacy into our practice. Access intimacy goes beyond obligatory access, it does not tick boxes and does not exist to serve us, but instead is a reciprocal system of support. We believe in cultivating access intimacy as resistance, access intimacy as interdependence in action. This does not mean we are and will always be 100% accessible, but we are working all the time to change this and understand where we can meet you where you are.3

Art is a phenomenological lived experience – meaning and values are revealed through the ebbs and flows of our experiences in the lived world. We want our programme to develop embodied understandings through the nuance of our sensory experience. We acknowledge the subtleties and differences of our sensory understanding and lean towards connecting our experiences with others. We want to actively develop an awareness and openness to difference.

We come together on the understanding that there are different ways of being in the world, that there is not one way to move through it and that we must meet each other where we are. Imagination and possibility are most alive when we are offered space to move through the world as are, as we need.

We continually develop programmes and policy from the perspective of this difference. What would it look like if you could come and change the lighting and sound levels in an exhibition as you need? How would it feel to have your ideas listened and responded to? How would it feel to have the confidence to ask for these things, to acknowledge our differences and dwell in them? We take heart from the words of Jack Ky Tan, ‘Difference is the world’.4

With an active recognition of the conflict and violence of language, we operate from a place of creative transformation, communication, and poetic states. We are always learning.

1. ‘Connective Aesthetics’ is a term and idea coined by art critic Suzie Gablik in 1992. ‘Connective Aesthetics’ rejects the traditional idea of the artist as the “individual creative genius” who is not responsible to anyone or anything, and instead suggests the art world is socially responsible to engage with the planet and society’s needs. ‘Connective Aesthetics’ recognises and highlights the importance of the relationships between individuals and their contexts and communities. You can read more about ‘connective aesthetics’ here: S. Gablik, ‘Connective Aesthetics’ in American Art, Vol.6 (2), (1992), pp.2-7. and M. Salwa, ‘Community Gardens as Public Art’ in Public Art and Aesthetics, Vol. 15 (1), (2022), pp. 41-53

2. ‘Access’ entry for, accessed online [15.02.2024]:

3. M. Mingus, Access Intimacy: The Missing Link, (2011), accessed online [15.02.2024]:

4. Up Projects, ‘Conflict and Carefrom Constellations Assemblies, 24th January 2024, accessed online [15.02.2024]: