As a shy person in nature, promoting my own art has not been my strong suit (it has taken me years to set up my online portfolio, and it is still a work-in-progress), but when it comes to supporting fellow disabled artists to showcase their work through the Bodies of Work: Network of Disability Arts and Culture Festival in Chicago , I often find myself more outspoken and excited than ever. I still remember how lost I had been when I had no connections to disability art or culture nor to the disability community. Making art about my personal experiences without any knowledge of disability politics had left me vulnerable and unsure of how to present myself (and my artwork). I was thrilled when I heard about the R & D (Research and development) grant that the Unlimited commissions programme offers to disabled artists. “Wow! There is a professional team supporting emerging disabled artists to develop their ideas and visions?’
“How does the Unlimited commissions programme create such a supporting platform?” I wondered.
After 3 exciting days at the Unlimited Symposium at the Unicorn Theatre the Unlimited commissions programming team organized ‘Pitch & Mix’ on the first day of the Unlimited festival at Southbank Centre. ‘Pitch & Mix’ included four pitching sessions and four breakout conversations at which UK based and international attendees further networked, raised questions and discussed their interests in small groups.
I appreciated the programme structure of ‘Pitch & Mix’ because it addressed disability, access and arts as an integrated concept and practice for delivering and programming art. ‘Pitch & Mix’ provided an opportunity for emerging artists to talk about their concepts and project directions, and to discuss the stages of creative productions that they are going through. ‘Pitch & Mix’ was a public platform for disabled artists and industry collaborators to meet and to learn about innovative approaches, which have been implemented to make arts accessible to a wide range of audiences. During the festival, it was great to see how “access” was built in as a part of the creative production in many disabled artists’ work commissioned by Unlimited.
In the States, I often see a divide between providers of access services for the arts and organisations serving disabled artists. Many organisations addressing access issues with arts administrators often make their missions clear that they do not work with artists. Whilst I agree that artists and arts administrators have different agendas, goals and needs, I do see the benefit of a more integrated practice by bringing disabled artists and access service providers together. So they can collaboratively make “access” beyond the requirement of the laws and create access as a part of the aesthetic elements in arts productions.
I wish that I had the same support and platform like ’Pitch & Mix’ and the R & D grant when I was younger, when I was exploring my disability identity and experiences through art. It is true that having one disability does not mean that you automatically understand other people’s disability experiences. As I have been brainstorming about ways to sustain our disability art movement that speaks to the spirit of disability justice, I keep on coming back to the following ideas: it is essential for disabled artists to expand their knowledge about access and to be in conversations about ways to experience access artistically. In order for us to create a more encompassing art practice about disability and access, we need space and time for all parties to join and make changes together. After all, access is an evolving process, and it requires a community effort.