With the total funding of nearly £1M, including support from Arts Council England and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, NDACA are now commencing the project: this is their 3 year Delivery Phase in which they collect 1000+ deposits, create the NDACA Wing at Buckinghamshire New University, create the NDACA repository at Zinc Arts, and create a whole host of digital and online tools, including films, pop up exhibitions and downloadable learning tools.
Colin Hambrook interviews NDACA Project Director David Hevey about the hopes and ambitions for the NDACA Project, in its exciting next phase of building the dream in 2015-2018
The archive plans to tell the stories – principally but not exclusively from the 1980s to the early 2000s – when disabled people and their allies broke barriers, forced changes in the law, and changed culture at a time when the reality of life for many disabled people were the restrictions imposed by day centres, special schools and repressive institutions. And through that process of change disabled people made great song, dance, art and culture about their experience.
Disabled people are facing the new grim Britain, which has led to bullying and suicide. In the last decade we’ve seen all those who face barriers being devalued more and more. But there was a golden period when disabled people forced the cultural agenda, challenged the medical model of disability and told the world that ‘disability’ wasn’t disabled peoples’ problem; it was societies problem for having disenfranchised and disabled people by creating barriers for full participation and engagement.
In talking about the history of the positive contribution disabled creatives have made to British Culture, NDACA hopes to challenge the negative zeitgeist. “In real terms”, says Hevey “we want NDACA to put power and heritage back in the hands of the Disabled Rights Movement, it’s allies and friends. And, for our collection, we are looking for deposits that speaks about the Disability Arts Movement in its widest, including its radical form.”
The audience will be led by the human story of those artists and partners who helped created and sustain the unique Disability Arts Movement. They will see the deposited image, the painting or whatever and will then find the story of why it has relevance to the Disability Arts Movement, which had a notion of rights at its core: “What’s important to us is that we tell the story of the art and its relationship to the struggle for social justice. We want to tell the story of the time when disabled people made radical and innovative work and broke the mould.”
It was through the Disability Arts Movement that the struggles of disabled people were publicised. Protests like Block Telethon achieved a cultural shift by getting across the message that the ’crips’, the ‘handicapped’, are not passive. “A lot of people will get it as a story and my hope is that the Disability Rights Movement will feel re-empowered by it.”
Further to that, Hevey says: “We are also looking for stories about Black and Minority Ethnic artists, because historically those stories have been less prominent within the Movement. The timing is right because ‘diversity’ is currently seen as an important cultural driver. Our plan is to tell exciting and radical stories about how a bunch of disabled people had the courage to break down the prejudice with which their lives were perceived. And we want to have a wide brief on what is Disability Arts Movement art and heritage? This could include very much contemporary work, being made now, which may not appear to be ‘heritage’ at first sight but tells an important story.
“So, we start the HLF Delivery Phase in July 2015, and throughout a 3 year window we will be collecting stories, reminisces, preserving artworks, trying to find home movie, artwork and more, that tells the story of what the Disability Arts Movement represented and how impactful it was. We’re looking to build a textured, layered offer; providing the human story and heritage on the realities of life for disabled people, as shown in the works many created.
To date 10 artists have pledged materials. So for example Johnny Crescendo (aka Alan Holdsworth) came to see NDACA. “Johnny was at the heart of the Disability Arts and the Disability Rights Movements in the 90s and what makes him intriguing and attractive is what makes him edgy. He took risks politically and creatively, and pulled off both, it could be argued, with a remarkable legacy of songs, and a remarkable political legacy, not to mention an amazing life story, too.”
For NDACA what is important is access to materials that tell the story of the bridge between the Arts and the fight for Disability Rights. “So for example Johnny brought along a box of his memorabilia including Piss on Pity t-shirts to deposit, which we were really pleased to receive.
You could smell the Johnny Crescendo lifestyle on the cloth: the sweat, smoke and the fights behind his and others’ confrontations at Direct Action Network protests, stopping buses and demonstrating outside 10 Downing Street, with Johnny performing his great radical music in tandem at disability arts events. When HLF came to see us for a review I pulled a t-shirt out and said: ‘Smell that! That’s heritage!’”
NDACA also plan to make up to 50 short films with a selection of contributors so they can tell the back story of whatever object or artefact has been given to the archive. “So, for example, we could have have Johnny pick a t-shirt up and describe what was happening at the time he wore it and give us the story behind the lived-in t-shirt smells!”
There are several ways to deposit works. Throughout 2015-2018 NDACA are opening two main ways for work to be taken into the collection: either as deposits, or later on as Social Media accessions. Until 2016 they will collect pledged works from partners and artists and seek out further deposits. And beyond that they plan to look for social media accessioning or tagging about the collection. But this is flexible. There is an acquisitions committee who will help NDACA decide how to select the material that gets shown.
The programme of deposits, films, exhibitions, learning tools and more will tell the story across platforms. “Once the digital icon is made – such as a colour hi-resolution copy of a painting, for example – it can be turned into a poster or a frame you can grab from a website, or a film still etc. We want different elements of the collection to be on different sites and we are developing a host of partners who can help us distribute aspects of the collection.”
The plans for public usage are extensive, and make big play of online and offline digital (which is part of David Hevey’s expertise as a media professional): online films, website, social media and a host of other digital tools, such as touring digital cinema, and pop-up galleries showing artists work. “We’ll have film we can show through the BBC’s website and large AO size posters we can exhibit in galleries. We’re going to make pop-up cards that you can open in 3-D, which gives you a desk-based reminder of the work the collection is doing.”
A large part of what NDACA are planning to do will be digital offline; collecting the work in digital formats and presenting it to people at live-screenings. So there will be a touring cinema taking work to Disability History Month events, festivals and other locations for screening events, to bring people together in real locations. And NDACA plan to have works in a host of accessible formats: for example, working with Disability Arts Online to explore new models of Audio Description, and more.
Buckinghamshire New University, one of the 7 major NDACA partners, will have an NDACA wing where there will be a suite for editing film and for study. The university will create learning modules for undergraduates based on the collection and from 2018 onwards will be the place for other universities to go to to acquire materials relevant to courses they are running.
Hevey says: “We’ll be promoting the collection to US Universities who have often taken aspects of British culture on board in their learning programmes. And the other partners are DAO, Graeae Theatre, University of Leicester’s Research Centre for Museums and Galleries and Zinc Arts, with Shape Arts as lead partner.”
“So, once we have gone live in 2017, we plan to reach an audience of 2.5million with different aspects of the collection and archive. What’s important to us is that Heritage Lottery are keen on us telling the true story as it happened; what it meant for disabled people then and what it means today to wide audiences.”
If you have a story, home movie, family photographs, artwork or material that you feel is relevant to the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive heritage-story, then please email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com