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Blog - Jo Tolley

The Show Must Go On: Capturing the essence of the arts and its impact on the disabled community

Photograph of a series of circles with 6 spokes running the through middle

Photo Credit Oliver Howard

“Art feeds the soul as much as food feeds the body, and knowledge…feeds the mind.” The message is clear: irrespective of any pandemic, a spirit absent of the arts would become distantly disparate from the unified foundation of its social circles and livelihoods. Moreover, within the disabled community, the arts are utilised as an irreplaceable source of understanding, growth and integration. So, the interwoven words of eleven disabled and non-disabled creatives are articulated as they bang the drums, sing from the rooftops, and tremble in their dancing boots. They hold their breath, unequivocally knowing that the show must go on.

Essential, cultural, and inspirational: these are just some of the sentiments people use to describe the arts. It’s a world that uplifts them; allowing them to creatively express their passions, tell their stories and have the freedom to discover a wealth of possibilities. Confidently, unbridled in pride and joy, the arts are “inclusion personified” and a welcome embrace for people living in a society that views them as disabled. Bridging the gap between all walks, wheels and wobbles of life, artistic spaces that foster a healing acceptance offer invaluable opportunities to realise otherwise unattainable aspirations. Whether these “happy places” have brick walls or are simply a tangible togetherness, they exude equity and representation.

People who live with disabilities are innately on a mission to prove what they can do; to prove that disability does not mean inability, nor purpose. Without a “little spark of curiosity” which ignites such emotion, the impact on self-worth would be devastating. In a society obsessed with labels, an impairment can be misconstrued as identity. A fractured wellbeing which emanates from the crippling emphasis on the necessity to fit in, is a void that only the arts can fill.

The arts are a profoundly personal common ground, affecting and connecting communities on a visceral level. On the not so proverbial stage, the arts are a vehicle for a united distraction from the concept of disability. This is not to say the topic is shied away from, but seamlessly incorporated under the shine of the spotlight. Providing a haven for disabled and non-disabled people to nurture relationships, talent and authenticity, artists become the authors of their own destiny. Challenging ingrained misconceptions, the industry not only demands that “who we are is enough” but also that fellow artists and audiences champion and compliment what is brought to the table. Like nothing else, creativity opens the doors to equity: a pathway to individuality. Settling into this original skin in order to stand out in society is diversity at its finest. Without this diversity, we are unable to transcend the assumptions of what disability should be.

As a disabled advocate and writer, I can wholeheartedly say my life has evolved through the power of the arts. The industry’s effervescent purity has radically changed my perception of who I am, both because of, and in spite of wheels. The arts propel me to carry forward what it so beautifully illustrates and integrates to capture and communicate the essence of its therapeutic impact for people with disabilities. Echoed in the words of the contributing artists,  below, is a statement that spans the nation: the arts are a catalyst for unstoppable change. Irrespective of this pandemic, the show must go on.

Artist acknowledgements: Lucy Baptist, Adam Fox, Colette Griffin, Sophie Lavender, Kiran Marwaha, Jess Morris, Runa Saha, Nathan Storey, Katy Taylor and Matina Tsiora

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