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2 April 2008

Graham Lewis went to the launch of a new disability arts organisation for the South West region

Taking their name from the Greek: Kalos – 'beautiful' and Eido – 'shape', Kaleido have emerged from the disability arts organisation previously known as Equata

Still from the film Frida Khalo's Corset

Still from the film Frida Khalo's Corset

From Gloucester down to Dorset and along to Lands End is a vast area for any non-governmental organisation. After Padraig Naughton left in 2005 to return home as director of Arts & Disability Ireland, Equata was held together by Kim Wide and cellotape. After hard times her being first on stage was silent tribute.

In January 2007 Richard Cragg arrived from North West Arts, and set to work reforming the disability arts agency. With successes including Cornwall's first disability arts fest. On Friday 22nd February, Salisbury Arts Centre, (itself a strong supporter of disability arts with their thriving Link Up Arts programme), welcomed the relaunch of Equata as Kaleido, Greek for 'beautiful shape'. It really is!

The party began with loveable Liverpudlian Paul Betney, funnier than Tarbuck or Doddy! (Why doesn't the world know his name?) I first saw Paul at Edinburgh Fringe 2007, after doctor's found a way of controlling his shaking disorder and he'd had only a short time to rewrite the script. Six months later the patter was meaner, tighter, and raising even more laughs.

Plymouth based disability equality trainer Anne Poynton and Holton Lee's Director of Arts Tony Heaton served Equata heroically as co-chairs, but Anne has a new partner in the job. In Kaleido's ambition to be run by disabled people for disabled people they're joined by writer and Exeter University lecturer Richard Bradbury. Meanwhile Tony's off to pastures new as CEO with Shape in London. Goodbye and good luck!

Before lunch Gloucester's inclusive Velcro Dance performed a piece they’d written specially for Cornwall's disability arts festival last November , 'Djamu!' - meaning, in Aborigine, I Am Here!Penzance's Acorn Arts Centre their interpretation has exploded, with added routines visibly exciting the seventy-five invited guests. What had been 'hot as toast' (D-A Online, Dec 2007) now buttered both sides!

Performance is the more obvious disability art, recognising work from a disabled visual artist isn't as easy, but Kaleido doesn't discriminate! Each of its six counties (including Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire) showed paintings from their brightest lights. Like a moth I was drawn to oil-on-canvas 'Recoil' from Cornwall's Colin Pethick. His imaginative movement of colour on a surface dances through abstractionism to a point of virtual reality, making me wish I painted that well!

Although too short, only twenty minutes, Bristol's brilliant film maker Liz Crow (Roaring Girl) screened a tasty dessert. An inspired tale of deaf swimmer Walter, played by Jacob Casselden, choosing love over championship medals, 'Nectar' underlines how it's not our differences which disable us. (That's more society's fault!) Perhaps romance is a tad twee in the 21st century, but Liz Crow is an artist who struts her stuff and struts it well!

No stranger to contemporary dance lovers, Australian Caroline Bowditch tours later this year, alongside Fiona Wright, with Girl Jonah's production of 'She Was Only A knife Thrower's Assistant'. Summarised, Caroline's rousing keynote speech delivered: "If you see it, if you want to do it, then go for it!" Spirit which Kaleido is including in a Somerset pilot later this year, encouraging young people towards professional art.

Then onstage came my cause celebre, the man who turned Equata around and created Kaleido. From the end of March 2008 Richard Cragg goes part time, introducing his yet to be announced replacement before retiring to France in July. Britain's d-a network is losing a hard worker, he'll be missed. My downside of the day? Richard received no standing ovation! Or was that us recognising some people can't? Equality is paramount!

Musician Luke Lundin played out the day with his 'improvised funk'; sorry, not quite my bag. I never was into nineties electronic music, perhaps I was already too old? But top marks for trying. Others seemed to enjoy him.

After their successful launch what next for Kaleido? Their input to Liverpool's 2008 'City of Culture' and preparations for 2012's Cultural Olympiad are helping raise the south-west disability arts' profile, while a network of venues friendly to touring disabled/inclusive companies is gaining ground. A development programme is forecast for emerging artists, with training and marketing partnerships. Launched on the day, Kaleido's new three year plan promises a basket of goodies.

For more information about Kaleido contact Stephanie Cheesman, Administrator, Kaleido, Disability and Deaf Arts South West, Bradninch Place, Gandy Street, Exeter, Devon EX4 3LS Phone: 01392 219440 admin@kaleidoarts.org http://www.kaleidoarts.org

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