Recent events have given many of us a deep sense of foreboding – meaning, critically that the challenges disability communities around the country face will likely become ever more entrenched. Our only hope is in finding ways to strengthen the communities we are a part of and to find support in coming together and finding new ways to resist assaults on our civil rights and on the environment that lie on the horizon.
2019 was our busiest year yet with Disability Arts Online striving to outreach beyond our audience in London and South East to other areas of the UK. Throughout February we ran a guest editorship with Lisette Auton engaging with disabled artists in the North East, writing briefs and commissioning comment, opinion and reviews of work throughout the region.
Lisette’s hard work in supporting connections paid off and we developed a partnership with the dynamic theatre maker Vici Wreford-Sinnott in producing Disconsortia – two days of workshops and cabaret bringing 20 artists together as part of the work we have been doing with D4D – a series of projects using the arts to investigate the evolving ways in which we as disabled people express, perform, experience and practise ‘community’.
We produced a second guest editorship programme throughout July with choreographer, dancer and writer Alexandrina Hemsley. As well as producing some powerful testimonies examining the links between racism, misogyny and disableism, Alexandrina opened us up to connections with artists with a brief to explore the links between a sustainable arts practice, institutional bias and (in)visibility.
Throughout 2019 we ran a pilot Associate Artists Programme working with three artists working in different mediums, with a commitment to blogging on DAO and taking up our offer of artist development sessions to give one-to-one feedback and support. Dolly Sen – who has been blogging consistently on DAO for a decade – has been working on several projects around mental health. Dolly’s work has really shone this year – with the exceptional show Art + Protest she curated at Bethlem Gallery. It was brilliant to see documentation of the Mad Pride movement alongside Bedlam discussions of what makes you mad. Dolly’s wit and wisdom reached a peak of inspiration with her Help the Normals – turning the anger of disability rights slogans like Piss on Pity around in a much more nuanced and clever way. Her work is part of the excellent Being Human exhibition at Wellcome Collection in London where I witnessed folk desperate to give her money, lighting up as she gently told them she didn’t really want their money but rather wanted to know what they thought being ‘normal’ represents.
Richard Downes has been making inroads as an emerging socially engaged activist poet. DAO readers will know Richard’s dedication to producing a weekly poetry blog, and in the last 18 months he’s been building confidence and sharing his talents on the spoken word circuit and developing experience of artist residencies, as well as producing spoken word events. He produced Under the Poet Tree as part of a season of DAO events at The Foundry in London where the first Disability Arts Online exhibition Contested Spaces – on until 9 January – was curated by another Associate Artist Aidan Moesby.
Aidan makes work around climate change and mental health and we’ve been supporting the development of I was Naked, Smelling of Rain and the Emotional Weather Bureau, which led to a sharing at the Arthouse in Wakefield in October. Aidan has been one of many visual artists working with us to talk about what curating disability means. Aidan has been awarded a years’ residency at the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA) starting this January, as a commission developed with Shropshire-based disability-led arts organisation DASH. We are looking forward to seeing what emerges from Aidan’s work with MIMA alongside more general hopes that we will begin to see some of the universal success disability arts has achieved within the performing arts, transfer to the visual arts. Our exhibition Contested Spaces at the Foundry will end on 9 January with a panel discussion event led by Aidan about disability curation (it’s free so please join us if you can).
We’ve had a busy time working with Shape this year on our Emergence Programme supporting four disabled artists in developing their practice and leading events at Tate Exchange in London as part of that work.
We continued to support a number of artists’ Grants for the Arts projects. One of those was Surroundings – a live installation project led by visual artist, filmmaker, musician and writer Ivan Riches – that focussed on the stories of disabled people’s relationship to where they live in – combining interviews with disabled people with improvised music and projected imagery.
One of our ambitions to break out from producing written discussion of disability arts to create the Disability And… Podcast was realised this year – in partnership with Graeae – creating discussion around a range of disability and art-related topics. We are very excited about developing this programme further in 2020 – continuing to work with Graeae, but also beginning the project Lead – working with the learning-disability theatre company Access All Areas with whom we are planning to platform audio and video discussions around the history and development of learning-disability arts.
Led by our Assistant Editor Joe Turnbull, this year has seen some exciting developments in our continued work with the British Council on delivering its Disability Arts International website and newsletter. The British Council are the lead partner on Europe Beyond Access, a transnational programme aimed at smashing the glass ceilings of the contemporary dance and theatre worlds for disabled artists. The programme is a collaboration between seven leading arts organisations from across Europe from Germany’s biggest performing arts venue to the first learning-disability theatre company in Serbia. Partners include: British Council (operating for this project in the UK and Poland), Onassis Stegi (Greece); Holland Dance Festival (The Netherlands), Kampnagel (Germany); Per.Art (Serbia), Skånes Dansteater (Sweden), Oriente Occidente(Italy). It is co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the European Commission.
Disability Arts Online’s role in Europe Beyond Access is to input on the digital content, such as films and articles produced to document the project. We also oversaw the redevelopment of the Disability Arts International website, which also acts as the project website. As part of that role we’ve had the chance to meet disabled artists from across Europe at the first three ‘artistic laboratories’ of the project in Hamburg, Malmo and Maastricht. The artistic laboratories are the creative engine of the project, bringing together artists (up to 25 at a time) from different countries to share different cultural practices and ideas for a week, each time hosted by one of the project partners and addressing a pertinent topic. They are not orientated towards tangible outcomes of work, but about genuine experimentation in order to push the wider debate within European disability arts to the next level.
You can see the films we have helped put together for the first two labs here:
Aside from saying a big thank you to our dedicated team; Trish our CEO, Joe our Assistant Editor, Cathy our Admin Assistant and LD our Audience Development Assistant, LD moves on in the new year to work full-time on the Glasgow Zine Library, which she has run on a part-time basis for several years now and we wish them all success in their ventures.
That’s it from me for 2019, wishing a restful holiday and an impactful 2020 to all our readers and all the artists and writers we have worked with throughout the year.