Trish Wheatley awarded BEM in New Year’s Honours list


Trish Wheatley, CEO of Disability Arts Online, has been awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to disabled artists during Covid-19 in Her Majesty the Queen’s New Year 2021 Honours List.

A white woman with blonde hair wearing a black Disability Arts Online hoody stands smiling on a beach

Trish Wheatley

During 2020 the Disability Arts Online (DAO) team has supported 73 disabled artists through 93 one-to-one sessions, streamed 19 digital events, provided 135 artists and writers with paid work, provided access support for 18 disabled artists to successfully apply for emergency funds, written 15 letters of recommendation and commissioned 30 artists through the DAO Covid Commissions in response to the crisis, reaching a total audience of 190,000 people.

This has been made possible through DAO’s work as an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation with further funding from Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, the Worshipful Company of Grocers and Sussex Community Foundation’s Crisis Fund.  

Dennis Queen and Amy Zamarripa Solis, DAO Co-chairs said: 

“We are so proud of Trish and all our staff and board at Disability Arts Online, who have worked extra hard in 2020, due to the pandemic. 

Trish has managed us all through this period, and not only has DAO stayed on target, we have continued to improve our reach and run exciting new projects.

Trish’s idea of creating Covid Commissions for disabled artists has been a literal lifeline, as many of us have lost all, or most of, our work. We are delighted that Covid Commissions have been so successful. We look forward to running more commissions very soon. 

Trish certainly deserves recognition for her fantastic work supporting artists, promoting disability arts and keeping our movement alive – during tough times, when our community has needed us most of all.”

Trish Wheatley said: 

“It’s extremely humbling to be recognised in this way after a year when thousands of people have shown extraordinary acts of kindness to support their communities. 

I recognise that many are uncomfortable with the terminology still used by the honours system, which remains one of the few avenues for recognising individuals and projects that have gone the extra mile. However, I feel strongly that this is a rare opportunity to spotlight and celebrate DAO’s work nationally.

The UK Disability Arts community is strong, passionate, incredibly innovative, creative and diverse. I’m honoured to be part of it, having found a vocation working for disabled artists over the last fifteen years. This year has been particularly hard on disabled artists with the vast majority long-term shielding and the arts industry facing the worst of times. We’ve lost dear friends and colleagues, too. 

The public service for which I am being recognised was in truth 100% a team effort. I’m absolutely compelled to use this platform to ensure the whole team is recognised for their contribution this year, meeting the challenges with energy, compassion and complete commitment. Already being a remote working organisation, and with a swiftly revised budget secure for 2020, Disability Arts Online was in a strong position to point support where it was needed. 

Colin Hambrook, our Founding Editor, has responded to the challenges of this year with unparalleled expertise and integrity. He used his encyclopaedic knowledge of Disability Arts practice and sensitive interview technique to brilliantly host our new Artist Presentations and live Q&As. Colin led us to produce some of our best ever work in 2020, providing a constant source of support, information, inspiration and reflection for our artists and audiences during endless months of uncertainty. 

With characteristic skill, efficiency and creativity, Assistant Editor Joe Turnbull developed a fabulous accessible low-cost broadcasting and live-streaming system to make so much of our work possible this year. 

Cathy Waller, Operations Coordinator, dedicated every spare minute to helping disabled artists access emergency funds. 

Deen Hallissey, Digital Influencer, fitted straight into the team in April in the midst of lockdown chaos, embarking on a leadership development journey filled with awesome analogies.  

Lowri Jenkins, Kate Stephens and Rowena Price all joined us this year, making vital contributions to our work. 

We’ve also been backed up by a truly supportive board who are very much part of the team that ensures the organisation delivers quality work and makes a real difference to people’s lives. I am so thankful to work with such a brilliant group of talented and dedicated people.

The work doesn’t stop with an honour and the start of a new year. With hopes for the end of the pandemic becoming more realistic, 2021 is going to be tough in a different way. Disability Arts Online will continue to help disabled artists play a vital part in our culture, but we’re not immune to the devastating economic impact of this virus. We have set up a new COVID Commissions fundraiser to support disabled artists with more commissions in 2021. If there’s one thing the news of this honour does, I hope it’s that it encourages people to donate to this fund, enabling us to continue the great work that artists and Disability Arts Online did in 2020.” 

In our 2020 Covid Commissions round we had £8000 to give directly to disabled artists. With only £5000 available this year, we are aiming to fundraise an extra £3000 to match last year’s pot.

To donate to Disability Arts Online’s Covid Commissions 2021 Fund visit our Givey page.

Learn more about some of the key projects that took place during the pandemic in 2020 on the Disability Arts Online website, including:

Join the Disability Arts Online community on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.