Photo by John Aitken

Unlimited Allies

As the latest awarded artists confirm their processes for the fresh round of commissions, Unlimited Allies play a key role in enabling these ambitious projects to take shape and get seen. Project Manager Clara Giraud takes a closer look at who these allies are, and the potential they hold to transform the cultural sector and embed work by disabled artists.

Who are Unlimited Allies?

Unlimited allies have aligned themselves with Unlimited and what we are trying to do. Our allies come in all shapes and sizes, but have a common intention to support disabled artists and to build a more inclusive arts sector. From freelance individuals (a number of independent curators and producers), to small organisations and major institutions, allies have engaged with Unlimited in some form over the last few years, either through close partnerships or indirectly.

At the time of writing, we have 267 formal allies on our ‘books’, 34 are in the North of England, 24 are in the South East, 23 in the South West, 10 in the Midlands, 73 are in London, and 100 are international (from Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland to Japan, Brazil and everywhere in between). They work across artforms, as museums, art centres, producing organisations, festivals, funders; and they support artists not only by presenting their work but also through co-commissioning, and / or providing advice, project management and in-kind support.

Some of them are close partners, such as British Council, who actively support the commissions to tour internationally and disabled artists to have professional opportunities around the globe through funding, advocacy and advice. Some relationships have evolved over the years – we worked with Watershed in Bristol to deliver an artists’ residency in partnership with ANAT in Australia, host a tour of panel discussions, manage the first ‘Unlimited Connects’ event aimed at industry professionals, and much more. At the moment, Watershed are directly supporting a range of shortlisted artists and offering advice and residencies at their Pervasive Media Studio. Allies whose focus is to present work come to us for suggestions and ideas, and this led Wales Millennium Centre in Wales to programme a number of Unlimited Commissions, and go on to host the first ‘Unlimited Connects’ in Wales and reach out to a number of disabled artists to support their work in development. But much of the benefits are through an occasional conversation, a connection made, a suggestion raised, which lays the ground for that organisation, no matter its size or agenda, to instigate change.

Why have Unlimited Allies?

As a commissioning programme, we give artists funds and advisory support to make new work, but this isn’t enough. In order to get out into the world, artists need presentation opportunities, support in reaching audiences and wider networks – this is where allies play a crucial role to deliver Unlimited’s aim to embed the work of disabled artists in the mainstream cultural sector. Allies pave the way for the work to be developed, created, shown and experienced. Unlimited can invest in work to be created, but we can’t make it live. Our allies ARE the cultural sector, and the power lies with them to really embed change. Whether this is through hosting of an artists’ residency, offering of in-kind studio space, providing mentoring support, or programming the work as part of a season or festival, they enable the commissions and artists to thrive beyond Unlimited’s support.

How can you engage?

The Unlimited team plays an active role in making connections between allies and the projects we have touring or in development. We’ve been asked to share the list of allies many times over the years – unfortunately that’s not something we can do, as it would require detailed conversations with the hundreds of allies concerned, and this list will instantly go out of date as individuals move around and relationships change. Unlimited cannot be the yellow pages of ‘organisations keen to engage with disabled artists’, as in fact we only know of a tiny number of the many organisations that fit that description. Beyond our programme’s limited capacity, the moral responsibility lies with the organisations and individuals composing the arts sector to implement changes in their own way, and reach out to artists as suits their activity.

Autumn 2019, we’ll be working with allies around England to host four day-long networking events and mini symposiums, one in each Arts Council England region outside London. ‘Unlimited Connects’ in each region will provide an opportunity for local disabled artists and organisations to come together to discuss key questions for the arts sector, and sow some seeds for more collaborations ahead. Make sure you join our newsletter to be kept in the loop when dates are announced.

Do you want to be an Unlimited Ally? Find out more about what it means, and get in touch via our contact form – it all starts with a conversation. Tell us how we might work together.