In the run-up to the plethora of disability arts events happening across the UK this summer, Charlie Swinbourne talks to producer, programmer and artist, Chas de Swiet about his work with Greenwich and Docklands International Festival, Liberty Festival and DaDaFest
Chas de Swiet has worked in arts management since 2000 and has worked for a number of arts organisations with a specialism in diversity and disability arts. He is also an artist, mainly working with sound and music.
His work, professional and creative has taken him through various jobs in the sector with a myriad of experiences and challenges. Perhaps this explains his reflective and considered approach to what he has been doing during the years leading up to what is a hectic and exciting summer of diverse arts.
Chas began working at LOCOG outlining what the Unlimited commissions for the Cultural Olympiad, would be back when London 2012 was just an idea. This disability strand of programmed commissions is currently touring and exhibiting throughout the UK this summer and will feature at Southbank’s Festival of the World during the early days of September.
Since then however, his career has taken him further into this space: “Then I went to Arts Council supporting people applying to Unlimited. And now I'm working directly on an Unlimited project. So it’s been quite interesting seeing that progression. I mean, the different roles that I have are definitely discreet. But they definitely inform each other.”
Time has been at premium alongside the funding. “For DaDaFest, I was producing the music programme. Again, that was a development role that finished at the end of March. I worked up a number of options for the festival. And then I left it for the festival to decide where to go with these options, depending on funding. But the fact that I had four months just researching disabled musicians was a really interesting thing to do. And finding out who was out there.”
This recent experience in such an intense period of commissioning, programming, defining, delineating and delivering could have sent others into a spin. But Chas, with his years of perspective gained through work in the sector and in these roles sees it differently: “And then of course, that does mean that I’ve been in a much more informed position when it comes to programming work for Liberty, for example.”
So being able to say that he has had a hand in Unlimited, GDIF, Liberty and DadaFest, what does he think we should look out for this summer? “I think Prometheus Awakes - which will be performed at the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival - is a very exciting and ground-breaking.
And when you hear about how he describes it, you can’t but be intrigued and motivated to get to the National Maritime Museum Gardens in Greenwich for 10pm on Friday 22 June: “It’s a collaboration between La Fura dels Baus and Graeae to produce a large-scale show featuring huge puppets and aerialists and projection and music. All within the grounds of the Queens House. It should be a stunning show.”
For someone who has been so busy on such high-profile events, the benefit of experience comes across in how Chas handles being a part of all of this:
“I was talking to someone who was saying that back in 2000, with the millennium coming up, everything was focused towards that millennium moment. But life went on after 2000. And in some ways I think that’s quite an interesting parallel.
I think the British Council involvement with Unlimited is useful. So my understanding is that some projects will have follow-up through the British Council. And I think a lot of it depends on audience. Because you’d hope with a lot of people coming to the Paralympic Games, a lot of connections should be made.
I think inevitably, there is going to be a hiatus as in everyone’s been working towards this for god knows how many years. But I think a lot of people are going to have to – it’s natural in a way that people stop think take stock and work out where to go next.”
So, after this long and exciting summer of so much work putting diverse performers at the forefront and performances coming from a diverse perspective out there for all audiences, Chas, like others involved, will be deserving of a bit of downtime.
One thing though lingers in my mind when thinking about all the good stuff that we will get to experience this summer on the back of Chas’s work and that of and his colleagues. Will the fun and funding continue?
“There has been a bit of a glut of arts funding this summer. And then you kind of combine that with general cuts in terms of arts funding. More reliance on philanthropy, which doesn’t make sense to me at all. But one thing about artists is they’re generally pretty good working out creative solutions to problems.”