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1 November 2005

National Disability Arts Collection & Archive, Holton Lee

An exciting new initiative is being developed at Holton Lee in Dorset. The Holton Lee complex boasts a Disability Arts gallery, accessible studios, workshops and accommodation, within the sanctuary of 350 acres of diverse landscape overlooking the shores of Poole Harbour. The National Disability Arts and Culture Archive - Holton Lee's third capital project in six years - has been awarded £250,000 from the Arts Council. The aim is to collect and build an archive of Disability Arts, recording the movement's history for posterity.

Despite being a young movement, Disability Arts has nonetheless had an enormous impact on societies attitudes towards disabled people. Sadly many key artists and individuals within the movement, have died - people like Ian Stanton, Su Napolitano, Meena Jafarey - people who have left a few footprints in the sand - people whose work needs to be gathered together to entertain and educate future generations. The archive will ensure that, for the first time in history, we have a legacy of important material, which describes the experience of having an impairment in a disabling world.

Over a weekend in November, a group of Disability Arts professionals met at Holton Lee for Express Yourself - a conference aiming to shape the vision and direction of the Archive. We heard from guest speaker Antonia Byatt from the Women's Library. The Women's Library Archive has its roots in the women's suffrage movement of the 1920's. A key artefact in the collection is a purse belonging to Emily Wilding Davison who either fell or threw herself under the king's horse at the 1913 Derby. The noteworthy fact about the purse is that it contains a return train ticket - begging the question of whether she had truly meant to sacrifice her life. The point was that artefacts, which make an archive, are not necessarily the most obvious. Sometimes it can be the most mundane of objects that contain the real stories.

What kind of acquisitions policy is set in place; how the archive is marketed; its relationship to other collections such as the Manchester Disabled Peoples' History Project; what kind of building and how the archive should be located, were some of the key questions that were debated. Led by Marcel Ciantar, archivist, one of the key realisations was that it is not the money that is the burning issue - but what kind of archive, who creates it and how it is set up, which will decide how and where it will have an influence in time to come.

Antonia talked passionately about her current quest to bring the Women's Library Archive into the present age. Having been established by a small group of white middle class women, it is taking some effort to make the archive relevant to local communities around the Metropolitan University in London's East End where the archive is based. By concentrating on individual stories like the one told by Emily Wilding Davison's purse, she has been able to cut across cultural barriers, in their current programme of work.

The next stage will be the setting up of a Working Group to thrash out the nitty gritty. Holton Lee have until May 2005 to develop the full set of plans to make the project a reality. So if you'd like find out more about the archive you can contact Tony Heaton:

Email: arts@holtonlee.co.uk

See examples of NDACA work at the Holton Lee Gallery...

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