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Art, Austerity, Activism

Three unfired clay figures representing individual stories of the cost of austerity

In the week dominated by coverage of Martin Sheen’s speech on the danger of middle-of-the-road politics whilst the NHS is eroded I found myself sporadically weeping into the pelt of a Golden Retriever called Archie and plotting to blow up Parliament. Welcome to arts administration.

In preparation for Liz Crow’s new sculpture performance ‘Figures’, I had the grisly-yet-illuminating task of copy-editing 650 stories of the human cost of austerity, each one to be represented by a clay figure made by Liz. At the office of CoQuo, the digital agency supporting Figures, I plugged in, caffeinated, and nearly dislocated my jaw from the number of times it dropped in disbelief.

 As a borderline anarchist, the depths to which the authorities will stoop to do over the public in the name of budget cuts didn’t come as a total surprise to me, but my ignorance as to the situations of some people claiming Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payments was a bit of a shock.

I knew when starting this training that my limited experiences of personal disability were going to be challenged, something I am grateful for, but the total outrage I felt at reading the unfair ways in which claimants have been treated was a baptism of fire into disability politics that has brought me, still smoking, to total belief in the relevance of Liz’s arts activism.

People are dying waiting for their PIP re-assessments, families are being put under terrible pressure, and press propaganda is turning neighbours against each other. 

The metaphorical clay from which we are all fashioned will, I hope, be transformed into literal protest in Liz’s hands, and I will be there, along with CoQuo and Dao to support this performance as it happens. Archie, my respite hound friend, will unfortunately not be in attendance as he is enjoying a retirement most humans would be lucky to have.

Matthew Fessey of CoQuo made an interesting point about the power of digital media; in that whilst only a few hundred people were in attendance at Martin Sheen’s speech his message has now been spread to millions thanks to a couple of smartphone cameras. Whatever our stories we must document them; the status quo cannot be trusted to record an accurate history.

Make art, share stories, shout loudly.

As I finish writing this post I have just received the great news that Trish and I have been accepted as Joint Fellows of the CultureHive Digital Marketing Academy; we applied with the intention of upskilling ourselves in the promotion of disability arts projects to even wider audiences.

Watch this space artists, or better yet, fill it!

Please sign up to follow @WeAreFigures on Twitter, where the 650 stories will be shared.

Posted by Alice Holland, 12 March 2015

Last modified by Alice Holland, 29 June 2015

Producing the Producers, an introduction

Hello everyone, howdedo? Big news.....

I am thrilled to be the first ever Producing the Producers guinea pig, an Arts Council England-funded scheme cooked up by Trish Wheatley of Dao to address the lack of producers with appropriate skills and knowledge to work with disabled artists. JOY!!! 

Paid training in anything is amazing, but paid training in exactly what I want to be doing....WELL. Happy dances all round my dears! The past two years of my life have been spent in equal measure trying to figure out what to do to position myself as an arts producer and stuck in bed staring at the ceiling; I’m delighted the career plan is winning over the mind-weasels and I look forward to getting to know a new gang of artists and facilitators.

Ultimately I’d like to be a High-Powered Arts Bitch with political clout in charge of a huge pot of money and a multi-platform festival programming exciting disabled and non-disabled artists. For now, I’m a listener and a lover of art. An art-lover who sees the potential for social change, justice and enlightenment through cultural exchange. 

“The South African writer Antjie Krog described meeting a nomadic desert poet in Senegal who described the role of poets in his culture. 
The job of the poet, he explained to her, is to remember where the water holes are. 
The survival of the whole group depends on a few water holes scattered around the desert. 
When his people forget where the water is, the poet can lead them to it. 
What an apt metaphor for the role of the artist in any culture.” 
Anne Bogart, And Then You Act (Making Art In An Unpredictable World) 

The relationship between producer and artist and/or organisation is as varied as it is difficult to define, but I am in the extraordinarily lucky position that I have a year to ask as many questions as I can and to observe and contribute to several existing and new projects around the UK. Wether I am a compass, a camel or a conspirator to you wandering poets I hope to be of use.

I have a lot to learn, both about producing and disability arts, so any reading or viewing suggestions are gratefully received.

This week I’m getting stuck into Strength by Paddy Masefield and Disability Aesthetics by Tobin Siebers, between learning to break the Dao blog, paddling at the keyboard like a dog in a river and drinking a lot of coffee. 

This week has been something of a crash course for both Trish and I; I accepted the position on Friday afternoon and arrived on Monday morning to head straight to our first meeting with producers from Salisbury Arts Centre,  The Point and Stopgap to discuss a funding and performance event in July. Jumping in at the deep end, I offered to help with a crowd-funding campaign, something I’ve used previously to get my own show ArtWank to the Edinburgh Fringe. [Please see below]

Tuesday saw my first visit to the stunning grounds at Holton Lee, which, having recently merged with Livability, are at an interesting time of change and new ideas. I started to learn about the distinctions between arts in health, disability arts and art therapy, and the importance of understanding the difference. The specifics of language and attitude are one of the aspects of disability arts I am most drawn to.

The rest of the week Trish and I have been cosied up round our laptops writing our contracts and a plan for our year together and later we’ll Skype with the amazing Sue Austin about her all-swimming all-flying adventures for Freewheeling. 

Next week I’ll be reporting from Bristol and Salisbury as I start helping on Liz Crow’s new project Figures, and hopefully get the hang of LinkedIn.
See you soon!
Love Alice x

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 6 March 2015

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 26 April 2016