Attitude is Everything unveils groundbreaking initiative to empower D/deaf and disabled artists

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In a departure from its mission to improve accessibility for disabled gig and festival-goers, music charity Attitude is Everything has recently unveiled NEXT STAGE – a groundbreaking initiative aimed at boosting the careers of UK artists with impairments or long-term health conditions.

Wheelchair user playing keyboard, with a guitarist and tambourine player

Revenge of Calculon at Airwaves 2015.

Supported by Arts Council England, NEXT STAGE takes direct inspiration from existing industry-wide initiatives such as ReBalance and Keychange that encourage greater inclusivity and diversity in music. NEXT STAGE aims to address two fundamental issues:

1. To overcome the “knowledge gap” surrounding disabled musicians

Deaf and disabled artists have made and continue to make a significant contribution to British music. But there is an overall lack of information about their work and livelihoods. For instance, what challenges do individuals with impairments face in studios and at venues? How comfortable are artists with sharing their experiences and needs? What development opportunities need to be more inclusive?

To tackle this “knowledge gap”, Attitude is Everything is today launching a unique and extensive survey – seeking views on issues ranging from access requirements at live shows, to studio recording, to arts funding applications.

Submissions are encouraged from artists, musicians, songwriters, DJs and music creators of all backgrounds and across all genres. Essentially, anyone with ambitions to develop their music and nurture their creativity.

Click here for more information on the survey. The survey findings will be presented and discussed at The Great Escape in May 2019.

2. To boost talent development and a more accessible music industry

UK Music, the industry’s umbrella organisation, has identified a number of challenges that might thwart the future success of UK artists and imperil the UK’s “talent pipeline”. It is imperative that disabled musicians are involved in this conversation. Talented individuals cannot be allowed to fall through the cracks, and it is vital those with physical or mental impairments receive sufficient support to help develop their art and creativity. Drawn from our survey findings, NEXT STAGE’s secondary phase will be to develop a comprehensive artist network. Led by Attitude is Everything, this will connect those individuals with access requirements to showcase and funding opportunities – breaking down barriers to live performance, and building a more accessible music industry.

Suzanne Bull MBE, CEO, Attitude is Everything said:

“NEXT STAGE is an ambitious departure for Attitude is Everything. We have spent almost 20 years working for disabled audiences and now, with support from Arts Council England, we want to improve accessibility for disabled artists. This process will not be easy. The challenges facing Deaf and disabled people are often hidden, and rarely discussed publicly.

There are a range of stigmas and sensibilities. So our first goal is to collect information through a comprehensive and wide-reaching survey. By paying attention to artists’ voices, I believe we can build a thriving network of talent that will enhance British music and benefit all in the wider music community.”

Gaelynn Lee sitting in a chair in colourful dress

Gaelynn Lea. Photograph: EvrGlo Media.

Blaine Harrison, Mystery Jets & Attitude is Everything patron, remarked:

“Since we started out playing shows there has been a huge shift in the music industry’s attitude towards deaf and disabled audiences. It’s been so inspiring to see live-signing catching on at gigs and festivals, not to mention how popular viewing platforms have become. And when you’re up there it’s not hard to see why. The atmosphere is one of shared joy; reminding us that the live music experience is one we can all participate in.

But backstage, it’s often another story. Dressing rooms can be tucked away up steep flights of stairs in the eaves of the building; if there are lifts they are often made for hauling heavy equipment and not safe to ride in unattended. For artists requiring some alone time to mentally prepare for the pressures of a performance, the back of the van in the car park can sometimes be the closest thing to a safe space.

In much the same way that the conversation around mental health has opened up, hearing the experiences and voices of disabled artists will hugely diversify and enrich the music industry of tomorrow. Now is the time for the Paralympians of the arts to be given the platform they deserve.”

Gaelynn Lea, winner of NPR’s 2016 Tiny Desk Contest, said:

“Disabled voices are rare to nonexistent in mainstream culture and thus venues and festivals often do not think to seek out disabled artists for their regular programming, even if they are otherwise committed to diverse representation onstage. Attitude is Everything’s new initiative will help keep disabled artists in the public eye so that we are not forgotten when festivals and venues are choosing their acts in the coming years.”

Rob Maddison, Revenge of Calculon, added:

Whilst on tour, disabled artists often encounter huge problems in terms of accessible transport and accommodation, the last thing we need is to arrive at the venue we’re booked to perform at only to find out that it is totally inaccessible as well. All of these barriers inevitably result in a situation where disabled artists feel excluded from playing live, and the knock on effect is that you rarely see any high profile disabled artists in the music industry as a whole. NEXT STAGE will address these issues head on and will help young talent to pursue a career in the music industry and see the UK become a world leader in equality within the arts.”

NEXT STAGE has already secured significant support across the music industry, with UK Music, Featured Artists Coalition, Help Musicians UK, the Musicians’ Union and PRS Foundation all helping to promote the survey.