A new programme celebrating and supporting disabled artists and disability art was launched on Monday in Glasgow. Paul F Cockburn was there.
New work from some of Britain’s most exciting disabled artists will help build on the success of London’s Cultural Olympiad in 2012, and both sustain and develop disability arts across the UK, according to the organisers and funders of the new Unlimited programme.
Supported by more than £400,000 National Lottery funding delivered through Arts Council England (ACE) and Creative Scotland (CS), this new three-year programme will enable selected works to be staged in collaboration with arts venues and festivals across the UK.
“These are a really diverse set of artistic commissions from some truly amazing artists, across all boundaries, and all art forms,” explained Tony Heaton, CEO of Arts organisation Shape, who was a member of the selection panel. “The last Unlimited commissions were part of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and they were by their nature celebratory. I think these commissions are more edgy, in a way; they’re more to do with art, and less to do with celebration, and I’m really pleased about that.”
“What was exciting about the whole process is the risks that artists were willing to take,” added Manick Govinda, the head of artists advisory service Artsadmin. “They didn’t want to make cosy work; they wanted to make work that questioned disabled living; and about the art rather than just the entertainment. The emphasis on the art is very strong.”
Both Shape and Artsadmin were involved in “putting the word out” about the Unlimited programme, and their joint knowledge and expertise made “a real difference” to the range and number of applicants this time round, according to Unlimited’s Senior Producer Jo Verrent. But she’s the first to admit that no arts programme happens without funding.
“We’re really lucky, with Unlimited, to get funding from ACE and Creative Scotland,” she said. “We know from last time, about the strength of disability arts, of disabled artists, within Scotland, and we were so delighted when CS said they wanted to come on board to help Unlimited move forward.”
This involvement undoubtedly explained, in part, why Unlimited 2014 was launched not in London but at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow. Unlimited shares many of the same ambitions as Scotland’s public funder for the arts and film sector, according to its Director of Arts and Engagement, Leonie Bell. “Matching excellence and experimentation with equality and diversity,” she explained. “Creating platforms for work that go as far and wide as possible. Looking at the role of the arts to contribute to very dynamic, very real communities. Looking at artists as leaders. And ‘International’ as a mindset; artists are among the best people in society to see beyond boundaries.”
Of course, there have been changes since last time. “We have less money, and I think we’ve done incredibly well to match the ambition,” admitted Tony Heaton. “Nevertheless, it’s fantastic that we’ve suddenly got more money available to match the ambitions of the fantastic artists that we work with, and we will enjoy the process of realising this project.”