ju90 discusses the recent cuts, as she takes her show on tour / 5 April 2011
This week we are all still trying to process the impact of the Arts Council cuts, not just to Disability Arts organizations like Dada South, but also to the ‘mainstream’ organizations. Which activities will be dropped when organizations are facing a 7-10%+ cut (more in real terms) in the next financial year? Surely it will include a large number of ‘educational’, ‘outreach’ and ‘community based’ activities, all of which will disproportionately affect disabled people?
This, of course, follows even greater cuts by local authorities, not just to independent arts organizations but also to their own departments. So while my local arts centre, Stratford Circus, will receive an increase from ACE, Newham Council’s arts department now contains just one officer, down from four-plus last year, which will inevitably affect arts activity levels in the borough. And while Newham has very few arts organizations to cut in the first place, the chances of setting up new ones now seem very slight indeed, at least if they are dependent on public funding.
I recently returned from Newcastle where my experiences show that the ‘mainstream’ has a long way to go in any case to include disabled artists. I arrived at the Centre for Life to take part in a panel discussion linked to my Abnormal exhibition, only to find tables being set up on a high stage with no ramp or lift to it. It took a long time for them to realize what I was talking about when I suggested there might be a problem… then came the explanation “Of course, this was really built for performers.” This in a brand-new, Heritage Lottery Funded building.
However, once we had relocated the panel to the pit, the discussion went well. As the scientist on the panel agreed with just about everything I said, it was even harder than previously to work out why the exhibition was ‘too controversial’ for its original location at the Bioscience Centre, and had to be shoe-horned into the paid-entry visitor centre instead after just 48 hours. It was indisputable, though, that this meant thousands more people saw it (an estimated footfall of 30,000), albeit it in less than ideal conditions.
A workshop with Arcadea members a few days later went well too. Another positive impact of Abnormal being in Newcastle has been to forge a new relationship between the Centre for Life and Arcadea that should result in more disabled artists being able to show their work there in future. Only then will change happen.
I was glad to move the show on the following week, though, to one of my favourite places, the west coast of Wales, or more specifically to the Oriel Joanna Field gallery at the Torch Theatre in Milford Haven. A locally based disabled artist, Tony Malone, helped me to install the show, and Sara Beer from Disability Arts Cymru joined me at the artist’s talk that preceded the opening. All concerned hoped that this would be the start of a new relationship between the gallery and disabled artists, and Tony had booked his own show there by the end of the PV. So although I had wondered in retrospect if 1 April had been a good date to choose for a private view, I needn’t have worried!
I usually make a new piece of work for each date on the tour, and inspired in equal parts by the Newcastle experience and the ACE cuts, made the attached. This was sketched out in the Newcastle workshop, and shot on the windowsill outside Tony’s house while dodging oncoming traffic. ‘Please do not touch the artwork’ is freely available for use by anyone who wishes to oppose arts cuts, whether locally or nationally: email me on email@example.com if you require a high-res copy, or feel free to download this one if not.
Keywords: access issues,alternative technology,disability art,funding