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Colin Hambrook looks back as DAO prepares to celebrate ten years in April 2014

In April 2014 DAO will be ten years old! We've had a mix of plentiful and lean times through those years as we've gone from project to project. DAO has come a long way since my first meetings with Kwabena Gyedu at the Arts Council in 2001 and the institution of a Disability Arts microsite on ArtsOline. 

After DAO became independent in 2004, I never in my wildest dreams imagined the journal would keep going this long. Much of DAOs success in surviving has been down to a productive and supportive relationship with the diversity team at the Arts Council national office. So it is with great regret that we seem the team reorganised with the departure of Sue Williams, Tony Panayatiou and Hassan Mahamdallie. Individually and collectively they have been key to the development of the service DAO performs.

The Creative Case for Diversity has been a key piece of progression in advocating for a qualitative appreciation of the value of the arts made by 'diverse' artists. In essence it is simply a mechanism for widening an understanding of how arts which reflects a broader base of communities within society is going to have more reach and more profound effect on audiences, looking to see the world reflected through the arts. It's not rocket science!

So for example when Sarah Holmes’s vision to make New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich a theatre “with and for the people” she firstly collaborated with Theatre Royal Stratford East and Graeae to produce a tour of the award winning musical “Reasons to be Cheerful”. The next step for The New Wolsey Theatre was to employ an 'agent for change' to assist them as they “reach out to people out there with a disability who’ve thought ‘I could never work in a theatre’.”

Ali Briggs’s posting has been about kick-starting links to new audiences at the theatre - to move beyond the tick-box idea of creating 'special' performances for disabled people. It's about an understanding that collaboration, involving a diversity of experience and interest, provides the fertile ground on which organisations can change, grow and stimulate creativity.

I think the disability arts community has been embroiled in a struggle to get and to promote access - at the cost of properly debating the quality of the aesthetic behind the Arts. There's long been a complaint amongst artists, performers and those in sector generally that there is a lack of critical debate. Simply, there is not going to be any talk about the art, if you get sidelined persistently by the continual ongoing struggle for access and for money.

For that reason I think the creative case - spearheaded by Tony Panayatiou, Sue Williams and Hassan Mahamdallie at Arts Council - has been a courageous attempt to to look at how far we've come and how far we need to go in platforming arts that engages with everyone.

Now that Sue, Tony and Hassan are no longer within the organisation it is more vital that people to pick up the banner and think about the kind of society we want to build. Unless we champion diversity within the arts, for ourselves and for infrastructure of bodies that support the Arts, we'll see a further diminishment of the range and vitality of work being produced and platformed. Further cuts and the threat to the Independent Living Fund, make it even more critical that we work to preserve our voice.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 28 June 2013

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 28 June 2013