Unlimited is the largest supporter of disabled artists worldwide, having provided nearly £4 million to 280 artists since its inception in 2013. Unlimited leads on accessible practice and recruitment, and has been running accessible events and commissioning programmes for six years.
We funded Unlimited to produce a series of videos on three aspects of accessiblity, to share their learning and support other organisations to improve their practice.
Jo Verrent, Unlimited's senior producer, has answered five questions about about the programme...
1. These videos show that… there are many easy and simple steps people and places can take to become more accessible.
Inclusion should run through all aspects of everything an organisation does, like the words on a stick of rock. Disabled people aren’t just prospective audience members, they are artists, arts workers, participants and leaders - and they don’t forget the rallying cry of the Disability Movement: ’Nowt About Us, Without Us’. Disabled people should be involved in all elements of work that impacts on them.
There is so much good practice guidance out there - check out our resource page for more leads
2. The thing I’m proudest about with Unlimited is… the artists.
Since 2013, we have supported over 100 emerging artists to develop their practice, through awards, mentoring support and event attendance, thanks to funding from Spirit of 2012.
The arts sector revolves around artists, yet often they are the worst paid and in the most insecure roles. At Unlimited we try to put the artists we support into the centre, ensuring they are paid fairly, that their access requirements are met, and that they form part of our selection panels too. And when we commission artists we do it through an ever evolving process, always learning from what they tell us about how it feels on the other side.
They reward us with excellent and exemplary work - just look at some of the achievements of the emerging artists we have supported through our Spirit funding in the last few years
Kristina Veasey’s exhibition ‘My Dirty Secret!’ is touring across the country, she’s done an ident for ITV, designed a room for Blackpools Art B&B, and is now working on a new commission with the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail; Joel Brown’s commission ‘111’ was selected for the Made in Scotland showcase for this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe and has lots of bookings coming in; Sonny Nwachukwu is set to tour his work Circles and is now hard at work on a solo called ‘Triple Threat’; Vince Law’s shrouds, part of his set for his original commission, are still touring to galleries and protests including in Parliament, Battersea Arts Centre, Cambridge Junction, Nottingham Street Art Festival, Bethlem Gallery, Mad Pride Manchester, and The British Textile Biennial in Pendle, Lancashire and Aby Watson has toured her commission ‘-ish’ to England, Scotland and Wales as well as across Europe.
We reckon art is the best way to challenge and change people’s perceptions about disability.
3. The thing I would do differently if we did it again is… build in a trainee programme right from the start.
Unlimited has supported 11 disabled paid trainee roles since 2013, providing valuable skills and experience for disabled people entering the creative industries.
There are two trainees each year, based in each of the delivery partners - Shape Arts and Artsadmin. These 12-month professional development opportunities give disabled people a paid first step into the cultural and creative industries, and have been phenomenally successful, not just for the trainees who have all gone on to work in the sector, but also for us. Through the work they deliver and also the learning we gain from having a wide range of disabled people with different requirements working for us. It's brilliant having fresh perspectives in the mix too - often those just joining the arts sector can see things that you lose sight of once you’ve been in it for a while.
4. An interesting fact about Unlimited is… we are not an organisation
We are a programme delivered by Shape Arts and Artsadmin working with Jo Verrent as senior producer. We come from a history linked to London 2012 and the Olympic and Paralympic Games and then became a strategic diversity initiative of Arts Council England.
Oh and our programme has had an incredible reach into 141 different countries across the world!
5. The thing I still wish we could understand more is…. why some people and organisations still exclude disabled people.
Disability was the last element to gain legislative protection (back in 1995 with the Disability Discrimination Act) and has been included in the Equalities Act since 2010. It always seems that we are the last to be considered, which is strange since it is estimated that over 20% of the population of the UK are disabled people and the figure is rising.
We are fighting for a cultural sector where disabled people are met fairly and equally; where representation is linked to prevalence. This is a battle that needs everyone to engage. To quote Eldridge Cleaver: "you either have to be part of the solution, or you're going to be part of the problem."
Unlimited is part of the solution - and arts organisations, artists, festivals, venues and arts professional can join us in making culture more accessible and inclusive https://weareunlimited.org.uk/about-unlimited/get-involved/