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LEVEL Centre

Hidden gem, call in. There you go article complete!

Words: Paul Chapman Images: Level Centre

I was invited down to LEVEL Centre in Rowsley for the opening of Nature Machine, an exhibition by The Brew Projects team. Inspired by the artists’ trips to Derbyshire including their visits to the nearby Nine Ladies Stone Circle, and Bakewell Old House Museum, Nature Machine is full of accessible sensory experiences that visitors can touch as well as see and hear.

Also on display (to the end of June), is Radical Bodies, where the artists involved provide a rare opportunity for disabled people to define their own image. The self-portraits were made with the complete creative control of the artists they represent; they are a reflection of the agency and individuality that is so often erased in their public image and provide a rare opportunity for you to consider disabled people as they wish to be seen, rather than how you expect them to appear.

LEVEL is based in a fantastic looking, RIBA award winning building, nestled on the corner opposite Peak Village, almost hidden away. I arranged a visit to see Emma Oaks, Marketing & Audience Development Manager, this time I noticed some brown tourist signs that mentioned LEVEL centre, so perhaps not as hidden as I thought.

LEVEL is a charity, originally called First Movement, that opened its purpose-built contemporary arts centre in Rowsley in 2008. - Founded by Peter Shelton, Peter was included in the Independent on Sunday’s “happy list”, acknowledging the huge impact his work had on the happiness of so many, so they were off to a good start. “The building is designed to be accessible,” explains Emma, “60 windows allow natural light to flood the building and we have various exhibition spaces in which to present visual digital and performance work.”

On the day I arrived, a group rehearsing for a live performance which was due to be live streamed later in the day, the place had a real buzz about it.

The exhibitions were on display in the main corridor and one of the exhibition spaces, workshops and rehearsals in the second exhibition space, the adjacent annex and even the kitchen was being used!

“Our mission is to celebrate the art that ‘difference’ makes,” explains Emma. “Our focus is on providing creative channels for people with disabilities and giving artists of all ages space in which to create. Our exhibitions and digital installations are open to the public, with access being considered at every stage of our work.”

This had me thinking, life as an artist or creative is hard enough, I can’t imagine what this would be like given the extra pressure of a disability. Emma mentioned ‘spoon theory’ to me, so I looked it up. The spoon theory is a metaphor describing the amount of physical and/or mental energy that a person has available for daily activities and tasks, and how it can become limited, it explains how someone might use 4 of their 5 daily spoons simply getting out of bed, cleaned and fed, leaving them low on energy and making it difficult to be creative for the day.

Right now, LEVEL has a 'call out' for work from disabled artists for their public visual art exhibition over the summer, they look to change exhibitions three times a year so there’s always something different to see at the centre.

As well as exhibitions the LEVEL holds various workshops, for instance on Monday night the Youth Collective created a giant Lego city and next week are trying stop-go animation. The building is all on one level and has a mobile hoist, shower bed and Braille signage. They also loan out ear defenders and have visual and sensory stories on the website to help plan your visit.. Above all, the team at LEVEL are warm and friendly and just want more people to visit the centre and experience the digital and visual art that is created there.

The thing I really liked about LEVEL is that you can book an hour session to see the exhibitions exclusively in your family group, and there are wrap-around activities too so that you will easily fill your hour.

If you want to call into LEVEL you could team it with a coffee and browse at Peak Village, they are a short walk over the road. There will also be a popup exhibition at Peak Village, although this only runs until 18 June so you'll need to be quick.

Alternatively, there is a relatively new cycle track that runs from Matlock to Rowsley along Darley Dale, so you could lock the bike up and drop in, and if you plan to do the Peak District Boundary walk, it’s on the route!

I asked Emma what she loves most about LEVEL, “I’ve been in this position two years now and love the place, Monday’s LEVEL Makes group has a particularly special atmosphere, people singing, being creative, I love to see people coming together in this way.”

LEVEL is unique to the Peak District and is free to visit, so please call in if you pass,

and if you’re a business and looking for a venue to hire they’d be interested to hear from you… and of course ensure you mention where you saw them!

Address: LEVEL Centre, Old Station Close,

Rowsley DE4 2EL

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