Our history

Read some of the key dates from our history.

Sue Austin in a wheelchair submerged under water
Sue Austin, Sue in the Blue. Photo by Norman Lomax.

Pre-2012 – Unlimited was an essential part of the London 2012 Summer Olympics

Unlimited was created as part of the Cultural Olympiad linked to the London Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012, with involvement from all of the UK arts councils and the British Council. 29 works across all artforms were commissioned, including Sue Austin’s iconic Underwater Wheelchair installation, which has now been viewed by over 8 million people.


September 2012 – The first Unlimited Festival at Southbank Centre

The first Unlimited Festival took place in London and it was developed and delivered by Southbank Centre. The festival showcased Unlimited commissioned works and other works by disabled artists to audiences from around the world.


August 2013 – Arts Council England decides to continue Unlimited 

Arts Council England, one of the key funders of Unlimited, recognised the ability of Unlimited to create change. They offered £1.5 million from strategic diversity funds to run the programme until 2016 and invited arts organisations to apply to manage and administer Unlimited.

Jo, Tony & Manick at Southbank Centre's Unlimited Festival 2016 all smiling at the camera.
Jo, Tony & Manick at Southbank Centre’s Unlimited festival 2016. Photo by Rachel Cherry.

September 2013 – Shape Arts and Artsadmin were chosen to deliver Unlimited

Shape Arts and Artsadmin, with Jo Verrent as independent Senior Producer, won the contract to deliver Unlimited. They had been involved in Unlimited 2012 in different capacities.


September 2013 – Additional funders support Unlimited

Spirit of 2012 funded Unlimited Impact, a strand of Unlimited that supported the work of young artists and extending the geographic reach of the programme. Creative Scotland also become a key funder to support disabled artists in Scotland.


March 2014 – Unlimited announces its first commissions

The first Unlimited commissions were announced, including works that been developed but hadn’t had the opportunity to tour widely and a range of new research and development awards. The first commissions included work by Katherine Arraniello, Vital Xposure, Jo Bannon, Birds of Paradise, Fittings Multimedia Arts, Juan del Gado and many more.

Katherine the artist is on the left as her butler lays on the floor in front of large screens and a long dinner table.
Katherine Araniello, The Dinner Party Revisited at The Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Festival 2014. Photo by Rachel Cherry.

September 2014 – The second Unlimited Festival at Southbank Centre

Thanks to the support of the British Council, the second Unlimited Festival at Southbank Centre attracted nearly 100 international delegates and included our first international placement, Morwenna Collet from Australia.


September 2014 – Commissions open to Wales-based artists

Thanks to additional support from Arts Council Wales.


March 2015 – Unlimited commissions were unveiled

Unlimited continued to commission work spanning a huge range of artforms: theatre such as ‘Assisted Suicide: The Musical’ by Liz Carr; dance such as ‘The Way You Look (at me) Tonight’ by Claire Cunningham and Jess Curtis; audio installation, ‘The Doorways Project’ by Bekki Perriman, and performative visual art such as ‘Demonstrating the World’ by Aaron Williamson.


November 2015 – The first Unlimited commission airs on television

Jess Thom’s award-winning performance ‘Backstage in Biscuitland’ was supported by Unlimited and toured extensively. Her work was one of five performances selected to be broadcast on the BBC’s Live from Television Centre.

Painting of a 1930's television showing Laurel and Hardy. Behind there is blue and yellow wallpaper
Cameron Morgan, TV Classics Part 1 series, ‘Laurel and Hardy (1930)’.

April 2016 – Cameron Morgan’s paintings are shown at Glasgow International

A brilliant series of ten canvases TV Classics Part One were shown as part of Glasgow International Festival, a visual arts event in Scotland. The work was created by learning disabled artist Cameron Morgan, with support from Project Ability in Glasgow, and it highlighted how both TV content and form have shifted over time.


May 2016 – Unlimited is extended until 2020

Shape Arts and Artsadmin got an extension from Arts Council England to continue to deliver Unlimited until 2020. Arts Council of Wales and Spirit of 2012 also continue their support.


September 2016 – Unlimited Festival takes place in London and Glasgow

Not one but two Unlimited festivals took place in 2016, at Southbank Centre, London and Tramway in Glasgow just less than a week apart. Between the festivals, we supported Unfixed’s second residency – an international art and technology lab between Unlimited, Australia’s ANAT and Bristol’s Watershed.


March 2017 – Over £945,000 announced in awards

Additional funding from Arts Council England’s Ambitions for Excellence supports a series of International Collaborations. Alongside these, new Main Commissions, Research and Development Awards and awards for emerging artists were made, the latter supported by Spirit of 2012.


The backdrop is the Syndey Opera House and there are thousands of colourful balloons in a mass lifting someone from the stage
Noemi Lakmaier, Cherophobia at Syndey Opera House as part of Antidote Festival.

September 2017 – Cherophobia flies in Sydney Opera House

Cherophobia, artist Naomi Lakmaier’s durational installation which sees her bound and immobolised body lifted by over 20,000 helium balloons forms part of the Antidote Festival at Sydney Opera House where she performs the work for nine hours.


November 2017 – A record number of disabled artists and companies apply to Unlimited

Over 200 applications were received for the latest Unlimited awards round – for research and development proposals and those from emerging artists looking to create a work or lead a participative project.


March 2018 – Unlimited awards over £120,000 for 13 R&D and Emerging Artist awards

200 applications were whittled down to a shortlist of 39 from which the panels awarded a range of projects, covering visual arts, theatre and dance, technology and participatory practices.


September 2018 – Unlimited plans an international symposium

On 4-5 September, Unlimited invites international artists and arts professional to a two-day symposium in London to consider opportunities and possibilities to develop disability-led arts at a global level. Audiences can also attend a warm-up event about Unlimited and the history of disability led arts in the UK on 3 September.


September 2018 – The fourth Unlimited Festival at Southbank Centre

The fourth Unlimited Festival takes place from 5-9 September across the whole of the Southbank Centre.


November 2018 – previous record number of applications broken

271 applications were received for the latest Unlimited awards round  – 82 for the Main Commissions fund, 72 for R&D projects and 117 for the Emerging Artists Awards.


March 2019 Unlimited awards over £550,000 to 26 disabled artists and companies

Creating a range of ambitious new artistic work: 7 Main Commissions, 10 Research and Development (R&D) Awards, 6 Emerging Artist Awards and 3 Strategic Commissions, filling gaps within our current portfolio of works


October 2019 – six year funding relationship with Spirit of 2012 ends

The end of Unlimited’s funding relationship with Spirit of 2012 culminates with three new films on accessible commissioning, event planning and recruitment.


February 2020 – Unlimited extended until 2022

Arts Council England extend Unlimited until 2022 providing support for a new commissioning round and organisational development to determine a new operating model.


September 2020 – The fifth Unlimited Festival at Southbank Centre

The fourth Unlimited Festival takes place from 9-13 September across the whole of the Southbank Centre.

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