BBC and UK Arts Council’s Celebrate the work of Disabled Artists with Culture in Quarantine Commissions

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Twelve D/deaf, neurodivergent and disabled professional artists based in England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have been commissioned to produce new film and audio works for BBC platforms this summer.

digital photo of a young white woman wearing a yellow waterproof stands mid-air above a stream

Earth to Alice – Alice McCullough, Northern Ireland

The commissioning programme is part of BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative, which has brought the arts into people’s homes during lockdown. The twelve new commissions will champion the work of disabled artists by helping them produce work when some may have been self-isolating, and provide a platform to explore their experiences of living through Covid-19.

The programme was established in a partnership between BBC Arts, Arts Council England, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Arts Council of Wales and Creative Scotland to mark the 25th anniversary of the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act into law, forming part of wider disability programming across the BBC.

The film and audio works commissioned include performance dramas, dance, comedy, spoken word poetry and animation, with the majority of artists highlighting aspects of the disabled experience of living through the pandemic.

Commissions were selected by a panel including representatives from BBC Arts, Arts Council England, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Arts Council of Wales, Creative Scotland, Unlimited and the UK Disability Arts Alliance.

Lamia Dabboussy, BBC Head of Arts said: “This batch of commissions from artists across the country showcases the breadth of inspiring work we’ve all missed experiencing over this past lockdown year. I’m thrilled that, as part of Culture in Quarantine, these pieces will be brought to life across BBC platforms. It’s imperative that D/deaf, neurodivergent and disabled professional artists are supported to carry on making brilliant work, as the constraints and continuing effects of this pandemic threaten to silence their vital creative voice.”

photo of mother and baby in pyjamas on the floor of a living room

Pandemic Parenting: Pandemonium, dance theatre film by Irish playwright Shannon Yee.

The new commissions are:-

  • SILENT WORLD, a short music film by Deaf musician Signkid, using rap, spoken word and Signkid’s innovative ‘sign-slang’ to creatively explore how living in a silent world has intensified during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Hen Night, a short film by award winning theatre and screen writer/director Vici Wreford-Sinnott, inspired by the writing of award-winning journalist Frances Ryan. Jessica has just had her hen night – a last night of freedom but not in the ways she, or any of us, might have imagined.
  • Arising out of lockdown, Spectrum Sounds by Andrew Hugill, a collection of seven short pieces of music, associated with the colours of the autistic spectrum.
  • Face It, filmed comedy drama monologues by writer Miranda Walker about two women exploring how they feel about their faces in the modern swipe-right world, and the impact of wearing face masks to protect against Covid-19. Produced by Michaela Hennessy-Vass.
  • How to Thrive in 2050! 8 Tentacular Workouts for a Tantalising Future!  Film by artist Kai Syng Tan. Acall for action for a more creative, equitable and neuro-fantastic future by a ‘human-octopussy’.
  • Film adapted from her one-woman show Earth to Alice, written and performed by Belfast poet and stand-up comedian Alice McCullough, about navigating the twists and turns of bipolar disorder during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Pandemic Parenting: Pandemonium, dance theatre film by Irish playwright Shannon Yee, exploring the unique challenges for parents of newly born and young children during lockdown.
  • The Cat, The Mouse and The Sausage, an animation of a Grimm’s Brothers fairy tale by award-winning filmmaker Joel Simon.
  • Film adaptation of stage show Louder is Not Always Clearer, created by Mr and Mrs Clark and performed by Deaf artist Jonny Cotsen, an honest portrayal of the vulnerability of a Deaf man in a hearing world.
  • Complexity of Skin, a dance film co-directed, written, choreographed and performed by Matthew Gough and Krystal S. Lowe, exploring touch in periods of isolation and set in a flat during lockdown.
  • Blind-sided, a radio comedy-drama of a day in the lockdown life of blind comedian Jamie MacDonald as he leaves the familiarity of his home in Glasgow.
  • AISLE by Ellen Renton and Jess Fig, a short film combining poetry and illustration exploring the disabled experience of going to the supermarket during the pandemic.

Darren Henley, Chief Executive of Arts Council England said: “Culture and creativity have been lifelines for many of us throughout the pandemic, so we’re excited to support these commissions, which will encourage D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent artists to explore their experiences of lockdown, and ensure audiences can continue to enjoy even more brilliant cultural work across BBC platforms.”

Gilly Campbell, Head of Community Arts and Education, Arts Council of Northern Ireland commented: “The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is proud to partner with BBC Arts and The Space to offer three artists from Northern Ireland the opportunity to create new work as part of BBC Arts’ Culture In Quarantine initiative.  Alice McCullough, Shannon Yee and Joel Simon are hugely talented voices in the arts sector here in Northern Ireland and we’re delighted that their work will be championed on a UK-wide platform, offering a significant increase in profile for these artists.”

Minister, Deirdre Hargey MLA, Department for Communities, NI Executive said: “This is a very important project and a great opportunity to support our D/deaf disabled artists to develop professionally and create new work that can be showcased locally, nationally and internationally.”

Diane Hebb, Director of Arts Engagement, Arts Council of Wales said: “In this extraordinary year when the impact of the pandemic has had such a disruptive and alarming impact on so many lives, particularly the lives of our most vulnerable people, it’s more important than ever to support and showcase the work of our inspirational creative artists. We are delighted to see our own Wales based artists included in this programme of sensitive and provocative work and hope that audiences across the UK will be inspired by their resilience, creativity and incredible talent.”

Iain Munro, CEO, Creative Scotland commented: “Creative Scotland is thrilled to support this incredible range of talented artists and inspiring commissions as part of our partnership with BBC Arts and The Space, bringing the work of talented D/deaf, neurodivergent and disabled artists to BBC platforms. We celebrate the way diversity of thought and a diversity of experience feeds innovation and creativity and are delighted that thanks to National lottery players, audiences will enjoy and be inspired by the wide range of stories, perspectives and experiences supported through this initiative.”

Each of the commissioned artists will be assigned an Executive Producer from digital support agency The Space, in partnership with Unlimited, an arts commissioning programme that enables new work by disabled artists to reach UK and international audiences. The Executive Producer will mentor and support the artists throughout production and delivery of their work to BBC platforms this summer.

These commissions build on the success of BBC Arts Culture in Quarantine artists’ commissioning strand, launched in April 2020 by BBC Arts and Arts Council England, which invited artists to give a creative response to the challenges of lockdown. A total of 25 commissions were produced, which achieved audiences in the millions across BBC and social platforms.