Three people in yellow hazmat suits hold brooms, gazing outward. It is night time and they are standing on a square somewhere. Behind them is a big white inflatable baby, more people in yellow hazmat suits, and a circus playground. Two tall pillars beam out green light onto the scene.
Nickie Miles-Wildin and Mind the Gap — ZARA. Image by: Chris Payne

Announcing the 2021 Unlimited commissions

There has never been a more necessary time to invest in disabled artists and today Unlimited announces £717,490 of funding for 34 disabled artists and companies across the UK. Jo Verrent, Senior Producer for Unlimited, tells us more…

Disabled people make up one third of those dying from COVID-19 and freelance artists are some of the hardest hit by the pandemic, with many still unable to access financial support. The Unlimited team and more than 50 panellists assessing the applications have pushed hard to support as many of the 77 shortlisted projects as possible. There were many challenging decisions to be made and we have overspent in order to prioritise funds going to disabled artists to create exceptional work.

Out of 468 applications, Unlimited today announces 11 Emerging awards, 13 Research and Development awards, eight Main Commission awards, and two strategic commission.

The breadth of the awards

The work we are investing in dispels any myths that ‘disabled artists are all the same or make the same work or want the same audience.’ The variety is astounding. From projects exploring scent (The Scent of Insulin by Clara Weale) to the rainforest (Cân y Coed: Empowering the Rainforests of Wales by Cheryl Beer), focusing on frogs (Jack’s Frogs by Jack Foulks) and food (Have You Eaten? by Rhine Bernardino); brotherly bonds (Brotherly, Otherly, Disorderly by Vijay Patel) and domestic duties (EPIC DOMESTIC by Bobby Baker).

There is work that focuses on the experience of disability and/or impairment, such as Martha! by Stephanie Back, Do I Look Okay To You? By Jameisha Prescod, HEAR: The Intersection Between Hearing Loss & Extinction by Hassun El Zafar, Deviant by Emily Beaney which seeks to represent women’s lived experiences of endometriosis. Equally, there is work where disability or impairment is not central to the artistic exploration.

The environmental crisis remains a critical theme and works such Rachael Young’s Island Bodies and Mind the Gap and Nickie Miles-Wildin’s Leave the Light on For Me tackle this in different ways for different audiences, each providing perspectives we crucially need to experience.

Work for rural locations has been a gap we’ve been determined to close. This round sees Tom Wentworth and Jack Dean gaining partner awards to make work supported by Pentabus and Farnham Maltings for rural audiences (Little Bits of Ruined Beauty and Hero & Leander, or, I Love You, But Everything’s Underwater, respectively). And this year, we have a number of works for children and young audiences in the mix, such as Lilac Yosiphon’s The Shoes of Tanboury, our partner award with Polka Theatre and A Home for Hamish by Clare and Lesley Disabled Dance Artists.

All art forms are represented, and many new genres – from opera (The 9 Fridas, Gareth Churchill) to new technology tracing the paths of wheelchairs in public space (Wheel trails, Joseph Wilk) to zines (Take It Back, Lilith Cooper) and work that incorporates many forms such as Making Solid: unpredictable bodies by Sam Metz, merging performance, film, and animation with the creation of sculptural works.

Whilst 70% of awards have been made to artists never previously funded by Unlimited, there are also works by artists funded over the past nine years that tell the story of our impact – with Mish Weaver and Stumble danceCircus, last funded by Unlimited as part of its origins within the Cultural Olympiad in 2012, who gains the Artsadmin partner award for Parade of Horribles; Jess Thom receiving R&D funds for Burnt Out In Biscuit Land, which will revisit her first Unlimited-funded piece; and artists such as both Ellen Renton and Aby Watson moving from our Emerging strand last round to get an R&D award as a more established artists this time, for a literature work called And Who’s She When She’s At Home? and a dance piece called brut, respectively.

Partner awards

Unlimited has collaborated with 11 arts organisations nationwide to increase the funding available and the reach of the works commissioned. This additional, and vital, investment has enabled 16 partner awards, supporting our aim to embed disabled artists throughout the cultural sector.

Wellcome Collection have invested in not just one award, but two (The Archive of the Unseen, Christopher Samuel and Birdsong From Inobservable Worlds, Dolly Sen) as have Sage Gateshead, supporting John Kelly with creative music development and Ailís Ní Ríain to R&D The History of the Present, a music theatre work based on Belfast’s peace line.

Bagri Foundation have also supported two awards – the R&D of Estabrak’s Qwana’s Child, a traveling project on the hidden realities and silenced voices of everyday LGBTQIA+ people from within the West Asia and North Africa diaspora and its region, alongside Have You Eaten? by Rhine Bernardino a book collecting the narratives and Stories behind Recipes from Across Asia.

During the process, we gained an additional Partner award. Laura Fisher’s award for Forged (in the tender heat of your embrace), will become the Dave Toole partner award, match funded by the Dave Toole OBE Bursary Fund, collected after his death to support the next generation of disabled dancers.

Our relationship with Coventry City of Culture Trust saw the announcement of ten micro awards this summer, and now develops further with three awards to emerging artists – Hayley Williams-Hindle with Portrait of a Brain, Ayesha Jones, with Motherland and Jack Foulks mentioned above. In addition, we can announce the first of our strategic co-commissions, with Al Davison’s Muscle Memory in Motion, a web comic in response to disability hate crime.

The data

We’ll report in more detail on the data once we have completed the analysis but we can confirm that:

  • 24% of funds awarded in this round are going to Midlands-based artists, 21% to those based in London, 18% South West, 12% North, 10% Wales, 9% Scotland, and 6% South East.
  • 46% of funds awarded in this round are going to combined arts, 15% theatre, 11% visual arts, 7% literature, 5% music, 3% dance, 13% other (music theatre and environmental sound art).
  • 32% of the awards are going to artists of colour.

We all have a part to play

Awarding over half a million pounds to disabled artists is an incredible thing to be able to do, and one that we are excited to be able to deliver, but it is only part of the picture. The whole ecology of the cultural sector must support disabled artists at every and all levels, in order for the systemic discriminatory barriers to be removed. There are many organisations engaged in developing and supporting disabled artists – we are not the only route.

For these works however, we’ve done our bit. Now it’s up to the cultural sector of the world to help support, develop, and share these artists and their ideas. And not just those we have awarded but all those we have shortlisted too – there is great work here ready to be picked up, funded and experienced.

So how can you help? What works might entice you to find out more? Please do get in touch – or join our Unlimited Allies scheme – to play your part. And if there isn’t anything here that works for you, why not get in touch about funding a Partner Award for the next call out? Remember, as they say, ‘if you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.’