There are many, many excellent disabled artists in the UK with something important to say – how can we ensure we get to hear from different voices? 65% of the artists on our last shortlist were new to Unlimited, but beyond supporting new artists, how else does Unlimited work to share its platforms and therefore it’s power? And how can others do the same? Jo Verrent, senior producer, tells us more…
The more diversity within a process, the more innovative and impactful the outcome. That’s one reason why we have new trainees every 12 months, to challenge us to think differently (as we welcome Mojere Ajayi-Egunjobi and remember there still time to apply for the Artsadmin Project Manager post, deadline 7 October).
Within the work we do we know there is never one ‘right’ opinion and there is never just one way to do things. To keep learning it’s important to keep hearing, considering and supporting a wide range of people, from those we know to those we don’t. So how are we doing this and what more could we do?
Whose voices get heard?
Whether it’s an event or a programme, we are working to widen the circle of people we work with and therefore the people we know. Whether it’s working with Chapel Arts Studios (still time to apply – deadline 20 October 2019) or running our Unlimited Connects events in places we’ve not been to before (Salford, Colchester, Stoke and Salisbury) we are making active choices to partner with new organisations where we can.
When we co-ran an event exploring the social model of disability with DANC called ‘Whose Social Model is it?’, our panellists were Vici Wrenford-Sinott, Paul Whittaker, Tony Heaton and Cheryl Martin rather than people who run/work on the Unlimited programme itself – as we wanted to know what other people thought. More recently in Scotland, we hosted two panels with Edinburgh Fringe Society: ‘Intersectional Identities at the Forefront’ with chair Tobi Kyeremateng and a panel comprising Rinkoo Barpaga, Bea Webster, Cheryl Martin and ‘Disabled led Theatre Making’ with chair Michelle Rolfe and Alyson Woodhouse, Chisato Minamimura and Joel Brown.
In the recent films we made with support from Spirit of 2012, we asked others for their views:
- Cutter/Nash and David Dixon in our film on accessible commissioning;
- Sonny Nwachukwu, James Greenhalgh and James Zatka-Hass for accessible recruitment;
- And Felix Peckitt and Melissa Johns for putting on accessible events.
We started this approach in earnest last year with our Symposium where 12 of the 20 panellists and chairs had no previous connection to Unlimited (with it’s Art, Equality, Attitude and Future sessions) and we really like it. It feels fairer than giving the same people airtime repeatedly, and is in keeping with our desire to both learn and share our learning.
Who gets to blog?
We are inviting new voices to contribute to our blogs more than ever – some via direct commissions, some when people have asked if they could tackle something specific. We had a short series of blogs running alongside the ‘Whose Social Model is it?’ event with input from Amble Skuse, Joel Brown, Jez Colborne and Dennis Queen (only Joel is an Unlimited funded artist). And we recruited a new blogger, Charlotte Maxwell, through an open call to come to Edinburgh to see Unlimited work, other work by disabled artists and to comment more widely on diversity and the Fringe.
When there is something we want to look at in detail through our blog we commit to looking both inside and outside our network for people who can give us fresh insight.
Who gets to network?
As with the above, we always work to ensure its not always Unlimited Alumni (that’s artists who’ve been awarded or shortlisted by us before) who get to benefit, but a wide range of people from across the whole sector.
In our work supporting the British Council to diversify who is present at IETM and other European events, 60% of those we’ve provided support for are from outside the Unlimited network. How? we have agreed criteria, an open call out process and a selection panel wide enough to ensure we can challenge any bias. Coming up we are taking people to IETM Rijeka, Croatia, No Limits Festival, Berlin and IETM Tromso, Norway.
Our Connects events, which come with supported networking for everyone, are free and open for anyone to attend. We are having some pitching sessions at these, based on last years ‘Pitch and Mix’ at Southbank Centre’s Unlimited festival. And it’s not all Unlimited work or artists that is offered a pitching opportunity.
And since we are talking about the biennial Unlimited festival at Southbank Centre, it’s a great time to remind people that it’s not only about showcasing Unlimited commissioned work – the percentage shifts from year to year, depending on the work available, but there is an opportunity for any disability-led project to get platformed.
Taking it forward
Unlimited is not alone – there is an ecosystem of disabled artists and disability-led and inclusive organisations out there. And with capacity shrinking, workloads increasing and the political landscape uncertain, it seems more important than ever for all of us to keep on reaching out, widening all our networks.
We’ve been asked by a few people if we are interested in being in various consortia expressing interest for the Arts Council England funded new performing arts showcase at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The quick answer is ‘not at this stage’. This is an opportunity for those who specialise in theatre, dance and circus and we work across all artforms and think there are many organisations better placed to be at this table. We have been involved in the British Council Showcases and we are happy to share our skills, experience, and knowledge if it’s useful – but of course that’s entirely up to the team that gets to develop and deliver that showcase!
Want to broaden who you work with, hear from and platform? Our top 3 tips would be:
- Keep working with new partners, rather than the ones you often connect to. It might be more work, but it can bring you more rewards.
- Make deliberately reaching out part of your process – and make sure you check for internal biases in your systems which might push you towards those you already know.
- Make your commitment public. Then new contacts might feel more able to reach out to you. And if on reading this, you are moved to contact us, then email on firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7424 7330.