Members of the Unlimited team in July 2021. Image credit: Claire Griffiths

Our new mission and values for the independent Unlimited

Earlier in the year we explained a little about Unlimited’s transition into an independent organisation – and said we’d go deeper into our mission and values. It’s time to do just that.  Jo Verrent, Senior Producer for Unlimited, tells us more. 

A huge part of Unlimited’s journey to independence revolved around setting a new mission and values – created by our advisory group, Transition Managers, and then further refined by our board. So, what are they and, crucially, what do they mean in practice? 

Our Mission  

Here is our new mission statement:  

Unlimited will commission extraordinary work from disabled artists until the whole of the cultural sector does. This work will change and challenge the world.  

Breaking that down, there are some key words and phrases: 

will commission’ – Commissioning remains at the core of what we do. We commission disabled artists. There are many directions we could spin off, but we want to stay true to our history and the reason we exist. We may commission in new ways in the future, but that will stay our fundamental, core purpose. 

‘extraordinary work’ – We chose not to use the word ‘excellent’ feeling that questions of quality are complex and linked to privilege. We wanted something that resonated with our key criteria, and explains why we can only commission a tiny percentage of those who apply to us. We are keeping our selection criteria of funding work that is disability-led and that demonstrates ambition and innovation. We believe that this can make it extraordinary.   

‘from disabled artists’ – Unlimited is disabled-led and set up to work with disabled artists. However, we know the subject of language is complex and many people have many different preferred terms. Our board are discussing language this October as currently, Unlimited uses the terminology of Shape Arts, one of our delivery partners 

We are debating what language the new independent organisation might choose. What we do know is that Unlimited loves inclusivity and values lived experience in all its forms. We currently use ‘disabled artists’ as a term, and include those who define as disabled people, as people with long term health conditions, as deaf, Deaf, neurodivergent, or in relation to their access requirements, plus many other terms.  

‘until the whole of the cultural sector does’ – Basically, we don’t want to be here. We would much rather the cultural sector truly valued disabled artists and stopped putting barriers in their way. That’s not to say we are perfectly barrier-free – far from it, it’s very much an ongoing journey as new access options are being created all the time. Our aim is to support the sector to change to such an extent that we can close up and place our energies elsewhere.  

This work will change and challenge…’ – We create that change through the work itself, by using it and its processes to challenge the status quo. We believe that the work of disabled artists can shift perspectives, provide alternative viewpoints, and highlight narratives that are often ignored. That doesn’t mean all the work we support is directly political or focused on social justice – although it can be. We think the sheer variety of disabled artists, their work, and their approaches is part of our strength.  

‘…the world’ – we have international aspirations! We want to see a globe where disabled artists are free to travel and share practice; one where the work can ignite conversation and change at a world-wide scale. Unlimited as a programme has already reached 141 countries and we want this to continue. 

The mission of Unlimited sets out our bold new direction. But what underpins it? Our values.  

Our Values  

  • We are Unlimited 
  • We value Equity 
  • We value Artists
  • We are Radical 

There is no particular hierarchy, they are all equally important. Again, let’s break them down.  

  • We are Unlimited – We do not want artists to feel bounded by art form, structures, systems, geography, technique, or preconceptions.  We want artists to be unlimited and to transcend barriers and norms of practice.  We will be enterprising in our activity, responding fluidly to new opportunities to further support disabled artists. 
  • We value Equity – We want to create a world where disabled artists have equity in terms of creative and economic power in contexts and settings throughout the cultural sector, nationally and internationally. We actively work to ensure the power in relationships is balanced and use data to constantly learn how to improve equity. We acknowledge that in order to do that we need to create safe spaces for artists to develop and for cultural organisations to develop the skills to present this work at its best. We share and review best practice to ensure others can do this too. 
  • We value Artists – We value the artist.  Disabled artists affect societal changes through the message of their art.  We value what they have to say and contribute, we acknowledge that they are often the least well treated in the arts ecology with regards to pay, conditions, and opportunity.  We place the needs of the artist at the heart of our decision making, our planning and our delivery.  We employ artists and place them into decision making roles.  We support the ambition of disabled artists to produce work of high quality and to have that work presented and seen in national and international contexts. We celebrate the work of disabled artists as achievers, leaders, and creatives.
  • We are Radical: We will adopt radical approaches which are inspired by future possibility rather than being shaped by past precedent. We want to be at the forefront of removing barriers for disabled artists to share their work, voice, and vision to the widest possible global audience. We are not one thing and multiple barriers exponentially exclude. We want to discard models which are no longer fit for purpose, be radically fluid, and embrace environmental and societal goals. 

Both our mission and values are for everyone who connects with us – the board, staff, freelancers, artists, allies, and others. We commit to ensuring they are at the heart of what we do and how we do it. And in our operating manual, we’ve agreed to review the definitions of our values at the end of each year and commit to updating both our words and our actions.