Arts industry lessons from Unlimited Festival

As part of the wider activity around Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Festival last month, we organised a series of industry focused events. Festival lead Isabella Tulloch Gallego talks us through some of these events. 

A key element of the Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Festival is the networking and wider dialogue which happens within the creative sector about disability arts and artists. As the festival usually has physical events to help facilitate this, we wanted to recreate some of this in our new online setting COVID-19 had made being in a room together unfeasible, so we had to have a re-think and created a series of online industry-style events to open people up and answer those burning questions.   

A visual illustration of the Brunch discussion at Unlimited Festival. Many small illustrations and pieces of text fill a rectangle with a pink border. Around the image are small illustrations of Unlimited team members, placed next to any contributions they made to the conversation. For example, Abby Hoffman, a white, brunette woman with glasses, is shown talking about the Unlimited Allies network of 500 supportive organisations. Harry Murdoch is illustrated with speech bubbles, talking about our updated equal opportunities monitoring forms designed to track intersectional barriers and locate gaps in our commissioning. Under an illustrated banner, titled ‘12 month paid trainee scheme,’ our newest trainees – Marlo and April – are illustrated next to speech balloons containing words associated with Unlimited, including exciting, progressive, earnest, and patient. An orange box labelled ‘The Board’ shows the make-up of Unlimited’s board: 92% disabled people, 31% PoC, 46% LGBTQIA+, 62% artists, and 31% under 30. On the right of the rectangle are a series of text boxes capturing the Q+A segment of the brunch. Questions such as ‘Where are the gaps?’ and ‘Does Brexit impact positively or negatively?’ are displayed alongside their answers. You can listen to this Q+A by playing the recording of the Brunch session, embedded in this blog. 

We started off the Industry programme on the morning of the Wednesday 13 January 2021 with a Brunch event, hosted by our Senior Producer Jo Verrent, which was an introduction to Unlimited. It gave attendees a chance to understand the context of Southbank Centre’s Unlimited festival within the wider work of the commissioning programme. The session was designed for new allies or people who wanted to know why and how Unlimited worksIt was a chance to meet all the current Unlimited team, as well as the current remote International placements from Berlin and Tel Aviv,  and meet Anna Starkey, our new Chair of the Board, who talked to us about what’s next as a Unlimited transitions into a new organisation 

A visual illustration of the Unlimited Festival – Any Questions? Event which took place last month. Many small illustrations and pieces of text fill a rectangle with a pink border. Around the image are small illustrations of Unlimited and Southbank Centre team members, placed next to any contributions they made to the conversation. For example, Sarah Tarry from Southbank – a white, blonde woman with glasses – is illustrated next to a speech bubble, stating that ‘digital has opened up new and different possibilities.’ Jo Verrent, Unlimited’s Senior Producer, appears to be saying ‘Unlimited and Southbank Centre’s relationship is really important not just for the us but for the artists.’ In the centre of the box are smaller illustrations and comments, such as ‘Many artists have had to rethink their work – which is scary but also exciting,’ which is displayed in an orange text cloud. Neil Webb from the British Council – a white, blonde man with glasses – is drawn saying ‘It’s very exciting to see such a range of international engagement.’ On top of some pink love hearts, the words, ‘We love to hear from artists!’ is written. The largest text on the page reads ‘Some of the smallest projects have the largest impacts!’ To listen or watch the whole event, play the recorded session via the embedded link in this blog.

Next on the Industry programme we had Unlimited Festival – Any Questions? which was hosted by myself, and was joined by Ruth Hardie and Sarah Tarry, Southbank Centre, Neil Webb, British Council, and Jo Verrent, where we discussed the programme, the curatorial process, and the relationships between Unlimited, Southbank Centre and British Council. We chatted about the changes for 2021 due to COVID19 and the legacy of the Festival and the International relationships with our commissioned artists. 

The Industry programme also held a space for people to introduce themselves and virtually exchange business cards and contact details at a Meet and Greet event, as well as three Allies focused events for our Allies network giving attendees a chance to ask questions and join an open discussion. The sessions were designed for new or existing allies within a specific field of the sector, looking closely at Music, Visual Arts, and Theatre and Dance. These were widely attended and captured for posterity by our visual notetaker. 

An illustration summarising the Allies discussion focussed on Music. On the left Ellie from Unlimited, a white woman with glasses and brown hair in a top knot, Abby from Unlimited, a white woman with long brown hair and glasses, and Harry from Unlimited, a white man with short brown hair, is illustrated alongside Emily Jones from Sage Gateshead, a person with shoulder length red hair and glasses. what they need', In the middle of the image, text in a pink thought bubble reads 'Unlimited Allies - supporting Disabled Artists and each other', with smaller pink thought bubbles branching off into 'Sharing info', 'Rehearsal space', 'Resources', and 'Mentoring'. A green profile of a person with dark hair and moustache has a thought bubble that reads 'Exploring discovering new artists' in the bottom left of the image. In the top left, surrounded by orange arrows, 'GROWTH: growing our knowledge and understanding' is placed beside a drawing of a person in a wheelchair, whose orange thought bubble reads 'I would like to see artists perform in other parts of London- and the country- and the world!' In the bottom right, surrounded by theatre masks and a paint brush, reads the orange thought bubble 'what we can learn from other art forms is crucial!'

An illustration summarising the Allies discussion focussed on Visual Arts. On the left Ellie, a white woman with glasses and brown hair in a top knot, and Abby from Unlimited, a white woman with long brown hair and glasses is illustrated alongside Katie Hickman from Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts, who is a white woman with short curly blonde hair. They were hosting the session, which was centred around the questions of 'What can organisations do to help?' which is written inside a blue thought bubble in the bottom left of the image, and 'How can we better reach out?', which is written in a green thought bubble in the top left. Responses to these questions include 'More opportunities for disabled curators', written in a green speech bubble in the centre of the image, and 'learning more about how to help the sector in this crisis', written in an orange thought bubble above. There was also a discussion of 'a real issue of the perception of Disabled Artists in Art History' , which is drawn above a drawing of a rope barrier, and how 'we have to redress the value systems', which is drawn beside a orange scale which is tipped to the left. One of the big take-home points was 'The more we work together, the better.', which is written on the right of the image in big letters.

An illustration summarising the Allies discussion focussed on Theatre & Dance. On the left Ellie, a white woman with glasses and brown hair in a top knot, and Abby from Unlimited, a white woman with long brown hair and glasses is illustrated alongside Kimberley Harvey, a person with brown curly hair and glasses. They were hosting the session, which was centred around the questions of 'How best to make rural venues work for local audiences?' (written in the top left in a blue thought bubble), 'How can we continue to foster international collaborations?' (written in a blue thought bubble in the centre of the image) and 'How are we allocating the resources we have?' (written in the bottom right in an orange thought bubble). Some local initiatives were shared, such as in Ireland theatre companies are partnering with livestream shows, which is written underneath a drawing of an orange community hall in a green field and above a Mexican flag. Underneath the Mexican flag, the text in a blue box reads 'In Mexico we are developing new programmes'. At the top of the image, writing in a green box reads 'Sounds Like Chaos (Lewisham) are working on making a climate space.' In the top right, discussion of the climate change projects is illustrated with an orange globe covered by a thermometer. Surrounding text wonders how to engage with these projects while acknowledging that we are seeing more work like this growing. The conclusions of the session included 'We need long term engagement, not token gestures' which is written in big pink text running the length of the image and 'Know the community, know what they need', written in big pink text in the bottom right corner of the image.

We were joined by Ada Jusic of Creative Connections to illustrate some of these sessions.