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Motion Disabled at Night Lights Leeds October 2009

There is nothing like a trip on public transport to make you feel glad that you have a car.  Yes, I went to Leeds from Wolverhampton via train (one change in Manchester). Apart from the disease (I have a bit of a germ phobia) there is the regular humiliation of: ‘have you booked assistance’ and: ‘you can’t go on that train as you are not booked on that one.’  

The realities of a daily oppression write large. If you are not disabled you may not realize that the option of just getting on the ‘next train’ are not an option for most disabled passengers and the oppressors are oblivious to their casual discrimination!  All this at 6.45 am.

So on arriving at Leeds I was not in the best of moods or brimming with confidence. I was early as I was giving a presentation as part of the Jo Verrents' seminar - organised alongside Simon McKeown's motion capture animation project, Motion Disabled.

Though the Projecting into the Future: Representation & Interpretation of Disability in the Visual Arts seminar was during the day - the whole event was part of the Leeds City Council’s Light Night (a range of events and happenings across the city after dark).

The seminar was aimed at the visual arts mainstream organisations dominating the Yorkshire arts region. Unfortunately many of them did not make it. Thus, another learning opportunity was missed by the mainstream.  The group in attendance was dominated by disabled people who had little time for the social model of disability and, as such, the notion of Disability Art (which I advocate with absolute conviction).  In was a shame because a couple of the artists could transcend the limited space offered by their medical art and enter the realm of exceptional artists if they could just move beyond the personal and the pathological to embracing disability art and reaching into the truly world changing potential that Disability Art offers.  We all come to understand human truth in our own ways and i am confident that at least one of the artists will eventually move beyond the issue of self and become an exceptional Disability Art artist (perhaps without realizing it).

 

There was considerable criticism of my own Disability Art beliefs as they were seen as a desire to ‘label’ or ‘propagandize’ art done in a personal - medical model - perspective.  This does me a disservice in that it fails to recognize that the work is already labelled even if critics (curators, commissioners and consumers) are unable to verbalize a label (it is medical model art).  Plus, any art that is created with a greater understanding of the socio-political framework within which it is created is more powerful and insightful that that which is not (though merely having an understanding of the socio-political framework does not in itself make something art [let alone great art]).  But, at least one of the participating artists attending was a very good artist: embracing Disability Art could take his work beyond what it is at the moment.

 

Still,it a great pleasure to meet up with fellow Disability Art travelers such as Alison Wilde and DADA’s Alison Jones.  Sharing stories over lunch of the trials of working in a mainstream visual arts culture that denies the value of Disability Art is always satisfying and relieves the burden of thinking it is only happening to me or the organization I am working for.

 

Though I must say that there was one excellent speaker and that was Wesley Zepherin, of Yorkshire Arts: his defense of Disability Arts was very satisfying.  This would explain why Yorkshire Arts was so instrumental in commissioning Simon McKeown to extend Motion Disabled to include a new animation and facilitate (with the excellent work of Jo Verrant of ARC - ada inc) a large scale projection of Motion Disabled on to the side of Leeds City Technology College Building at an approximate height of over 100 feet. The projection started soon after the Civic reception at The Carriageworks - lovely Onion Bhajis!

 

The building the work was projected upon was next to quite a main road - thus, thousands witnessed the event.  It did take some time to perfect (width and height of the project had to be adjusted to ensure the best fit and display): but it was worth it.  There were minor problems: the building had put up a black banner on the building on the last week and the lights were all on in the buildings stairwell.  Thankfully neither were a real problem (the security guard went around a stairwell switching the lights as soon he was asked).  Despite the rain, the cold and the road, the work looked amazing and fulfilled all that Simon McKeown and I had of it.  It bought at least one of the animation’s participants to tears (along with his family). 

 

The scale and scope of the projection was indeed spectacular and a joy to behold: a great work of Disability Art given the space to transcend the space a Gallery provides to move out into the work and ‘intervene’ in to the ordinary ‘night life’ of a city that would usually either be unaware or not care about Disability Art (let alone the beautiful difference that the abnormal embody).  The projection was on from 6 pm till 1 am.  Thousands saw the work and we received considerable praise - however egotistical it may seem to be it is gratifying given the work involved in the art work.

 

One person at the earlier seminar had commented - after our presentation of the work on a smaller scale - that the work left her ‘unmoved’ (after arguing that great art comes out of the ‘normal’).  The excitement, engagement and positive comments of passersby was affirmation in itself that the work not only worked as art but in offering a perspective that challenged and changed the world in which we live: something only great art ever achieves.  And, it is great art because it is Disability Art.

 

We left Simon - and few of the team - recording the event on film and still images: it will soon be covered comprehensively on the website www.motiondisabled.com.  But not this week as on Monday Simon flew off to present Motion Disabled in Korea at the DPI world disability art festival in Seoul. 

I, with other members of the team and a group of friends and relatives, all went off for a meal in a cafe next to the hotel (Radisson SAS - Leeds at £65 per night if booked in advance - and it was very nice).  We all eat and drank till the early hours: our heads hitting the pillow with a great sense of satisfaction and without a thought for the nightmare journey the next morning back to Wolverhampton on public transport. 

 

Trains: I’ll keep my car till global warming hits Wolverhampton (sorry folks).

Posted by Anonymous, 13 October 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 14 October 2009

From the heart of England to Finland: Day 6

Paul Darke blogs a day in Stockholm

Drove in to the city: it is not far but it was a little hilly from our side to the city side of the island we were staying on. Stockholm is an archipelago: a place of thousands of little islands of varying sizes. We parked by Nationalmuseum (The National Museum) on the waterfront opposite the Royal Palace. The central tourist places are - I think - centred around three intersecting islands. We wandered on to another island - Skepps Holmen where the Moderna Museet and Arkitektur Museet are.  

The Modern Art Museum was 90 Kroner and the Architecture one was 60 (or a combined ticket price of 110.  I usually just do a decimal point shift left (so 110 Swedish Kroner is £11); it is not that accurate but easy. We went up to the museums with a view to handing a Motion Disabled brochure in for the Director (which we did) but we had a wander to. Lots of crazy sculptures littered the areas by the museums but they lack any spark. They consisted of mechanical paper machete beats that just seemed child-like in their desire to do little other than entertain - rather than challenge.

The sun was burning. It must have been 35 centigrade and there was almost no shade to be had. Where it was available it was just as hot given there was no breeze at all. It was glorious. Feeling hungry we went to the main shopping street called Drottninggaten and ate in a cafe (300 Kroner fro 2 lasagna and a quiche). We went on a long wander around the city. A trail of small sculptures were placed on every street corner. I took a few photos.  Fountains were dotted around, as you would expect in a city on the Baltic Sea. It was all typical - and none the less beautiful - of a major European city.  

On to the old town called Gamla Stan, situated on its own little island. It contains the Royal Palace and the Cathedral (inaccessible as far I could tell). Gamla Stan was the small island between the island we were staying on (Sodermalm) and the main shopping centre.  It was perhaps two miles round the perimeter. We managed despite the fact it was cobbled and we had some rather steep climbs. We could have got The Stockholm Card (museum entry, sight seeing canalboat trip, ferries across waterways and guide book) for 375 Kroner for a day (180 under 17s and cheaper for longer pro rata for two and three days) Instead we just enjoyed the sun as we had no idea how long it would last. Plus, who wants to see the trinkets of the rich in their palaces? When will the world learn!.

We also failed to go to the Ikea ‘exposition’ celebrating 50 years of the store at Liljevalchs.

Also failing to go to the Nobel Museum and the Armemuseum (Army Museum). Also, to my son Walker’s disappointment, we didn't get to the IceBar (a bar made of ice that cost 195 Kroner to go in. You get a drink, hat and gloves and it is then 95 Kroner to get another drink!  But we did stop for a coffee and a cake in the Kungstradgarden park near the Operan (Opera House). Exquisite fountain watching for a while. On drive back to Hostel we looked at the Ericsson Globe which does not open till December (and has Eddie Izzard as one of its first gigs) and is next to the new Football stadium.

After a long and exhausting day we went back to the hostel and had supper again at the cafe there: Nachos and dips for the same price as before. Knackered we went to bed and slept well.

Posted by Anonymous, 5 August 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 26 August 2009

From the heart of England to Finland: Day 5

Paul Darke blogs the trip from Copenhagen, Denmark to Stockholm, Sweden

We had a long drive ahead of nearly 500 miles. So, we were up early and left Copenhagen at 9am having bought some sandwiches. Having first paid the bill of course. Too much but that is life! The receptionist showed me the route out of the city on the tourist map.

We drove into Copenhagen, passed Tivoli Gardens in the car and then directly on the road to Malmo. A new road links Denmark and Sweden. On the Denmark side it is a tunnel which comes up on a mid-point small island where it becomes the Øresund Bridge. It is a toll road and costs 275 Dane Kroner or 395 Swedish Kroner (about £25). Go to the website www.oeresundsbron.com. It was amazingly spectacular and well worth the money for the views, which included masses of wind turbines. I do not mind them at all and think they add an extra sparkle of magic. I would happily have a giant one in my back garden - especially if I got free electricity from it. Put them right across the Yorkshire Dales I say!

We stopped half way on the journey to Stockholm at a place called Jonkoping - a town at the very southern tip of a staggering large lake called Vattern. It is the second largest in Sweden. We went in to the old town which is very modern with one or two old buildings hidden at either end of the main street. There is a new part of town with a new shopping centre. We had no Swedish Kroner and needed some for a drink and petrol. Claire and I got the maximum 2000kr the cash machine would allow. We had been unable to get Swedish Kroner in England as they either did not stock it or would not order it!

We go to the lake shore at the end of the high street. It has a very accessible tarmac promenade that seems to go on for ever around the lake. No dreaded cobble stones. The railway line is the only thing that separates the town from the lake shore. We walked west and ended up at a beach cafe. The Bistro Strand is okay but one never feels anything other than robbed in Sweden by the high cost of everything. A coffee (machine), coke and orange juice cost 60 kroner (£6). I think the locals are told they have a high cost of living and high salaries but they are just being robbed. No wonder they did not want the additional cost of the Euro. The introduction of the Euro has always been exploited to push prices up.  If the Swedes and the Danes could compare prices exactly they could (and should) revolt.

Whilst sitting in the cafe Walker and Claire go paddling. A young woman strips naked in front of me. She puts her bikini on but is reluctant to go swimming. I suspect it is a little cold in the water even though it is 30 degrees with glorious sunshine. I think the young woman has not actually noticed me sitting there.

We only stay a short time in order to get back on the road to Stockholm. Petrol first - another £50 in the tank (more expensive in Sweden). We stop at one more service station for a cup of tea (from our flask). I saw a young man roll some black putty looking stuff in to a ball and put it in the back of his mouth. No idea what it was but it looked disgusting.  We are nearly in Stockholm when the heavens open up making an evening walk doubtful.  Within mintes we are in the city centre and it is sunny and hot again.

We have booked in to a hostel for two nights - pre-booked as otherwise almost always full.  At only £50 a night for two nights (better than an accessible hotel at £200 per night) we get an accessible room with the only roll-in shower so far. It is not a large or luxurious room but adequate and clean. The Zinkensdamm Hostel (www.zinkensdamm.com) was 1080 kr for two nights plus another 70 kr for cleaning. Getting money back for cleaning your own room just seems wrong!

We decided to eat in the cafe at the hostel. We had baked potatoes (three with a drink each for £20). At least we had glass bottles of pepsi. Then we ventured into the park for a walk along river bank. There were lots of hippies and drinking going on. Stockholm seems quite a dirty place in comparison to Copenhagen. We walked back to the park in front of the hostel and Walker kicked a ball for half an hour against a wall (more fun than it sounds as the wall was a 40 feet cliff face of brown granite).

All this driving has been tough but better than flying as you see so much more. It was amazing to see all the farms and farmers using their combine harvesters in France, Germany and Denmark. Yet, Sweden from the motorway is all pine forest until you get further north where there are more fields of green and wheat and not a single combine harvester. The green lands, the forests, the lakes, the hamlets and the people would all be missed by plane. I am glad I drive.

Posted by Anonymous, 4 August 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 26 August 2009

From the heart of England to Finland: Day 4

Ramped Walkway within Tower Building in Copenhagen

Paul Darke blogs a day in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Having a shower was not too difficult. I put a chair in the room (as it would not fit a wheelchair) and then slide from that on to the loo and had another hosing down whilst on the loo. Ain’t accessible hotel rooms great!  

We wandered in to the city of Copenhagen, quite a walk in fact (over 2 miles). It was raining (and would continue to do so for almost the entire day in varying degrees of intensity). But, thankfully, it was warm rain. As we got to the centre it was nearly 12 noon so we decided to eat in one of the few cafes that was not either up or down six steps. Thankfully, it was a nice choice: Flottenheimer at 20 Skindergade (www.cafeflottenheimer.dk). We had lasagna, fete tarte and a pesto salad between the three of us. Plus a coke - my main addiction, coffee and an orange. The cost was a cool 397 kroner. 

This was just what was required before the exertions of the Rundetaarn - a round tower that contained a 209 meter spiral, ramped, walk-way. It was built in 1642 by Christian IV, to be an observatory, library and church for scholars. The Rundetaarn was a deceptively accessible tower that was not quite all I had hoped.  It was ramped up to the eighth level, that lead to - yes - a final flight of steps (narrow and spiral at that).

At 25 kroner each adult (5kr for Walker) the Rundetaarn was a reasonable price but I was given no concession even though I could not get to the top. A ridiculous state of affairs. The ramp up was, to my surprise, brick rather than wood. Near the centre it was very steep and less so on the outer wall. We made it after three attempts (I am after all a pretty fat guy). 

I looked out of a window whilst the ambulant walked up a steep flight of fairly ordinary stairs followed by a narrow spiral stairwell to a fenced-in flat roof top. I suspect they had not ramped to the very top to prevent the horses it was designed for from throwing the king (or his lackeys) off the roof in a fit of horse anxiety. I will put a YouTube video link here soon to show you the exact nature if the beast.

From the Rundetaarn we walked to the pedestrian areas of the city centre. Large sections of any walkway off the main parts is very cobbled, with vast gaps between each cobble.  They were not that bad in comparison to the very irritating cyclists in the cycle lanes.  Incredible strides have been made in public transport but it was still not very disabled friendly. Neither were the people particularly - a fact which surprised me. 

Staff in hotels and restaurants were very nice but there was little smiling or eye contact. I presume in a society where many are very healthy and fit (almost everyone seemed to cycle) - that those who are not are less welcome. The main paths were not very level and the use of a wheelchair in the cycle lanes was not welcomed. They were intolerant of the slower paced. Traffic lights had a visible countdown of how long you had to cross the road - and it was not long. The danish drivers revved up to let you know they were planning to go on zero!

On our journey we did pass a model of a disabled man. He was the tallest man ever recorded (an american whose name escapes me). Yes, we had passed the Guinness Book of Records Museum. The model of the giant had quite a sad look. Eventually we ended up at the National Theatre - a new building sticking out in to the waterway - opposite the New Opera House - an equally new building also sticking out of the opposite walkway. A ferry runs between the two and up and down the waterway.

It was all very high tech with no opening doors in the loo; just buttons and sliding doors. In order to get out of the rain we decided to ride the ferries. The ferry between the National Theatre and the Opera House was very accessible and you could get into the main under cover area. It was possible to get on and off the other ferries, but in a wheelchair you had to wait in the main entrance area (the steps down were almost perpendicular). The ‘accessible’ boats cost 60 kroner. We got 4 tickets - two Zone 1 and two Zone 2 - which we punched in once and that was enough. We then rode on three boats between the various places. 

We were told were told could have rode the buses too but they did not look that accessible. We ended up at the Little Mermaid (all this is in the pouring rain). We also passed the famous fountain of Copenhagen. It features bulls and a Bodecia like character, but it was too wet to get the guidebook out for more information. Anyway, Walker climbed on the little mermaid and we took a few photos. The statue is only original in parts. Vandals had chopped her head and arms off (a few times each I suspect). This iconic statue is only a few feet in to the water and is easily accessible if you know the way. 

We took a final ferry trip down the waterway back to the city centre and stopped at the end of the line outside the equally new National Library and Archives. Modern, large, black and glass. It was on the waterside but acted as a modern facade to the grander old library behind it (linked by a bridge). Thousands of panes of glass are obviously cheaper than millions of red bricks. I presumed the polar bear in the connecting passage way across the waterfront was there to highlight the Danish link with its territory Greenland.

I was a little cold and wet by this point, so we headed back the two miles to the hotel, after one more stop. Outside the Town Hall we passed Tivoli Gardens - another disappointment for Walker as we did not go in - and had a look at the sculptures of frogs and Hans Christian Anderson!

Stripped naked and laying bed I was at last dry and warm. As the sun set across the city the view reminded me of two other instances in my life. When I was four I went into a coma as the shunt in my head failed and had to be replaced. I was rushed to Great Ormond Street hospital where I was on a very high floor without curtains. The night-time view across the City of London was - for a child from a small council house - quite magnificent. The next time I saw a similar view was when I went as a judge to the first Munich Disability Film Festival in 1997. We were put up on the 15th floor of a five star hotel with a spectacular view across the city.

We watched a film on the tv - American with Danish subtitles - about the murder of four little girls in Birmingham, Alabama in the early sixties. Very little is dubbed in Scandinavia (unlike France and Germany) - one presumes because it is not considered worth it. The negation of ones own language in favour of another - many adverts on tv, newspapers and billboards use english only - is a little disturbing in the move towards the globalised homogeneity that is US culture. Television off and we went to sleep warm and snug.

Posted by Anonymous, 3 August 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 26 August 2009

From the heart of England to Finland: Day 3

Paul Darke blogs the trip from Lubeck, Germany to Copenhagen, Denmark.

After a good nights sleep we woke up a little later than usual, throwing myself in a strangely deep bath of the kind only hotels ever have. Sadly we we missed breakfast which, for a change, was included in the bill - €144 for the night in the Movenpick. Having paid we wandered into town and had a quick photo-op in front of the main gate, slanted gatehouse entrance to Lubeck. A fascinating sleeping lion guarded the entrance to the gate.   

Back to the car and we then into town so we could buy some marzipan - the very thing Lubeck is famous for. The store was a cavern of the most amazing sculptures all made of marzipan: town scenes, the Brandenburg Gate, Mr Marzipan himself and a beautiful ship of six sails with canons, crew and harbour. Craft or art? To take ones craft to perfection makes you an artist in my book - even if it was only a sculpture of marzipan. Just so you know, I hate eating marzipan.

I would go back to Lubeck again. Another £40 of petrol and then off to Puttgarden for the next ferry to Rodby. Travelling from Germany to Denmark on a 45 minute ferry cut out an extra six hours driving. We were on the ferry (an extra €136 return) and moving in under 10 minutes and were parked next to an accessible lift that was ramped. Excellent service! No complaints (though I never checked out the toilets).

It was then 100 miles from Rodby to Copenhagen. We did it in no time. We had some anxiety in finding the Radisson hotel. Usual problems: high cost - 2200 Danish Kroner (about £220) for two nights - and no real accessibility. Luckily the floor is a closed unit so will just sit on the loo and be hosed down. There is no other way as cannot even get the wheelchair in the toilet/ shower room!

It was getting late and we were hungry so we wandered up the road and found the restaurant Alleade opposite the Frederiksberg park. The waitress was excellent. She explained the whole menu in english. I can just about get by with a french menu - but danish!  I stuck with the Vienna Schnitzel (wrong but nice). For the three of us a further 598 kroner. I did drink too much coke - which may explain my late night headache. It was nice though. 

The locals wrapped themselves up in blankets (orange in this cafe and green in the one next door). It was a very warm, muggy evening and not too cold even for me (a lilly-livered southern weakling). Once we finished eating we went for a stroll round the park, by which time it was almost dark. We had no anxiety and felt no threat as there were lots of people about; runners, families and teenagers just having fun.

As the sun finally set we discovered a work of art that combined social conscience, wit and wisdom with a critique of the passing of time: a Dummy Tree!  Quite literally a tree - in the middle of a park - with thousands of babies' dummies and a few baby bottles, hanging from its branches. May be it was just a clever way of getting young children to give up their dummies, but it was very moving and captured the transient nature of childhood. It was an engaging piece of art that was challenging, entertaining, as well as being functional!

Back at the hotel I confirmed that breakfast was not included in the price. But for the first time wifi was! Unfortunately (despite great views across Copenhagen) we were on the 11th floor. Given my fear of heights I didn't particularly welcome such a high room. The size of the sprinklers in the room did not endear me to it either. Still I am disabled. I am used to the idea that we will burn first!

Posted by Anonymous, 2 August 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 26 August 2009

From the heart of England to Finland: Day 2

Paul Darke blogs the trip from Ghent, Belgium to Lubeck, Germany.

Woke late and tried to have a shower. In a shower one can only sit in on the edge of a ledge nearer the floor than the seat of a wheelchair. Why should I care if the hotel floods.  Up and out. We took the Motion Disabled sales brochure to S.M.A.K - Gent’s Museum of Contemporary Art. We left the Director and Exhibitions Curator the brochure Simon McKeown had printed for me to drop across Europe. S.M.A.K. was open but we did not have time to stop. In the car we then drove - with only a couple of service station stops.

We were driving from Ghent to Lubeck - a german town on the Baltic north coast. Just under 500 miles, it took us from 10.30am till 7pm. Not bad going and a big chunk of the travelling done (apart from the later dash across Sweden that is). We did stop for petrol and I had a terrible anxiety that we had put the wrong type of fuel in the car.

We arrived in Lubeck and found the Hotel Movenpick fairly easily. And yes you did get a free ice cream on arrival. It is very near the town centre. A quick refreshing face wash and then wandered into town through an amazing castle / gate situated at the entrance. Up the hill into the centre where a nice - yet typically cobbled - square awaited us. We eat in a large cafe with lots of patrons (germans in the main). Viennese Snitzels all round: very nice and quite well priced (£9 a throw). Everybody else seemed to be eating boiled pig knuckles (massive ones at that). Obviously either (or both) a local speciality or a bargain for the less discriminating eater.

We then wandered down to the waterway that surrounds the city centre making it an island. The weather was gorgeous, never under 25 degree centigrade - even at 10pm. We can but hope it will last. In our wanderings we found a typically religious statue on a church but, untypically, one of them was on crutches looking exactly how I feel every time I ever have to use my crutches.

The city centre was empty. On the way back to the hotel, by which time it was dark, we heard some music so followed it. The entire population seemed to be at a beer and music festival by the riverside. All we saw was an english trapeze act and an american soul singer (possibly big in Germany but no where else). The band mainly did covers of soul greats and to be fair, they did it quite well, apart from murdering an Al Green classic.

By this time we were tired and went back to the hotel to watch some football. It seemed to be the first round of the German League or FA Cup. I wrote the blog while we watched tv and then to sleep, perchance to dream. I can only hope that my dream is better than last nights - the boss of DASH (Mike Layward) and Sir Ian McKellen (out of Lord of the Rings) helped me get an ambulance as I had just broken my leg (which had twisted to face the opposite direction). Broken bones - more fears surfacing. Tomorrow to Puttgarden for the Ferry across to Denmark.

Posted by Anonymous, 1 August 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 26 August 2009

From the heart of England to Finland: Day 1

Paul Darke blogs a trip to Ghent, Belgium on his way to Scandinavia.

Today we set off from the glorious UK Midlands towards Ghent in Belgium. Just over 300 miles. Left at 9.30am and arrived at our hotel at 8pm. Only remembering to put the clock forward once at the hotel. Needless to say the hotel parking was full and we had to park in the street outside. This saved us €16 but added a little extra insecurity over the car packed with our travel gear. The ferry from Dover was Seafrance’s Moliere - their newest ship and, as such, the most inaccessible. We had trouble getting from the car to the lift ans there were few ramps from the interior to the outer decks. It is a bizarre world we live in.  Raymond Chandler once wrote that Capitalism was shoddy people making shoddy things for shoddy people. Seafrance and its passengers captured this. It is amazing how people have such little respect for one another. They do not even like one another let alone any one who may be different.

To travel by car instead of flying costs an absolute fortune. I do not fly out of fear (one of many). Although one sees more and goes more places the cost is amazing. Insurance for the car is £120. Personal insurance is £100 (for the family). Hotels that are accessible are costing an average of a £100 night. Ferries (keep reading to see the number we take) are over £400.

Thankfully we are staying with friends for some of it. Camping carnet’s are nearly £15. Exchanging pounds to Euros and Swedish and Danish Kroner costs about 2%, plus petrol of course. Fear costs - quite a lot in this case. Visiting galleries across Europe to Scandinavia is worth it. There is no price too little to see friends I haven't seen in over 10 years.

Weather-wise we have been lucky. Leaving the rainy, chilly Midlands to travel to warm and sunny Gent is a bonus. We have done little but travel today. Apart from a wander around Ghent in the evening after a nice mean, rare steak with chips. (I am but a pleb at heart: another €50 for the 3 of us). The most amazing building we saw was the Mental Asylum alongside the canal. It was a vast cavernous building of black brick curved along a bend in the canal. Sadly, it was shut and we have to get up early in the morning and head off to Lubeck (only 450 miles).

It is amazing to note how in the past they used to build - with public funds - vast buildings for the disabled and the incurables. But will they build us anything now? Where is the national theatre of Disability Drama? Where is the national gallery of Disability Art? Where is the archive of disabled peoples’ lives? Instead they take our buildings back and turn them into flats!

The tram that goes round the city is moderately accessible (a bit of a step on and off the newer trams) and a better way around the city than wandering in a wheelchair: Ghent is a bit of a cobbled hell!

I could not do this journey as a wheelchair user without the physical help of my partner and the additional assistance of my teenage son. More importantly, I do not think I would want to. Being human means we all crave human contact and I am no different. Being fat also makes it much harder and an ‘accessible’ hotel room is never as accessible as the hotel thinks it is. Off to bed now - tired and not looking forward to the very long drive tomorrow.

Posted by Anonymous, 31 July 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 26 August 2009

Motion Disabled

It is my birthday today: I am 47 – that is 141 in handicapped years. It should be a time for reflection but it rarely is for me as I usually have too much work to do for which I am being paid too little (that is self employment for you). Anyway: firstly I am glad just to be here. Like many disabled people I grew up with the expectation of an early death. Don’t you just love doctors! Secondly, I would like to thank all those disabled people – and it has been almost all entirely disabled people – who have impacted on my life in a positive way (I will not name them as this would go on for page after page). The number grows each day as I put into place the 2nd Wolverhampton Disability Arts and Film Festival.

In 2008 we had a successful Disability Art and Film Festival in Wolverhampton. The only problem is – locally anyway – is that we are importing too many disabled artists from outside of Wolverhampton or even the region of the West Midlands. I know this is a result of the absolute failure of WMDAF in the last five years but one must – it is all we can do – look forward. And, I for one am still optimistic. Even with the single arrival of Wolverhampton’s own Disability Art and Film festival we are having a real impact (much as DASh do in Shropshire) for very little (relative) cost.

For example, on Thursday January 29th 2009 – we launch the major exhibition installation of the 2009 Festival (which will also feature as a key part of the Film Festival in April). So if you cannot make it then at the Wolverhampton Museum and Art Gallery you can wait until 24 April 2009 when it is also part of the Film Festival’s events). Motion Disabled is a motion capture installation of disabled people’s physical movements and It is made by Simon McKeown. The potential of the project is considerable - and it is with thanks to the Wellcome Trust’s People Award that it has happened. Like the best projects, art work, its potential to grow and develop is considerable and one which we hope to exercise to its fullest: in computer games; in education; to create an archive of a ever decreasing people; as a short film; a documentary; an installation; and to include more people and more content. Wish us luck!

It is worth noting that I first noticed Simon McKeown in the mid 1990s when I ran the Disability Film and Video Project for ACE whilst at WMDAF (along with Justin Edgar): we gave Simon a grant to make a small animation. From small beginning come great things: that is why I am optimistic. Little did I know I would working with Simon – as the producer of Motion Disabled over a decade later on an project of international significance and on a project with a degree of quality that I rarely come across in any art form, gallery or sphere of arts production (in the mainstream I mean).

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 20 January 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 8 February 2009

Wednesday 24 June 2008

I have been on holiday- very nice thank you. It was to France. I ended up spending a few days in Grenoble as part of it and I was impressed by the accessibility of the place and the high visibility of disabled people in the city. It is actually quite unlike a lot of other European places (including in France) where disabled people are by and large invisible and probably institutionalised. I have no idea why Grenoble is so different (if you know please tell me) but it was a great relief compared the absence of disabled people that is usually so apparent. I only really do Europe as I do not fly: fear is the key. I have no problem with my fear of flying (unlike my fear of dying) and I am quite happy to drive around Europe recognising I am lucky enough to be able to and I can afford it.

I hate coming home – even though I am usually relieved to be able to use a loo or a bath at home that actually suites me. So many baths, showers, toilets and the like in hotel - designed for disabled people - are, to put it bluntly, bizarre. A 2 inch deep baths that are only three feet long behind a door is whose view of disability? And no, that was not a shower! Coming home was even more depressing this year as it coincided with the publication of the honours lists: the usual do-gooders and lackeys rewarded for being born patronising or middle or upper class (honest Guv: it’s not their fault).

What stuck out was a medical honour on the BBC website gloriously titled as 'birth defect test guru knighted.' Basically, the chap in question has been instrumental in developing tests for the pre-natal idetification of Downs Syndrome, Spina Bifida and Anencephaly which does not harm the prospects of normal babies. The BBC proudly told us about the chap that his work has led to a 95% reduction in the prevalence of spina bifida. As a result of his work, antenatal screening for anencephaly and spina bifida is now routine throughout the world.

Now, what can I say. Thanks to this man (who the governernment and the Queen recognise as being more than any other as worthy of credit for such work) there are now virtually no more people like me being born. They are being concieved, they are not being born. But, it goes further: thanks again to this chap we are not even being concieved as we used to be (he is identified as promoting pre-natal strategies such as Folic Acid to prevent our conception – much like the Charity that represents people with Spian Bifida: ASBAH). Such joy that he helped rid the world of people with Spina Bifida (and Downs and Anencephaly. Laugh, I could - and did - cry.

What has this got to do with art: a lot actually. Art is now relatively irrelevant in defining humanity or the direction of the great human experiment that is life and society. Science (medicine and its concomitant cohorts particularly) now define humanity. Such a reality will increasingly define our, as artists, significance as art practionioers, our income and our role in wider society. For Disability Art is perhaps our greatest challenge and a cause we fight alone. The reality of the representation of such an honour as above on the likes of the BBC shows the degree to which its – any - disability coverage is mere tokenism and that the greater idealogy of the negation of difference is at the core what all culture now seemingly represents. The Quality Press is no different: The Guardian and The Independent (et al) now read like propoganda for a eugenicist futurist movement previous advocates could only have dreamt of (except on Token day on a Wednesday in The Guardian).

Our role as artists is to keep the human in humanity. Something scientists are not actually capable of. Disability Art will not only save disabled people it will save humanity from itself. Unless of course the capitalists destroy us all first!

Posted by ben paley, 25 June 2008

Last modified by ben paley, 18 July 2008

Wednesday 14 May 2008

I was on radio 4 recently on You and Yours: when will I learn! Actually, I was on twice (though, rather outrageously I thought, I only got one fee of £56). I had been invited on to discuss my interventionist artwork about the Leonard Cheshire Foundation that I did in about 2000: website that revealed the truth about the Charity (£40 Million in reserves: Private Medical Health Insurance for Senior Staff: £5 Million a Year on Public relations: etc.).

The first programme was quite good – for You and Yours – as one of the other speakers was the former leader of the Conservatives: Ian Duncan Smith (IDS). He had a terrible tendency to things like: ‘Paul is absolutely right: in fact, it is much worse’. This was when he revealed that Charities have over £3 Billion in their reserves and that the public want this given to smaller charities who work locally. IDS: the ex-leader of the Conservatives – a special advisor to the current leader David Cameron – was agreeing with the leftist radical I like to delude myself that I am! There were no other words but ‘bizarre and amazing’ to say how that feels. It couldn’t last: it didn’t. IDS was brilliant: it was You and Yours that shafted me (in collaboration with Leonard Cheshire of course) the following week.

On the original debate we had raised many issues of interest: the corporate nature of large charities (only recently Grooms and Shaftsbury merged in similar fashion to other corporations and companies on our High Streets); the fact that senior staff get private medical insurance whilst users wait years for treatment; the use of social model language by charities that have no understanding or ability to actually work within such a model of practice; and the way wealth charities with millions in the bank can get Lottery funding whilst charities with very little money are excluded. Sadly, we did not get to discuss the art of the critical or spoof website that much. The idea of art as a political tool (as in Disability Art) was an idea too far them obviously.

The idea that art (good art or ‘real’ art) is not political is one of the great myths that the arbiters of taste and quality like to mystify: all art is political. I would argue the best art is the most political (as in literature, cinema and music). Thus, Alison Lapper’s own sculptures of herself are far superior to Mark Quinn’s Trafalgar Square Plinth statue of her. But, the interesting thing is why would Alison not get the Plinth with her own work but someone else – a white, male, institutional artists – would with something similar of Alison to Alison’s own work. It is because the art itself could be seemingly neutralised – de-politicised if you like – and not be overtly political. That is why Quinn could get on the Plinth but Alison could not get her own work on it. The problem is that this reason is actually more political than anything Disability Art could produce. It is anti-diversity; it is anti-inclusion; it is, fundamentally, obscene. This is not Mark Quinn’s fault but the structure and system that sees itself as being above politics whilst it is actually the epitome of political action and execution (against disabled people and not for them).

Art is political and we should not be afraid to use alternative forms to express our artistic powers across the board of all media and all forms of expression. Rhetoric, political debate and criticism in the form of prose or in the form of a website or sculpture or any other way is valid in all forms, styles and quality is as equally valid as all other forms, styles and quality.

Thus, I would urge you all to go away and create a spoof website on something you like, hate or can reveal the truth about: if for not other reason than to learn how to make basic website. When I did the anti-Leonard Cheshire site it was only to learn how to do simple website (it was not intended to be the vast wealth of revelations about the charity that it ended up being (with many contributions from secret sources and un-named contributors). I still get e-mails about my anti-Leonard Cheshire site: I had one today. It said:

“You may already know this, by the way, but Leonard Cheshire is still the duplicitous disempowering megalith it was when you were with them ... I'm an inmate”.

On the You and Yours show on Radio 4; Leonard Cheshire were invited to participate but chose not to (so I was told by the producer). Clever people at Leonard Cheshire: they then requested a Right to reply (which was given) and the interviewer allowed Leonard Cheshire to spout off without any comment of a critical or challenging nature. The only clip they played was of me: the Leonard Cheshire spokesman was then allowed to criticise me with half-truths and smears with the complicity of the BBC. The entire debate was reduced to being about me and what I had said with the BBC providing zero opposition to Leonard Cheshire’s rolling PR machine (which they admitted they spend at least £4 million pounds on).

I had been well and truly shafted by the BBC in their allowing Leonard Cheshire full reign in an unchallenged diatribe against the criticisms of Leonard Cheshire the organisation. The Leonard Cheshire spokesman described its critics as an ever decreasing group of disabled people (despite Ian Duncan Smith saying in the earlier programme that it was an ever increasing number of the general public).

Consequently, art triumphs over charity dogma: we are getting the message across to the public that charity is no excuse for rights and that institutionalisation is wrong. The tragedy is that the BBC has been little help in this process. It is down to us and our art (whatever form it takes).

Posted by ben paley, 14 May 2008

Last modified by ben paley, 18 July 2008

Currently Paul is depressed ... The Aftermath of a Disability Film Festival in Wolverhampton

Well, another festival has passed and, as is often the case, disabled people have let it pass without bothering to attend. Yes, audiences were low for a significant part of it. We had some good bits: the Friday night screening of the new Justin Edgar feature Special People was full and quite a few attended the first of our archive screenings of disability. But Saturday: the main day in my view, with its Installation Piece, selection of shorts, followed by a dance and disability selection and concluding with another (exceptional) archive of disability was quite poorly attended. Most of the audience came from Farnham in Surrey, Middlesbrough, Stoke-on-Trent, York and Leicester: plus the legendary Phil Samphire from Manchester (well, he tells me he’s a legend). But few, very few indeed, came from Wolverhampton.

If the marketing reached those outer limits of the centre of the UK – the Midlands – then it could not have been the marketing. I do not believe it was the marketing for a minute: we covered vast ground via e-mail, post, distribution and the disability networks. Not even the local disability groups came (who one might suspect of having a degree of politicisation) came to any of the Disability Film Festival of Wolverhampton: nor did any one from any of the professionals who work in disability in Wolverhampton (those most in need of a shock to their cosy order following oppressive behaviour). One is left with only one possible conclusion: the chose specifically not to come.

I understand why many disabled people do not come to disability events (across the UK, let alone in Wolverhampton): self hatred and the desire to deny their difference as they seek acceptance from those that oppress them (those who think they are normal). I understand why no one from the City Council of Wolverhampton came – not even their Disability Champion: my wife is standing as a Liberal Democrat in the Local elections and no self-respecting Labour councillor would be seen with a Lib Dem at an equalityesque event (they are that petty). What disappointed me – and it disappointed me greatly – was the lack of regional disability activists (there were some but very few). They will complain when it is not on again, or is more populist or shorter or impairment specific (as will almost definitely happen now): but what do you expect when partners give venues, funders give cash and volunteers give their time.

The most disappointing was the lack of visually impaired and Deaf visitors: we spent nearly £2,000 on sign language interpreters and audio description yet few turned up from a City that is known nationally as a centre of such impairments. When speaking to a few to inform them of it they claimed transport is an issue (and I accept that it is to a large degree) but do they have no friends who may want to go out with them to a free film with free food and free drink (obviously not). Given that Wolverhampton hosts the DeafFest – which is usually attended by Deaf people who are quite unwelcoming of disabled people (the whole politics crap is in full-play at such events) – I feel we should consider not having any sign at the next Festival (if it happens) as they are not worth the effort or the cost. Am I bitter: bet your arse I am! As one sign language interpreter said to me – who wasn’t doing any work for us: they want access, claim their not disabled but still take the Disability benefits at every turn. It was just nice to see someone even more bitter than me at the Festival!#

I am not innocent: the website – as Phil Samphire so kindly pointed out – could have been a little more accessible (not that it would have made any difference); and the venue more clearly sign posted within the city (but the you would have had to have been looking for it to notice that fact and few were). I do not anything else went wrong in getting people to the Festival – or should I say, letting them know it existed and was happening.

Does it matter: perhaps in the short term no – hopefully our funders will allow us another chance and another opportunity for people to see the quality of disabled filmmakers from across the UK and Europe and America? The quality of content was deemed by all who sailed in her to be of exceptional quality, variety and challenging at the same time (sometimes to the panelists assembled to discuss the screenings). But eventually bums on seats must matter as much as quality.

Disabled people are not good at attending disability events – for many understandable reasons – but until we do the institutionalisers will be bussed in to make up numbers and the institutionalisers like Leonard Cheshire will run and control disability as they do now. Let us not get to stage where we get what we deserve: we, society and civilisation deserve better than the crap mainstream oppressors such as Leonard Cheshire and the local authorities will force down our dependent throats. What can I say: get of your arse and go to a disability arts event now before it is too late.

I would like to thank all those that came to the festival from across the UK: Alison, Debbie, Harriet, Simon, Phil, Alan, Tanya and all our partners: ACE, ScreenWM and MACE, Script and our host partners Arena Theatre and Light House Media Centre and Cinema.

Please note that there will be a three weekend – four day – course in Screenwriting specifically for disabled people as a result of the work we have done in the festival and our support for Script and the assistance from ScreenWM. It will take place in June & July in the Midlands: spaces are available and if you want to do the course please email me now on info@outside-centre.info.

More ramblings of an fat biffy incontinent coming your way next month.

Posted by ben paley, 23 April 2008

Last modified by ben paley, 18 July 2008

Tuesday 25th March 2008

Disability Film Festivals should be funded not by the Arts Council but by the Film Council – that is their responsibility. Yet there is little point to any festival unless its constituents are also funded to make films to show in the festivals. The reality is that neither is happening to any great degree and that is a shame on the film culture of the UK. It is as if disabled people cannot be trusted to make anything of originality, wit or intelligence: not that any such requirement is standard to mainstream filmmakers. Most UK film product – made by the white, middle and upper classes, of men and women – is, to be honest: crap; unoriginal, clichéd, boring and destined to commercial failure. Consequently it is no surprise to realise that the film business (shorts, features, documentaries and experimental) is predicated on who you know and very little else. The core reality of film is money – not always but it don’t ‘arf help. Disabled people have the least access to money compared to most other social groups. What the mainstream people who make films have access to is money – pure and simple.

That those who have money have the easiest access to other money is a statement of the obvious but one which we can not say enough; we must constantly point out the inequality and injustice of this simple fact. Furthermore, such an obvious reality is in fact a crime against disabled people and society itself. I do not particularly care about private finance (it will always stick to its own kind) but public money is a different matter. he Film Council should only be giving money to groups who have zero access to finance: part of any funding scheme should be that you have to show you can access other funding and once you have proved this you are then excluded from that or any other funding scheme!

Quality is an issue: not for funders anyway (in reality). Different disabled people should be funded every year to make ten feature films. It doesn’t matter if they are crap or not (most will be: why should we be different from any other group! Most films made by the mainstream in the UK are crap (especially those funded by the Film Council and for that matter Channel Four and the BBC): that is why most of them never actually see the light of day. Since its inception the Film Council, and its predecessor, have funded hundreds of films that have never seen a TV or art house screen let alone a Cineplex. The difference such finance could have made to the out-put of minority groups and how it could have raised our / their (collective) cultural significance would have been staggering. What we actually got was the usual drivel. It is very like the Lottery. It could have impacted on the everyday lives of all people. Instead it has been solely used to prop-up the middle-classes across the UK (such is life!) to deliver the same banalities we all suffer from.

It is no surprise that the Film Council have decided to fund four film festivals and that they will choose mainstream ones in the main (those who would have no trouble attracting extra funding from the commercial sector). Another crime against public funding! Disability is not one of them; although Deaffest may be one of them, thereby implementing another divide and conquer strategy that will enable them to tick the 'disability' box and revealing that they have little to no understanding of the real issues and instead seek a 'normalised' option).

The Wolverhampton Disability Film Festival – April 17 – 20 2008) at the Light House has received some Film Council funding – under access and education – through the regional film agency ScreenWM (after and long and tortuous process). Not much in the scheme of things - £5,000: I would love to know how much the London Disability Film Festival received! What we received is not enough – by far. It will barely cover the costs of the venue and then access costs. We have tried to build partnerships so that it can go further; hopefully the initial Scriptwriting seminar on the morning of the 19th April will be the beginning of a complete course in scriptwriting for disabled people in the region delivered in association with SCRIPT. But, for example, the Script seminar is not signed (though Deaf film-making does get its own Festival in Wolverhampton). As such, it was something we could not afford when there are other things that need to be done.

A key element of the Wolverhampton Film Festival is the inclusion of archive film (from the Leicester Guild of Cripples and the Derby School for the Deaf right through to news reports from the 1960s, 70s and 80s of the regional ATV news) - along with trying to put such material in context with debate and getting some of those featured to come along and explore changes in the perception of disabled people. It is interesting to note the issue of ‘grassroots development' and the criticism that there was a lack of it in the London Disability Film Festival. It is a difficult one (and I shall explore it in detail in a later blog) but in a town like Wolverhampton there is very little grassroots to develop and any development work is a five year plan with limited results in the first two years probably. Thus, it is essential to develop the non-disabled forces of society as much as it is the disabled themselves or else the mainstream will forever inhibit any successful grassroots development. As such, I think the London Film Festival was doing all it could in the face of the British film institutions at best apathy towards disabled people and at worst an out-right hostility.

The British film industry is like most of British (and other capitalist cultures) rooted in the issue of access to money and, having said that, one can only conclude that the true issue for most disabled people wanting in on the film world is actually less about disability (or even ability) but more about class (just as the American Election is more about class rather than gender or race). It is no surprise that the most successful disabled people are from the middle or upper classes.

That is why it is absolutely essential that disabled artists, filmmakers, take up every opportunity that comes along their way (they tend not to); talent is not enough and talent does not in itself mean you will achieve success or get the recognition you deserve: it is about class and then luck (which is why I administer rather than create much – I have a dearth of both class and luck combined with limited talent). What I have done is take my opportunity and, of equal significance, not live in London (that great parasite on the soul of the nation).

Posted by ben paley, 25 March 2008

Last modified by ben paley, 18 July 2008

Wednesday 5th March

I was intrigued by a response to my last blog asking the question of whether or not there was a case for building bigger bridges with mainstream organisations (having been doing this myself in recent times) the problem of being able to maintain our, one’s own, integrity is a difficult indeed. The obvious answer is yes, if you have no integrity to start with (something I am sure I have been accused of in recently). Although I say that flippantly there is an element of truth in it: as someone trying to get Disability Arts presented across the country in mainstream venues, believe me, a high degree of compromise is required.

Problems of access are always a big issue. For example, if offered a free venue it is almost impossible to turn it down: especially if it is an all or nothing scenario (as is often the case). But, the venue is upstairs. Do I put the event on knowing I will exclude or just not have the event? I would say have the event. The financial reality is often that an event will not be fully accessible: signing is too expensive; audio-description is far beyond our budget and/or a better venue will not be available (financially or as a partnership). I would still put the event on, if it were the only way it could happen.

Self-help – which is what we are often required to do – is all that can be left. I do not expect every disability event to be accessible to me and we should not expect it (given the ever increasing financial restraints we all face for reasons we all know). We must expect friends to help (interpret, describe, record – with permission – and / or enable in someway). One can, and has to, work creatively. But it is better to put an event on for the few rather than not at all: after all it could change the life of one of the audience in a way that can only be good. Alternatively, if I pay for a better venue then signers are a no-no: what should I do? I have run events where it would have been cheaper to give the two Deaf people that came half the money and said to them go out on the town and have the best night of your life all expenses paid (instead the money has actually gone to a non-disabled person who has little to no interest in what they have signed anyway).

In working with mainstream organisations one can build bridges and the best way, I feel, is to understand from the very start that they probably do not have the slightest interest in your event, form or cultural and minority issue. I prefer working with these types of organisations actually – often, the worst are those that think they ‘care’ about Disability Arts but really have no idea about it except as a tick-box exercise. Do not get me wrong: working with a mainstream venues that know, care and can deliver on equality of access culturally and physically is a rare joy (the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton is one such place); but that is a rare pleasure indeed.

It is important is that we put pressure on funders to ensure that venues give us our due share of their cultural output (rather than wasting a fortune on our own administration and management). We must pressure ACE – all funders in fact – to ensure a full range of cultural output by those they fund in the mainstream year in and year out. We should keep our own records of any (all) venue’s output in order to ensure their plurality of expression. But, we also need to be more tolerant of what we ourselves do, on limited funds and opportunities: we are usually doing the best we can for the most we can (even if this is not for all).

As an example, in Wolverhampton we are about to put on a Disability Film Festival. Signing and audio-description is an ideal but not a realistic reality (many aspects of the festival will be fully inclusive). Given that Deafest (a film festival for Deaf people) happens in Wolverhampton every year with over triple our budget should we have signers at every event if that means less events? I would say no. Forego signers if it means you can have more events for a broader disabled community. This is irrespective of the arguments about the Deaf believing they are a linguistic minority and are not actually ‘Disabled’ anyway (in my view, whether they like it or not, they are one of us). The reality is they have had a major event for themselves recently and our budget will not encompass every impairments type or all disabled people. We will do our best but budgetary constraints mean we have to make some judgement calls (including decisions based on what else has been on in the area for other disabled groups.

What would you do: what decisions have you made where limited budgets / space / options are available?

To some extent it is unrealistic to expect mainstream venues to participate in our banner-waving Disability Arts culture (pride in ourselves or our cultural expression). They are so unsure of their own culture and self-expression that it is rare indeed to meet a truly confident mainstream organisation able to deal with difference as a matter of course (again, Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton is a rare bird in a menagerie of insecurity and self-doubt). Thus, venues will always like disability and art that enhances their own sense of themselves rather than a sense of pride in an(O)ther. Still, we must plug away and offer it to them; whilst educating them in the errors of their regular exhibition criteria.

We have to realise that the strength of Disability Arts is in the core threat to the security of the mainstream venues and establishments. Disability Arts liberates us all (disabled and non-disabled) from seeing anything as having any ‘mainstream’ value – Disability Arts reveals the value of all over and above the very idea that there is anything that has greater value over one thing or another. Thus, like Crippen, I await our turn in running the arts as fairly (or unfairly) as all other groups: including letting those white middle class men and woman having another turn after we – then all the other’s equally excluded – have had a hundred years doing it.

Posted by ben paley, 5 March 2008

Last modified by ben paley, 18 July 2008

Monday 28 January 2008

Welcome to my blog: the meandering thoughts of someone trying, failing and moving forward. When I write I try to clarify what I think today: knowing that as I write it will make me believe something else: something different, something quite possibly the opposite of what I have just written. Take the journey with me; understand the attempt to grasp what I think, what we can think, now: this blog is an exchange of ideas. Do not be offended: I am struggling to understand what is happening around me; struggling to understand why I have the thoughts I am sharing (uncensored). Don’t hate me: tell me I am wrong and why (for you may well be right).

Tough times we live in – well, for some anyway. The Arts Council of England is about to announce the final decision on its arts funding review. Will LDAF be culled like NDAF was; and will other Disability Arts organisations be culled or ear-marked for a future slow death (probably without being told). Equally, who will be rewarded for their work? Tough times indeed!

In the West Midlands we had the good fortune to see the demise of WMDAF a couple of years ago now (for a number of reasons on which few can agree). I say good fortune because the money that WMDAF did not eat up was subsequently available for a single Disability Arts Festival in Wolverhampton which we at Outside Centre were lucky enough to get to deliver the Festival (Theatre & Film plus much more). ACE put nearly £2 million into WMDAF over about ten years with little to show for it. If I had known ACE would put that kind of money in to WMDAF when I was the first director of it I would have stayed (and achieved great things). But like ACE, I did not think that far ahead.

What do I think of the ACE funding plans: a difficult one indeed? I have advocated the closure of NDAF for quite a considerable time (especially once DAO was started) and I am glad to see ACE have finally pulled the plug on it. Like many Disability organisations its problem was that it consumed vast amounts of money just to exist irrespective of what it delivered or the quality of its work. Often organisations consume vast amounts of money on premises, staff, computer equipment and other hard and software: the reality of being an organisation before it actually does anything at all. All this whilst disabled artists survive on small commissions that can hardly feed them (whilst they have to buy their own equipment and pay their own bills). I have always liked what the staff did at NDAF (and hope they succeed in there new venture together: the Disability Cultural Projects). But, like many organisations, I have felt for a long time that the money could be better spent. Do I trust ACE to spend it better – time will tell. I suspect that many of the individuals who will or have lost their jobs may be better of – having a better call on any Lottery funding applications due to their own network of contacts and insights into the workings of ACE and their Lottery panels than most artists.

In relation to the potential loss of LDAF I have equally ambivalent feelings. Again, not the individuals involved (all excellent) but an organisation can be a hindrance especially if you are not one of the favoured few who are friends and / or in the circle of people running them (exclusion is not usually out of malice but occasionally it may be). Like all people and organisations, they support what they know (as is the case of all organisations disability or not – look at the BBC). No organisation has a divine right to eternal funding (even if they are excellent). If they did (and many wrongly do in the mainstream arts) culture will eventually hit a cul-de-sac of stale inertia of banality and unoriginality; just as most mainstream arts organisations and venues have (the bfi, the BBC, Channel 4, regional theatres and many others to list but a few … ).

The problem is that the disability arts organisations are easy targets; when in reality it should be the big mainstream organisations that should be targeted for the gluttonous amounts of money they consume just to exist (including ACE in many cases). Or, and how about this for an idea, get rid of all disability organisations (and race and sexuality ones too) and then we take it turns to run all the mainstream organisations and venues: thereby having the opportunity to actually make a difference.

The reality is that the disability arts organisations across the country get such a pissy amount of money anyway that they most may as well not actually exist anyway (that is the crime of arts funding and it always has been and always will be). We will never actually be given enough to make a difference to culture anyway. All most funding does in the disability arts (and arts and disability) sector is give a few trainers, consultants and adminstrators a job anyway. The creative many merely subsist on the crumbs scattered around from trusts, Lottery Boards and friends.

Posted by ben paley, 28 January 2008

Last modified by ben paley, 18 July 2008