A woman in red vest and half in shadow stretches out her right arm
Artist Helen Hall

Coming to our aid: thank you, Paul Hamlyn Foundation!

COVID-19 hit at a hard time for everyone, especially the disabled artists we work with that were due to share their work in the summer and autumn of 2020. Thanks to the generosity of Paul Hamlyn Foundation though, we’ve now been able to support them further and stretch that support to include some others, too. Unlimited’s Senior Producer, Jo Verrent, explains…

Like many other organisations, as the global pandemic hit, Unlimited worked quickly to move things online, run a micro commissions programme, and more – and adapted to even more remote working than usual.

Hardest hit were our artists who had worked through 2019 to create work which was then frozen. Exhibitions stuck in empty galleries, tours cancelled gig by gig, planned workshops postponed whilst no physical contact is possible. And whilst we continued as planned with our next commissions round call out, we knew we couldn’t move on to the next set of artists without doing something to help those caught in the middle of the disaster. We did what we could with what we had, giving some small additional grants to improve documentation or trial work online, but hard choices had to be made. The need was great and the finance we had to play with was limited.

At the height of the first wave of the pandemic, we were speaking to our funders, government committees, journalists, and many others about the impact of the coronavirus and the lockdown on disabled artists. Usually, these conversations were opportunities for people to find out more about the scale and detail of the impact; rarely were we specifically asked what we needed to help us help others.

Then we had a chat with Paul Hamlyn Foundation. We’d never been funded by them, but this didn’t start out about funding. They wanted to know where the gaps were, who was missing out, what was being forgotten. We spoke about learning disabled artists being left out, marginalised by a lack of access to technology and support. We spoke about geography and how the UK wasn’t equal in relation to distribution and how in some areas, Northern Ireland for example, disabled artists were under-resourced due to a perfect storm of politics and poverty. And we mentioned our artists who were stopped in their tracks – who had work cancelled or postponed indefinitely and nothing to replace this with.

Cut to three months later and we are about to award the first grant from a pot of £200,000 emergency funding given to us by Paul Hamlyn Foundation. It’s going in three directions: to artists we have already funded whose work has been stopped, postponed and altered by the current crisis; to a new partnership with University of Atypical in Northern Ireland; and to a small number of agreed unincorporated groups supporting disabled artists who aren’t eligible for large awards.

As Moira Sinclair, Chief Executive of Paul Hamlyn Foundation (PHF) noted when making the award, “As a national funder, it can be a challenge for PHF to reach communities and individuals on the ground, especially those facing the greatest structural inequalities, so we rely on partners and our grant making to create the conditions for change. The team here were impressed by Unlimited’s extensive networks and deep understanding of the pressures that had been exacerbated by the pandemic for disabled artists and disabled-led companies, and their analysis of what needed to be done to respond. These grants address barriers to the creation of and participation in work at a specific moment in time. We hope they also underpin change across the wider arts ecology in the longer term.”

One of the first Unlimited artists to benefit was Sonny Nwachukwu. For Sonny, this means that his whole team gets paid for the hours they put in into creating his Poetry collection. Creating the collection means there is another way to experience the Choreopoem until the final choreographed live version is available and also helps make it more accessible for more people.

“Having this additional funding makes so much difference. Before – and as usual – I cut my own fee down as low as I could, plus those of the team – relying on good will. I’m now so happy I get to pay everyone better. The team has been so great and passionate about it, and totally deserve to be paid properly. The whole thing makes me emosh! Thanks Unlimited and massive thanks to Paul Hamlyn Foundation!” Sonny Nwachukwu

The grant will also help Byron Vincent to complete the creation of an online version of his commission, Instagramming the Apocalypse. “When the pandemic hit I was in the middle of creating a live show about anxiety and mental health and how it exists in the world around us. Overnight my entire future was thrown into jeopardy as shows were cancelled and live performance opportunities evaporated. But the work I was creating had never felt more relevant. Unlimited has supported me throughout this time in my ambition to adapt that live show -‘Instagramming the Apocalypse’ – to film in order that it may still reach the audiences who need its message most.

This funding from Paul Hamlyn Foundation is crucial for finishing this film. It is a lifeline that supports fair pay and the employment of other creatives to produce the best film possible. The work we are creating is vital, it speaks to the shared anxiety and fear we all feel during this tumultuous time in our history and offers a lifeline to not only the artists creating it but the audiences viewing it.” Byron Vincent

In Northern Ireland, it will mean more work being produced, shown and shared. Artists from this part of the UK are not eligible for the current round of Unlimited funding but through these funds we will partner with University of Atypical (UoA) and have both a series of micro commissions and also some slightly larger Ledger Legacy awards, honouring the memory of their former CEO, Chris Ledger, who sadly passed away earlier this year. University of Atypical will lead on these, and all those awarded will join the Unlimited alumni, enabling the development of a close partnership between us as UoA going forward.

Damien Coyle, Acting CEO of the University of Atypical, commented, “We thank The Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Unlimited for their timely and generous investment in D/deaf and disabled artists in Northern Ireland.  This grant will  provide a lifeline to D/deaf and disabled artists who are struggling for financial survival in an environment that has seen them stripped of opportunities to earn income and showcase their creativity.  This programme will support D/deaf and disabled artists in exploring new ways of engaging with audiences and underpins the developmental role University of Atypical plays in promoting the work created by D/deaf and disabled artists.”

We are also delighted to be able to support ArtStudio01, an inclusive artist collective. Tanya Raabe-Webber, who leads the collective said: “I am delighted to be receiving this much needed funding on behalf of ArtStudio01 which will enable the artists to connect creatively online; benefitting from peer support, shared experiences and reduced isolation in our virtual studio space. ArtStudio01 is an inclusive artist collective of seven, sharing a common goal: to make our own work, on our own terms, to support each other, to pursue our artistic ambitions and contribute to the contemporary visual arts sector without compromise.”

This funding was unexpected – and a reminder to us at Unlimited that goodness and hope are still out there. As we enter a second lock down, this is what will carry us through. Thank you Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Thank you.

“Shape and Artsadmin are extremely grateful and excited to have received funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. This year has been an incredibly challenging one for the arts but even more so for the disabled community. We are thrilled that this award will enable us to fund our artists directly at a moment when support is so vital and expression so empowering.” – David Hevey, CEO Shape Arts and Deborah Chadbourn, Executive Director, Artsadmin


Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s Access and Participation Fund supports organisations in the UK to address inequalities of opportunity to access and participate in the arts. It offers funding to support specific programmes of work, support for core costs, or to adapt existing work to new contexts or to test new ways of working. Find out more here.

FROM THE BLOG