NDACA’s disability archive wing opens at Bucks New University


The National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA) learning zone opened today (2 May 2019) at Buckinghamshire New University’s campus in High Wycombe. Hosted within the University’s library, the first global physical learning location of its kind is dedicated to Britain’s unique Disability Arts Movement with more than 3,500 pieces of the artwork it inspired now available to the public in one place.

Oil portrait of Tony Heaton

Tanya Raabe-Webber’s portrait of Tony Heaton. Oil on canvas.

The archive’s concept was first conceived by sculptor and artist Tony Heaton OBE. Delivered by disability-led arts organisation Shape Arts, the million-pound legacy project is funded primarily by the National Lottery Heritage Lottery Fund, with further funding from Arts Council England and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The launch marks the culmination of a three-year research project led by Project Director and Shape CEO, David Hevey, and coordinated by Archivist Alex Cowan.

Hevey remarked:

“The NDACA wing is full of character, a space in which you can feel the power of the disability protest movement. It challenged society, achieved great social change and inspired a remarkable body of creative work, and we’re delighted to launch the new learning zone in partnership with Bucks New University.”

The new learning space is designed to be inclusive, with hydraulic desks for wheelchair users, computers to access the digital collection, and original artefacts from the Disability Arts Movement. It includes an analogue timeline featuring publications and pieces inspired by the archive, a quiet room for study, and chill-out space.

Disability artist Tanya Raabe-Webber’s portrait of Tony Heaton, who will speak at the launch, will be added to the NDACA repository at the opening event.

Heaton said:

“This learning wing is the realisation of a dream I had more than 30 years ago – to collect the unique heritage, and demonstrate the power, of the disability arts movement. One that fought barriers, helped change the law and made great culture about those struggles. I am delighted to help launch the NDACA learning wing to world.”

The archive highlights the story of the Disability Arts Movement, one of the world’s most important political protest campaigns which began in Britain in the 1970s and led to the eventual passing of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act. The archive is an ever-evolving record of the major cultural contribution made by the Movement and the body of work it inspired.

NDACA’s archivist, Cowan said:

“During the last three years, I’ve worked with significant figures in the disability arts movement to identify standout material from their huge personal collections – and the result is the NDACA learning zone. I am proud to have been able to participate in a cultural movement that has shaped British art, society and politics and to have played my part in highlighting disabled people’s long struggle for individual and collective recognition.”

Professor Nick Braisby, Vice-Chancellor of Bucks New University added:

“We are proud to host the NDACA wing which represents the significant importance of the Disability Arts Movement and all that it achieved. We look forward to welcoming researchers to the University, and giving our students and staff access to the archive which will inform our curriculum and teaching across our course portfolio.”

The opening of the NDACA learning zone follows on from the launch of the archive’s digital arm at the House of Lords in June 2018 and other NDACA locations.

Visit NDACA’s online archive.