A post appeared recently on A-N artists’ news website which I just had to reply to. The post was called “Why my heart sinks when projects for disabled artists are seen as the way forward”. You can read it here.
As only members of A-N can see comments made, I’m sharing what I wrote below.
My heart sings when I hear about projects for disabled artists.
I’m organising a exhibition by disabled artists in Leeds in April. “Shoddy”, named after cloth made from fibres reclaimed from waste fabric, will be challenging assumptions that disabled artists’ work, and our-selves, are inferior, broken-down, second-rate or badly made. The project is framed by the current background of cuts to welfare benefits and a raft of massive cuts to public services that are disproportionately affecting disabled people, along with a climate of demonising those who receive benefits or other support. “Shoddy” could in fact be used to describe the government’s treatment of disabled people.
So I was interested to read Stacey Guthrie’s call for more mainstream opportunities for disabled artists. I couldn’t agree more. Jo Verrent of Unlimited isn’t the first prominent disabled person I’ve heard recently say that things are “getting worse not better” for disabled people – in the arts and many other areas (https://www.a-n.co.uk/…/disability-and-the-arts-the…). Arts organisations need to do more to include disabled artists and audiences in their programming, otherwise disabled people will continue to be excluded.
Meanwhile, change comes very slowly. The Equality Act has done very little in changing the institutional discrimination that disabled people face, saying that organisations only need do what is “reasonable” for them to do, which often boils down to not very much.
Many disabled people are angry and frustrated at the pace of change, in the arts and elsewhere in society. And we’re downright furious at the sustained governmental attacks on disabled people. Some of us will use art as a way of expressing that anger, to show that we are not passive victims and that we’ll put up a fight.
Shoddy is also about the visibility of disabled artists. It’s not about segregation, it’s about saying, Look at us, look at what we’re doing! Our work is marvellous: it’s edgy, it’s challenging, it’s imaginative, it’s beautiful. It makes my heart sing! Some of our art reflects our experiences as disabled people, but by no means all of it does. Shoddy and other projects for disabled artists give our work the exposure it deserves at the same time as offering encouragement and a sense of pride to other disabled artists and audience members.
We should definitely be aiming to be included in the mainstream, and I can’t think of a project for disabled artists that doesn’t have this aim at its core. But that’s a long, long way off and we need to take lots of different approaches to get there. The work that disabled artists like Stacey Guthrie do to persuade arts organisations to change is invaluable. Being able to point to the incredible work that’s produced when disabled people lead and come together on projects for disabled artists will surely help in that task of persuasion.
When I think of organisations like Shape, DaDaFest, Unlimited, Dash, my heart doesn’t just sing, it positively bursts with pride.