The name is ambiguous but the mission statement is crystal clear: TIN Arts are passionate about dance, the performing arts and the difference these make to people’s lives.
“Our vision is that everybody has access to the arts. We hope to achieve this by removing barriers and increasing access to high quality dance and performing arts.”
If Durham wins UK City of Culture 2025, TIN Arts will have played a significant part in securing the title for the county and will be a key component in making that year a great success.
Plans are already starting to take shape. Co-founder Martin Wilson says there will be home-grown TIN Arts events across the county but also, quite possibly, an international headliner involving a collaboration with a dance company in Australia.
From this determinedly inclusive County Durham company we can expect what Martin calls “an equitable approach”, with a diverse TIN Arts cultural workforce “trained and empowered to lead”.
If UK City of Culture is meant to change lives, then TIN Arts is already well ahead of the game.
By giving opportunities and encouragement to people with autism or learning disabilities and showing that neither need be a bar to creating great art, the company has changed countless lives since it was set up in 1999
TIN Arts is the brainchild of Martin and partner Tess Chaytor, both graduates of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, whose talent, passion and determination make things happen.
In a documentary film called Footprints, the couple recall how their own first steps led to the formation of a company now unique in the North – on a par nationally, reckons Martin, only with Candoco and Corali dance companies in London and Stopgap in Farnham, Surrey.
Tess, growing up in Peterlee, was a little girl whose shyness thwarted her desire to dance – until her mother gave her one last chance. She would take her to the class at the local leisure centre but if she cried or got her ‘pet lip’ on, that would be it. Never again. With that ultimatum and encouraged by a friend’s trophies, Tess danced – and has never looked back.
Martin, growing up in mid-Wales, was a clever kid who couldn’t sit still. He recalls a “feral childhood” which led him to sport, which in turn led him, via a quirk of circumstance, to dance.
Finding in each other a kindred spirit, they came to County Durham and set up TIN Arts. Martin says they wanted a name that was non-specific and ‘Tin happened to be Tess’s nickname for him when they were first dating.
For more than 20 years now, they have been running workshops, putting on performances, organising festivals and finding talent which would otherwise be overlooked.
Young dancers like George Williams have enchanted audiences, proving that autism or a learning disability needn’t be an impediment when the artistic language is dance.
Tess and Martin set high standards, urging students to realise their potential and find freedom through physical expression. Success is reflected in the fact that since 2012 TIN Arts has been one of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio organisations.
“We’re relatively small but until then it was very much about making ends meet and finding ways to do things,” says Martin. “Since then, we’ve been more strategic. Now we work much more across the North of England.”
Together with Yorkshire Dance, TIN Arts founded Talent Hub. As Martin explained at the time, it was “our attempt to provide the bespoke support needed to enable dancers with a learning disability or autism to progress professionally into dance companies or to emerge as independent dance makers or community practitioners”. That support, he added, had not been available until now.
TIN Arts, its many successes acknowledged, has also worked in the North West with the likes of Cheshire Dance, Merseyside Dance Initiative, HOME in Manchester and Ludus Dance in Lancaster.
Then there are the Clown Doctors, a TIN Arts initiative which sends performers with a ready smile, a funny name and a simple red nose into hospital children’s wards across the region. Working their friendly magic, the dotty ‘doctors’ have brought cheerful respite to countless youngsters and their families when it is needed most. Durham, having branded itself No Ordinary County, surely need look no further than this to justify the description.
Inevitably, the Covid-19 pandemic made the work of TIN Arts even more of a challenge. Equally inevitably, Martin, Tess and their team set out to prove themselves equal to it. “You could either go, ‘Let’s just hunker down, grab hold of the furlough scheme and survive’,” reflects Martin. “But we kind of went the other way and said, ‘Well, what’s possible?’
“I suppose it’s in our nature but we just sort of ran towards the fire.
“There were many people we work with who were shielding or stuck in hospital or isolated, so we went, ‘OK, how can we help?’ We started doing Zoom stuff but also started recording stuff on DVD to send to people who don’t have broadband, and as soon as we could we organised ourselves to get back face-to-face.
“We were back in the hospitals six months after the first lockdown with our Clown Doctors all in PPE, and we opened up our dance space because it was deemed to be of therapeutic community value.
“We haven’t taken our foot off the pedal at all. We’ve just had to be a bit more creative, and we’ve really got to know a lot more about people, their families and their circumstances.”
The pandemic, says Martin, sharpened their vision and made the TIN Arts team even more determined to live up to their mission statement.
TIN may be in the name but this company, based at Framwellgate Moor Community Centre, has proved itself to be one of the county’s gilt-edged assets.
Story courtesy of Culture Durham.