A crowd of people facing Abid who is giving a talk
Abid Hussain at Unlimited's Welcome Day 2017. Photo by Rachel Cherry

Unlimited: The Symposium – Your Chance to Choose

Unlimited is hosting a symposium on 4 and 5 September 2018 at the Unicorn Theatre, London to discuss the key issues, challenges and opportunities in and surrounding disability-led arts in the 21st century, which will lead into Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Festival (running from 5 to 9 September). We’re aiming to focus on sharing different perspectives and dialogue, rather than finding a single right answer; instead, those attending or accessing online will be encouraged to consider their context, unique situation, starting point and resources to determine what solutions will be right for them.

UPDATE: the winning topics are now highlighted…

We want the Symposium to widen perspectives, increase knowledge and provide new ways to consider existing issues and, crucially, to allow time for real discussion and debate before people determine their actions to make change happen. And that’s the most important thing: that the event makes change happen – disabled artists have waited for increased equality long enough!

In the autumn we called out for subject suggestions using the hashtag #unltdsymposium, which was widely shared across social media and resulted in 117 separate suggestions in total. We’ve now sorted and condensed the most popular suggestions into 15 options, grouped under the headings ‘Art’, ‘Equality’, ‘Attitude’ and ‘Future’ – all of which underpin Unlimited –, with the Symposium due to focus on one subject from each heading, as voted for by you.

Below, we’ve outlined the suggested subjects and the dates on which voting will commence. From next week we’ll hold a series of Twitter polls – one per week – to vote on one category at a time. To vote, keep an eye on our Twitter account. Now, it’s time to start thinking what you’ll vote for…

Art (poll opens 5 Feb and closes 9 Feb)

  1.  WINNING TOPIC: How can disabled artists change the ‘mainstream’ arts sector?
    Can disabled artists change the ‘mainstream’ from within, or does it end up changing us and our work? Are disabled artists supported to make art of quality and ambition and artistic innovation within the mainstream, or only in specialist disability specific settings? Is the UK’s ‘Creative Case for Diversity’ working?
  1. Are disability politics, activism and culture becoming weaker?
    With global growing austerity, cuts and abuses, should more disabled artists become political? Should the art? Is inclusion in the mainstream watering down the politics of activism? Should funding bodies prioritise arts activism and political artwork?
  1. How can disabled artists be critiqued equally?
    Is the art of disabled artists still placed in a ‘ghetto’ and ignored? Do critics focus on disability rather than art? Is there enough academic rigour around the work of disabled artists?
  1. Should everything be accessible to everyone?
    Audio Description, embedded sign language and more – access solutions can be integral and part of an arts aesthetic, but what if artists prioritise access for some not all? Are all art forms equally involved in delivering access?

Equality (poll opens 12 Feb and closes 16 Feb)

  1. How can we make the arts equal?
    Is the arts equal for disabled artists, no matter what barriers they face? Are all art forms equal in how they engage with disabled artists? How can we dismantle the hierarchies of art form and impairment to create a more equal arts ecology?
  1.  WINNING TOPIC: Disability, intersectional identities and the arts
    Intersectionality looks at various aspects of identity such as class, race, sexual orientation, disability, gender as interwoven. Where does disability sit within the dialogues around intersectional identities, identity politics and the arts?
  1. How do the arts discriminate?
    Does the culture of overwork, underpayment and funding reductions create more barriers for disabled artists than others, especially given the current global austerity agenda? What can change?
  1. How do we go beyond tokenism, box-ticking and lip service?
    How can we create real equal opportunity in every creative space and avoid ‘all speech and no action’ approaches?

Attitude (poll opens 19 Feb and closes 23 Feb)

  1. How do we move from promoting pity to removing barriers?
    In many places disability is still viewed solely as a medical issue and the so called ‘solutions’ presented are based on charity, not rights. How do we change this? How can Social Model thinking and approaches, based on barriers removal, replace medical and charity model thinking?
  1. How do we challenge discrimination in the arts?
    How can we combat poor and unethical practices, such as cultural appropriation of lived experience, ’cripping up’ and cure narratives across all the arts sectors? What steps can (and should) artists and organisations take when encountering discriminatory practices?
  1.  WINNING TOPIC: Why is it taking so long? Can we speed up change? Will we ever get there?
    Despite the many conferences, publications and training sessions on disability equality and the arts, things haven’t changed. How can disabled artists and allies challenge the status quo, take control and make lasting change happen more quickly?
  1. How do we choose which words to use?
    Not all disabled artists use the same terms, and not all those labelled ‘disabled’ by others self-identify that way. How different are the practices described as ‘arts and disability’,’ disability arts’ and ‘inclusive arts’? What role does self-definition play?

Future (poll opens 26 Feb and closes 2 March)

  1.  WINNNG TOPIC: Does new technology enable, or create more barriers?
    Is technology reducing the uniqueness of disabled artists or enhancing it? What exists already? Who has access to it and how can more disabled artists get what they want and need? What will the arts and access look like in the future?
  1. Age and disability: when and where does the exclusion of disabled people in the arts begin – and end?
    Are young people experiencing more or fewer barriers than the previous generation? Are they less likely to identify culturally / politically as disabled? Are older artists gaining impairments also increasingly marginalised?
  1. Does size matter? How can small and large organisations learn from each other?
    Are small arts and cultural organisations more open to actively making access happen rapidly for disabled artists than larger institutions? Do larger organisations lack flexibility or willingness? How can we learn to scale up change more quickly?


At the Symposium in September, discussion around each of the four subjects chosen will be opened with a series of short provocations from a panel, in order to provide contrasting viewpoints, voices and perspectives and kick-start thoughts and ideas. Each provocation panel will include both UK and international representatives, and both practicing artists and those from organisations.