2018 has been a year of cuts to services, with Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) leading the way in protesting against Universal Credit, which is being rolled out across the country. Combined with the dissolution of Disability Living Allowance, the Independent Living Fund and cuts to Access to Work, the cumulative effect has been devastating, with DPAC’s Andy Green remarking to Disability News Service: “We spoke five years ago about people’s worlds shrinking. We are now talking about people’s worlds collapsing.”
For DAO, 2018 has been a year and a half! We became a registered charity this year. It’s been a long time coming, but under the steady leadership of our CEO Trish Wheatley we’ve also entered the pool of arts organisations highlighted by Arts Council England as one of their National Portfolio organisations. This basically means we’ve been invested in as one of over 840 arts organisations delivering what the Arts Council sees as essential work.
It’s meant we’ve grown, with two new disabled staff members on the team: the super-organised Cathy Waller at the helm of our administration introducing us to all kinds of digital gizmos… and the super cool LD taking on a new audience development role managing our social media outlets with charm and pizzazz.
Thanks to LD, we now have a super-charged Instagram page and have seen a steady stream of artist take-overs enlivening our pages and introducing us to a new audience. My favourite Instagram takeover of the year was from Poppy Nash who I am looking forward to featuring early in the new year as she readies herself for an exhibition called ‘Care’ at the Lighthouse in Glasgow, 21 January – 17 March.
LD also – as doyen of the Glasgow Zine Library – took charge of us in the production of our first DAO Zine – something which we had a lot of fun putting together.
Together! 2012 also entered the fold of disability-led arts organisations who gained Arts Council NPO status this year – and earlier this year we celebrated that with a two-part interview with Artistic Director of Together! 2012 CIC, Ju Gosling.
Following the pilot guest editorship last year with Kate Lovell we’ve instituted the programme as a twice-yearly occurrence in a bid to open DAO up to new voices, new artists and initially at least to give opportunities to emerging artists looking for editorial experience as part of their career development.
Dolly Sen’s guest editorship over the summer was a superb collaboration. One of my favourite moments was Dolly as Nelson the dog, giving a pooch’s point of view on her role in Vince Law’s A Very Queer Nazi Faust.
We made a forward move in the kinds of articles we publish this year with several collections of research articles. We began the year with a series from Charles Josefson exploring disability representation in the paintings of the Old Master artists through the centuries since the Renaissance.
We experienced a massive peak in traffic at the end of last January with the phenomenon that is Liz Carr starring in a two-part episode of BBC’s Silent Witness featuring her character Clarissa Mullery cast in the lead role.
I interviewed Raquel Meseguer about her installation A Crash Course in Cloudspotting, highlighting the needs of people with chronic health conditions to find resting spaces outside of the home. I had the honour of being a lamp (which i had a virtual connection to, highlighting the lives of people with conditions necessitating day-time resting) in her installation at the Ovalhouse, which subsequently toured to other venues including the Southbank Centres’ Unlimited Festival.
As a media partner with Unlimited we’ve consistently featured artists with Unlimited awards from Shape and Arts Admin and throughout the year. I was captivated by stories of domestic mayhem in Kristina Veasey’s wonderfully inventive, colourful and profound project ‘My Dirty Secret!’
Other highlights were seeing Omeima Rowlings’ ‘A River Runs Through’ at Fabrica – weaving stories of migration, memory and loss into abstract glass pieces; Richard Butchins’ extraordinary painterly film installation the ‘Voice of the Unicorn’, The British Paraorchestra breaking conventions within classical music with ‘The Nature of Why’ and The InnerVision Orchestra’s epic Antardrishti.
Team DAO had the pleasure of going to Glasgow’s Tramway for an Unlimited outing in Autumn where we saw the fabulous Joel Brown and Eve Mutso perform 111. Working in partnership with Tramway, we produced a disabled artists’ meet-up event, as part of our commitment to working with disabled artists at a grassroots level.
One of the ongoing discussions of this year has been the lack of awareness or consideration of a disability aesthetic when it comes to the curation of the visual arts. We rarely see gallery shows openly recognising the value that disability can bring to an artists’ practice. Aidan Moesby in particular has been banging this drum for several years. Through a series of commissions, we’ve been exploring what is preventing the work of disabled visual artists from getting a foothold in what is highly competitive and deeply exclusive culture.
We followed through with a panel event at Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham – the first attempt to bring curators and disabled artists together into a room to thrash out what the barriers are and what can be done to address them.
A third DAO event of the year saw us in Liverpool with DaDaFest presenting a performance from Allan Sutherland of one of his transcription cycle of poems: Thalidomide Acts based on the words of disability icon Mat Fraser. In context, we drew out some of the themes around disability and community and opened up a discussion around the importance of disability arts, with questions around what it means now in the hearts and minds of disabled arts practitioners. Our next Guest Editor, Lisette Auton stole the show at the event with her energy and enthusiasm, so watch out for her Guest Editorship in February next year, which will shine a light on emerging disabled artists, outside of the London/South East bubble.
We’ve had some great partners this year who we’ve enjoyed working with. Daisy gave us a terrific opportunity to work present poetry workshops with a number of disability groups across Surrey. We painted pictures in a thousand words with NDACA – a great excuse to delve into the archives of disability history and produced some cool resources. We’ve also continued to work with the British Council producing an ongoing series of international disability resources for its Disability Arts International website.
We’re looking forward to 2019, continuing to support disabled artists showcasing work through our blogging platform and providing guidance through our one-on-one artist development sessions. We are looking at developing more accessible platforms through commissioning video and podcasts on top of our written coverage of disability arts. You can expect to see more projects appearing as we build on the themes we’ve identified and explore ways of breaking the barriers.
That’s it from me for 2018, wishing a happy holiday and a fruitful 2019 to all our readers and all the artists and writers we have worked with throughout the year.