A black a white image featuring Chris next to two mannequin heads. Chris stares into the camera while the mannequins are turned towards her.
A Photo of Chris Ledger by Tony Fisher 1996.

Disabled Artists in Northern Ireland: Chris Ledger Legacy awards

Earlier in the year, thanks to funding from Paul Hamlyn Foundation, we were able to support 11 disabled artists living in Northern Ireland with ‘Creating Time’ awards to develop and extend their practice, through a partnership with University of Atypical. Now it’s time for the next step. Jo Verrent tells us more…

When we started a partnership with Paul Hamlyn Foundation, supporting The University of Atypical in Northern Ireland was always to be a central feature, providing a route in to broadening our relationships there and helping support disabled artists. The University of Atypical is a disabled-led arts charity, taking an empowerment-based approach towards supporting disabled and deaf people’s involvement in the arts and specialising in developing and promoting the work of artists who are disabled and deaf and in reaching disabled and deaf audiences.

We planned for two levels of awards: some £1000 micro grants (called the ‘Creating Time’ awards) and four larger £5000 awards.

Chris Ledger

We’ve named these latter awards after Chris Ledger, who was the former CEO of University of Atypical, and who passed away last year. Chris’s career in Northern Ireland is well known and documented. Unlimited have previously supported a number of artists to appear at Bounce, a disability arts festival she was part of establishing as part of University of Atypical.

As Julie McNamara wrote in her obituary in DAO: ‘Chris was a gentle and generous soul who had little time for egomaniacs and even less for bullshit. She was a high Femme punk soul, 50s fashion Queen with a passion for polka dots, glorious glad rags, handbags and bright red lipstick. She spoke her mind, candidly and calmly and rarely wavered, but she always and in all ways, worked with love. She never set anyone up to fail, so if work was not ready, she would let you know that there was more to discover, that you could move beyond the limits of your imagination.’

I used to work with Chris, not when she was in Northern Ireland, but before, at East Midlands Shape, based in Nottingham. We worked together for over five years, building projects and systems, supporting disabled artists, and working with arts organisations across Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, and Northamptonshire to try and make change.

She was strong minded, witty, and a pleasure to work alongside. I remember her quiet joy every time we gained support for a project or an artist, as she thought through the real and tangible difference it would make to their lives. I remember her trade mark red lipstick and just how hard it was to wash off our coffee mugs. I remember the time she persuaded me that it would be helpful to tape some spare medication to the undersides of our desks in case we ever forgot to bring it with us so we would have spares, only to have the tape simultaneously fail in a funder meeting and a cascade of white pills mix on the carpet – not quite the impression we’d hoped to make.

I also remember the making of Moving From Within – still, to my mind, one of the best videos ever made capturing Disability Arts – which Chris made via her company AVA (Audio Visual Arts). I so wish this was online so people could access it. Chris already knew that she was creating a piece capturing an important moment in time, we could see it as it emerged in the edit and shared many tears and laughs during this period – oh if only we’d had kept the outtakes!

On an even more personal note, when I went on to develop one of the same medical impairments as Chris, she was one of the first people who reached out with both emotional and practical support. Giving freely from her experience, pulling no punches, and ready to answer any and all questions, she was an invaluable ally as I navigated a diagnosis and developed a treatment plan.

The awards

These four awards are offered in her memory, for deaf, disabled, and neurodivergent artists based in Northern Ireland who have some level of creative practice already established (emerging artists are welcome to apply, as well as more established artists, however, applicants will need to supply support material as evidence of their practice).

Like Unlimited’s standard awards, the focus is on making new work and the successful artists will join Unlimited’s alumni.

Full information about the criteria and how to apply can be found from University of Atypical as they are running the application process. Information on the awards, application packs, and advice clinic booking forms are available from the University of Atypical website  or Facebook account.

The Chris Ledger Legacy Awards promotional video can be viewed at the link below:


The deadline for applications is 4.00pm 12 October 2021.



Damien Coyle, CEO, University of Atypical offered his thanks:

‘We thank Unlimited and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation for their generous funding to support d/Deaf, disabled, and neurodivergent artists living and working in Northern Ireland. This awards programme recognises the achievements of our friend and former Chief Executive, Chris Ledger, who passed away last year. Chris’s loss is felt across the sector as she was a real force in the arts and cultural sector here and she was a true friend and inspiration to many people. The awards are a fitting tribute to her achievements and is welcomed by all those she supported. This support underpins the developmental role University of Atypical plays in promoting the work created by d/Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent artists and in facilitating career enhancement opportunities.”