Making Art World Spaces Neurodivergent Friendly

On this edition of ArtEvolve, we were joined by Jennifer Gilbert, Founder and Director of the Jennifer Lauren Gallery – which champions and exhibits self-taught, disabled, neurodivergent, and overlooked artists – and Sonia Boué, a multiform artist and leading consultant for neurodiversity in the arts.

This week is Neurodiversity Celebration Week (21-27 March), which aims to increase acceptance and understanding, educate, and celebrate neurodiversity. Together with our guests, we discussed neurodiversity in art world spaces.


What are some of the biggest obstacles for neurodivergent professionals in the art world?


  • The switch back to in-person events without consideration of accessibility. During the pandemic, in-person events weren’t possible, and the art world went online, connecting remotely via webinars, video calls, online tours, and other methods. Now that physical spaces are back open, many of these ways of connecting – which made art world spaces accessible to neurodivergent people – have been dropped.
  • Office culture. Similarly, remote workers are being asked to return to – or even go to for the first time – office spaces that are set up around social norms and biases with little analysis of how this works for individuals.
  • Lack of knowledge and understanding. When neurodiversity is discussed, it isn’t always accompanied by a deep understanding of the lived experiences of neurodivergent people.
  • Lack of neurodivergent leaders. Having leaders or consultants involved from the outset of projects helps ensure the right access and support is fundamental rather than an afterthought.


How can organizations become more accessible to neurodivergent and/or disabled colleagues and artists?


  • Make call outs and opportunities accessible with easy-read versions, BSL and audio versions, not just text.
  • Give people time ­– a deadline of a week is not long enough to process and complete applications.
  • Accept submissions in multiple formats, such as written, audio, video.
  • Include information about available support. Are there funds available for artists and applicants? Let them know.
  • Consider how spaces can be made more welcoming. Are there quiet spaces or private rooms? What sensory adjustments can be made? This could include noise-cancelling headphones, offering different opening hours with less visitors, or flexible scheduling.


Sonia’s top tips for good practice

  1. Allow for multiple communication styles and formats in all interactions and communications (including in return).
  2. Be flexible about opportunities and offers, think bespoke rather than one size fits all.
  3. Be community informed. Does your offer genuinely meet a need for a community? Have you spoken to that community and done your research? Are you offer the same thing to a group with a different need without consideration/adjustments?


Further resources

Disability Arts Online

Birmingham Open Media – Am I Autistic?


Thank you to our guests, Jennifer Gilbert and Sonia Boué, for joining us!