Hello! My name is Noa Winter and I’m thrilled to be one of the 2020/21 Unlimited International Placements. I’m writing to you from Berlin, Germany. To be more precise: I’m writing to you from my bed – a place that became an important part of my work life long before the current pandemic made ‘working from home’ a Thing. As a person who identifies as chronically ill and disabled, having to navigate the world with chronic pain and fatigue (among other access issues), chairs are my nemesis. I’m used to being told that having to lie down or sit comfortably is an unreasonable adjustment. Thus, I had to overcome my own internalized ableism and remind myself daily that writing from the bed is a “time-honored crip creative practice“ – a term I will forever be grateful for, coined by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.
When not working from home you can imagine me sitting on my beanbag at Sophiensæle, a performing arts venue, where I’m coordinating Making a Difference. This project aims to support disabled and d/Deaf choreographers and dancers by offering workshops, residencies, etc. In Germany, many disabled artists have no access to funding and institutions. Therefore, they are reliant on nondisabled colleagues, which creates an uneven power dynamic. Making a Difference is one of the very few initiatives with a disability-led approach. That’s why I’m spending lots of my residual time and energy with (un)paid activism, delivering disability awareness training, and access consultation for cultural institutions. The reward for this is that I sometimes get to curate empowering disability-centered spaces, such as Exploded Time, Mad Spaces – Disability Arts & Crip Spacetime, the first-ever 100 per cent disability-led arts symposium in Germany, together with Nina Mühlemann. It holds a special place in my heart to curate spaces from a queer, crip, chronically ill perspective, with a disabled audience in mind. Spaces that go beyond disability representation by changing underlying structures, inviting anti-ableist futures.
We are still at a stage where there are few opportunities for disabled arts professionals. Despite having ratified the UN-CRPD in 2009, Germany has one of the most excludisionary education systems in the world and the chance of a disabled person working at a sheltered workshop transitioning to the mainstream labour market is below 1 per cent. In the Covid-19 pandemic and with a history of few to no access to the mainstream art world, disabled artists and audiences are at high risk of being left out. Again.
Measures to support artists during the pandemic aren’t effective for most disabled people and many venues postpone creating more accessible work, arguing they are too busy implementing the required hygiene regulations. Working on a disability arts project within a mainstream institution is like navigating between two completely different time zones: while Sophiensæle is putting on their first shows in September, Making a Difference rescheduled all their live events to 2021.
Within the existing structures, almost all support goes to disabled performers. And while we still need many more opportunities for disabled artists, it’s frustrating that there is no existing support at all for disabled arts professionals wanting to work in the fields of producing, administrating, dramaturgy, or curating. This gap reinforces ableist and capitalist ideals: a disabled artist you can program at your venue might at least give you some diversity points in the public eye, while a disabled employer working backstage at your office will not. But this desperately needed cultural change will not happen until disabled people with a variety of lived experiences work all jobs on all levels of the arts sector.
Always being the odd one out as a disabled, chronically ill arts administrator was the main drive behind my application for the Unlimited International Placement. I’m eager to learn from other disabled and chronically ill arts administrators. I want to explore how to successfully support all the amazing artists out there without going to the limits of my capacity in an ableist system all the time. Moreover, I never had the chance to work abroad before. The UK doesn’t seem very far from Germany, but I can’t wait to be immersed in the UK disability arts world, being part of the Unlimited team for some weeks.