Colin writes about Creative Future's Literary Awards and Dao's plans to celebrate our tenth anniversary
In the run-up to Trish and I putting together our next literary project to celebrate ten years of DAO next Spring it I went to have a conversation with Dominique De-Light, Creative Future Project Director.
I was very pleased by the success of the Creative Future Literary Awards - not least because three Dao writers, Dolly Sen, Penny Pepper and Lynne E. Blackwood were amongst the 18 writers who received awards including a share of cash prizes. Up to summer 2013 Creative Future invited submissions of flash fiction and poetry on the theme 'The Spark' and were overwhelmed by the quality of writing submitted and the geographical reach of the competition.
Held at Charleston House, East Sussex, as part of the Small Wonder Festival at the end of last September the Award ceremony was hosted by award winning poet, Lemn Sissay, with guest speaker, and prize winning author Ros Barber. The event was the first awards ceremony for a national competition for marginalised writers - with plans for a second national competition for flash fiction and poetry in 2015.
You can read a selection of the award-winning entries on the site for Myriad Editions who were one of the sponsors of the Awards. I've been a fan of Dolly Sen's lightbulb antics for some time, so it made me chuckle to see two of her lightbulb poems in there.
Dominique told me that during the lead-up and in the aftermath of the big event at Charleston Farmhouse - that they were able to track an audience of a staggering 1.7 million who had found out about the awards and the publication, The Spark - mostly through online reviews, news and listings.
Paul McVeigh - Deputy Editor of the Word Factory, a London-based short story literary salon and blog which also offers mentorships to emerging writers - featured a blog about Creative Future's Literary Awards. Paul's blog is well worth looking up for the latest opportunities in the literary world.
It's very gratifying to find word about Dao getting out there - especially in light of our plans to develop the poetry side of what we publish. We want to begin inviting work on a theme of 'perceptions of disability and difference' in line with our remit to further a conversation about what disability, impairment and marginalisation mean to us in our daily lives.
So watch this space for further news...
Oska Bright has played an important part in my life since it launched in Brighton in 2004. Learning disability organisation Carousel's effort in showcasing short films made by and with people with learning difficulties is a spotlight on a largely hidden world. It's success is largely down to the committee of learning disabled film makers and artists who choose the films, run the festival and take screenings worldwide through their On The Road programme.
Dao has carried a blog for Oska Bright On The Road since January 2008 and it's been a great device for following the adventures of the Oska Bright team as they've taken screenings to communities of people across the globe, encouraging others to get involved with film-making through their workshops.
After attending several sessions at Oska Bright 2013 over the past couple of days, it's very apparent how the quality, breadth and possibilities of the imagination explored in the films entered into the festival, has developed over the years. What these films do so effectively is to give a platform for a broad range of concerns in the lives of a community who remain the most invisible of all disabled communities.
According to a 2010 survey by the charity Scope nine out of ten British people without a disability have never invited a disabled person into their home. The same report found that just two out of ten British people who identify with a disability have non-disabled friends.
For those of us who support the importance of integration, for whatever reason, these statistics - underlining the isolation that impairment across the board brings with it - are staggering. I would hazard a guess that for people with a learning difficulty the segregation experienced is greater still - and increasingly so with the effects of the cuts hitting services for this community more than most.
For all these and more reasons the impact of giving a voice through film is a lifeline. Filled with humour, pathos, fun and beauty I am always taken aback by the selection of films chosen by Oska Bright. For me it is the quirkiness of the subject matter and the techniques employed above all else that open a window to the soul.
When Oska Bright began, most of the films entered into the festival were animation. As it developed so documentary opened up as a genre. As the work has evolved under the careful guidance of the Oska Bright Team so other areas of the arts - notably dance and music videos - have come into the frame. The storylines have become more sophisticated and developed and the expression of how discrimination impacts on the community has become more subtle.
The Oyster Projects' Timeslip had a strong message about the history of discrimination as the heroine of the film slips back into Victorian times to find herself faced by attitudes that dominated society damning any right to an education or independence at any level.
JUMPcuts film Best Interest sensitively explores the right to having a relationship. Paul makes the big mistake of letting his brother know he fancies Sam, who tells his dad, who tells his support worker… and so the plot develops, each family member and support worker believing they have what's right for Paul at heart, but not realising how their efforts conspire to break him and his girlfriend apart.
This year there was also a first of a screening of horror films. My favourite was Station 17's Die Koenigin which has some beautiful affects and stunning choreography.
Cuts to the UK Film Council have meant that Oska Bright has had to be run on a shoe-string this year. As a result four screenings had to be cut from the Festival and the amount of screenings that are subtitled, audio described and sign language interpreted limited to two screenings over one afternoon. The festival's funding has come from Arts Council, Brighton and Hove, with a small but much appreciated contribution from Creative Skillset and in-kind support from the Brighton Dome and a number of film enthusiasts.
Who knows what the future will bring? I look forward to seeing how Oska Bright - with their plans to develop other digital platforms, and other places to project - evolves.
This years Jodi Awards for equal access to culture for disabled people are soon to be made public. I'm pleased to say that an initial announcement made yesterday revealed that Liz Crow's Bedding Out received a Jodi commendation.
The pilot for Bedding Out - shown initially at the SPILL Festival of Performance in Ipswich in November 2012 - was a Dao 'Diverse Perspectives' commission, which just goes to show what far-reaching results can be achieved from a relatively modest investment of £1500. Nominated for accessibility and planning, user involvement; innovation; legacy and impact, Bedding Out was a performance about UK benefits system changes and their impact on disabled people's lives.
Liz Crow's 48 hour ‘bed-life’ performance in Salisbury Arts Centre was livestreamed, reaching 10,000 participants in over 50 countries, using twitter to facilitate a conversation controlled by disabled people. The artists' presence in a bed positioned in the altar of the reconditioned church that is Salisbury Arts Centre conveyed, in my mind, an image mirroring an appeal for asylum. In allowing the voices of disabled people to come to the fore, there was a sense of gentle revolution unfolding at #beddingout
Congratulations also go this week to Anne Pridmore, Gabriel Pepper, Stuart Bracking, Paris L'Amour, and John Aspinall for their successful legal challenge against the high court decision made last April to close the Independent Living Fund. Closed to new applicants since June 2010, the battle is yet to be won on re-opening the fund for all disabled people and putting an end to the two-tier system of support that is currently in place. Whilst the public perception is that disabled people are being supported into work by the current government, the grim reality couldn't be further removed from the broadcasts being propogated in the media through programmes such as BBC's Britain on the Fiddle.
As long as we can survive Dao has a duty to challenge those perceptions and fight for equality in the Arts. We know it's a tall order. We continue to bang our heads against brick walls and in recent years it has felt like the moves forward have been far outweighed by the moves backwards with the closure of so many of our Arts organisations.
Which brings me to 'What Next?' - a new movement seeking to enhance the national conversation about the value of arts and culture. Chaired by David Lan, Artistic Director at the Young Vic, What Next? hopes to facilitate "productive alliances and collaboration in public engagement and advocacy."
At a time when we see the Arts being devalued with the introduction of a baccalaureate qualification which will see arts subjects banished from our schools, I wonder what happened to all those empty promises to support Britain's creative economy released in the pre-election Arts Policy documents produced by both the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems.
We need to find constructive ways to challenge and to determine the role the Arts play in our lives. As dispiriting as it is having to continue to fight for accessibility (what accessibility you might argue?) the reality is that things will get a lot worse if we don't pull our heads out of the sand and seek creative partnerships with organisations and individuals who share similar values.
And for those reasons Trish and I are planning to go to the Diversity ‘Long Table’ being hosted by What Next? at Sadler's Wells on 27 November. They calling on all venues, organisations, artists, creative practitioners, leaders, thinkers, across generations, art forms and sectors, to attend. If you can make it, please let us know?
Avant-garde or art as activism? Colin Hambrook discusses Disability Art in relation to Grayson Perry's Reith Lectures and Liz Crow's In Actual Fact
Since 1948 the BBC have been broadcasting an annual series of lectures by leading figures of the day addressing contemporary themes. It's over twenty years since there was last a Reith Lecture on the place of the Arts within society, so initially I was a bit non-plussed as to why Grayson Perry had been chosen to deliver a series which I normally associate with heady science or hearty politics.
I listened to the third of the 'Playing to the Gallery' series of talks 'Nice Rebellion: Welcome in' immediately seeing how the title might relate to Disability Arts. The Disability Arts sector has a legacy going back to the 1980s, of looking to produce art that challenges attitudes towards disability - the kind of art as activism that seeks to challenge institutions and institutionalised discrimination.
True to the title of his talk Grayson argues convincingly that the idea of rebellion within art is a tautology; that everywhere art institutions applaud Art that dresses itself up as going against the grain; and that the cultural zeitgeist of the Western world has reached a point where 'subversion' is as much a target for commodification as anything else. "…the lifeblood of capitalism is new ideas," he argues, because "they need new stuff to sell!" And when seeking the shock of the new, what better product than subversion?
So where does the concept of Disability Art fit in with the idea of seeking to challenge? Some years ago at the 2007 debate held by London Disability Arts Forum in Tate Modern, Yinka Shonibare described Disability Arts as 'The last remaining avant-garde movement'. If we think of the idea of avant-garde to mean "at the forefront of rebellion", I'm not sure that is completely true. Feminism may have moved forwards into the mainstream to a greater or lesser effect, but it strikes me that the artists who popularly most exemplify 'art as rebellion' at this moment in time are the Russian punk band Pussy Riot. In the aftermath of a public performance of a punk prayer to oppose the unscrupulous vilification of women through the sanctification of State by Church in Russia, they have put their lives on the line. Recent BBC reports of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova say that after going on hunger strike following abuses in jail, that the Pussy Riot member has disappeared, and is feared dead.
As much as Grayson Perry talks about the globalisation of Art practice, it is very evident that the rules that apply in the Western world are different to those in the East. And that attitudes towards human rights are equally very different. Or are they? What is the life of a disabled person worth in a situation where so many of us can be declared fit for work, whilst on our deathbeds? And what does it mean when the fact of so much misery and suffering can prevail against the most vulnerable members of society with hardly a murmur raised in opposition in our media?
Personally I'm not sure whether the term 'avant-garde' conjures up the idea of something that's controversial. It perhaps says more about where we've come from than where we're going. Again with reference to one of Grayson Perry's stories from his lecture, the term describes Duchamp's Urinal but not Brian Eno's recent ploy to fill it with piss.
And so I'd very much doubt whether avant-garde is a term we'd see as applicable to our movement. However, to my mind Liz Crow is one of the few disabled artists seeking to present art as activism - and to use the precept of Disability Art as a form that speaks about the experience of disability, rather than the experience of impairment.
Her counter-propaganda site In Actual Fact, was created to give actual facts about benefits and public services cuts - and to counter the political use of austerity to justify the deaths of disabled people who are being cast aside. Tomorrow is The People’s Assembly national day of action against austerity. Crow is urging people to tweet (and Facebook) from the In Actual Fact site, adding the #burnausterity hashtag at the end of tweets.
On Wednesday 6 November 9.00pm, BBC will broadcast ‘Britain on the Fiddle’ (the first in a series of three). This is a chance to show In Actual Fact working to counter propaganda. Crow is calling for mass-tweeting on the #britainonthefiddle hashtag, answering every single lie with relevant tweets from the IAF site.
In Grayson Perry's mind sincerity may well be 'problematic' and by implication a disguise for much 'bad' art. But then as much as I'm looking forward to listening to the rest of his series of Reith lectures, I doubt he would ever give disability art the time of day, or indeed see the critical nature of what we're trying to achieve.