Ahead of our Connects North event next week on ‘Climate Justice and the use of art as a tool for changes,’ writer and composer Natasha Sutton Williams reflects back on our South East Connects event.
During this Autumn season, Unlimited has been running a series of Connects events that invite participants to engage with topical issues and discussions that are critical to our artists and our ally organisations. A special emphasis is placed on conversations that focus on artistic and activist work that changes perceptions of disabled artists in the wider world.
The panel discussion – live-tweeted by Natasha – concentrated on rethinking the picture in order to disrupt and dismantle current frameworks and glass ceilings. How do we rethink the frame we exist in? How do we dismantle the structures that hold us back? How do we knock down the doors those gatekeepers bolt so tightly under lock and key? How do rebuild better organisations and frameworks as a community?
It’s easier said than done, and with only a few troublemakers banging incessantly at the gates, it’s difficult to make real change happen. Additionally, we have to take into account that some of our audacious mutineers have limited capacity; they need to care for themselves before they start chaining themselves to the gates as martyrs.
But there is progress being made, although it’s not as fast, not as big, and not as widespread as we would like to see. However, there is hope. Here are some practical nuggets of wisdom that the ‘Rethinking the Picture’ panel offered to get your activist juices flowing.
‘How can I fit into a structured framework when I don’t even fit into being the person I was born to be? How do we rethink the narrative around the board of a company? Being within the board framework, set up by people of privilege who are able to afford to work for free, how can we rethink this to make it work for all?’
Tovey continues: ‘Is it fair to have people who are disabled, homeless, unemployed, to be part of this framework when we ask them to work for free? They are always the ones that lose out because of the affordability of this framework. Do we need to rip up the board? The Museum of Homelessness have put into practice a flat pay structure: the Chief Execs are on exactly the same money as a freelancer.’
Tobi Adebajo – Anti-Disciplinary Artist
‘Start by asking who is not in the room. Why are they not in the room? Who is in the room, and how are they able to get into the room? When you start asking those questions you start to see where the power lies. It becomes obvious it is about privilege. So how do you make things equitable? You can take some power but you are not necessarily taking privilege away. You can’t take privilege away. Privilege is privilege. But you can confront power in a way that allows it to be not the centre of the conversation.’
Adebajo adds: ‘It is not disabled people’s fault that society decided to forget about us in their planning. The world is inaccessible by design. We need more resources, more support, more people to be open to actually giving the opportunities to disabled people so they can be the ones paving the way.’
‘Spaces need to be equitable; funding and access needs to be equitable to opportunities. We need to give people the tools to distribute them and make them freely available, and support people learning to use those tools and acquire those skills. That makes a more equitable room, in my view. Earlier this year with Marlborough Productions, we launched a project called Producer Gathering which is an online space for people who produce. One of the main things we kept stumbling on was that people didn’t want to really share resources. Eventually we did find people who gave away free budget templates, access riders, funding bids that were successful and not successful, and tips on how to broadcast work digitally. For us, this was a way to give people tools.’
De Sousa continues: ‘There aren’t many opportunities available for people to learn how to become producers. You learn on the job much of the time and that is really inaccessible for many people who don’t have the finances or the capacity to do that. We stumbled across people saying ‘Why should I give a free template of my budget or my five-year company budget when it took me a week to do it?’ We would say, ‘Maybe if those resources had been available to you beforehand it would have taken you half a day instead of a week?’ The sharing of resources may sound a little Marxist but resource distribution is as imperative as opening doors.’
Charlene Salter – ‘Artist and Access All Areas’ alumni
‘The powers that be need to be aware that as disabled people we’ve all got the same skills. We should be accepted to do these higher roles as we are capable of doing them. We’ve all got the same interests, so what is the problem? There is no problem. At the learning disabled theatre company Access All Areas, we are doing a project called Transforming Leadership with artists including myself, and we are being place in these higher roles. We are trying to show the arts industry that we are capable of doing these higher roles.’
Dolly Sen – Writer and Unlimited Artist
‘There are loads of quotes about how nobody wants to give up their power. You have to either take it from them or make them see that sharing it is worthwhile. What do we do about the power players who say, ‘Yes, we don’t want disabled people here. We don’t want people of colour here. We like it as it is.’ The way I respond is to physically, emotionally, and intellectually bulldoze my way in and say, ‘Why are you doing it this way? Why are you doing it that way?’ If I get thrown out, I seek my revenge through art.’
Sen adds: ‘It has taken me ten years from the start of my arts career to have all the resources I need to be an artist. It shouldn’t have been that way. Sometimes you are fighting two battles: to be an artist with limited funding and opportunities available, and to take on dismantling the master’s house. It’s a lot to put on the shoulders of artists, so that’s why I like to go to places and tell them directly, ‘It’s embarrassing that you are acting like this.’ Other people may disagree but I want to return the shame that many institutions have given us and say, ‘Actually, it’s time for you to feel shame for how you are treating your fellow human beings.’ That’s how I do it.’
At the end of the panel discussion there was Pudding. And no, I know what you’re thinking, ‘How did they give you dessert at an online event?’ Pudding is in fact a live post event forum, where participants have space to digest their experiences of the event, with friendly facilitators to support the discussion. It was clear from the thoughts voiced by participants that disabled artists need more prestigious roles in arts organisations where they can showcase their talent, and also advocate for other disabled artists. It’s not just about better pay, it’s about bigger and better opportunities, and access for all.
So, keep an eye out for our next Unlimited Connects event — Unlimited Connects North, ‘ ‘Climate Justice and the use of art as a tool for changes’, which will be happening online on 26 October 2pm – 5:30pm. To book your free ticket, head over here.
Unlimited Allies are welcome to come along!
Graphic notetaking done by Ada Jusic from Creative Connection, who joined us for the morning.