A New Chapter

Last week was the first time I introduced myself in public as Senior Producer for Unlimited. I’d been invited to sit at the ‘Long table’ at the What Next: Diversity event at Sadlers Wells, amongst a wide range of artists, promoters, producers, venues and creative. I have to say it felt good to be able to state a simple job title rather than my usual ‘well, I do many things for many different clients in the cultural sector…’ I have always said that to hear my elevator pitch I’d need to press the emergency button and trap someone in with me for about 40 minutes.

Not anymore. I’m not full time on Unlimited, but it has my full focus and I am immensely proud to be working on a programme that is so close to my heart.

In 2012, Unlimited quite simply took my breath away.

It wasn’t one thing, one performance or image or event – it was the combination. The depth of the journeys that the artists went on, the quality of the work that was produced, the breadth of partnerships that were created, the range of new audiences that were able to experience, often for the first time, the richness and diversity of the work.

At the Festival in 2012, I kept pinching myself to make sure it was all real.

Jude Kelly, artistic director of Southbank Centre, said that the Unlimited Festival there was the most significant festival they have ever staged, not because work by disabled artists wasn’t good before Unlimited – of course it was – but because Unlimited began to give it a critical mass. It began to widen the audience base for the work of disabled artists and disability-related companies.

That’s my key challenge for the new Unlimited programme as we move into the next three years. How can we ensure the widest range of audiences get to see the best work we can support? How can we make sure that work is seen throughout the UK, not just in London. How can we continue to make sure Unlimited resonates throughout the world? Of course, central to that is the art – high quality, thought provoking art led by disabled artists. The opportunity to support creatives as they develop work for this platform is a real privilege and one I do not take lightly.

And it will be a challenge. We have significantly less resources this time round, as do our key partners, but we have the same level of ambition. We will have fewer commissions and the festival elements will be shorter but have no doubt we intend the impact to be as strong, if not stronger.

We believe Unlimited can serve as a catalyst for real change in the cultural sector, that the commissions have the power to alter the cultural landscape – not just for disabled artists, but for the sector as a whole.

Unlimited isn’t ‘about disability’ – it is about equality, diversity and a word that was repeated a lot at the What Next Long Table event – justice. Everyone has a role to play in rebalancing the cultural capital of the UK, as the recent ROCC Report explained, but it’s not just about geographic inequalities, its about inequalities full stop.

We’re going to be busy at Unlimited – a lot to do and not much time to do it in, but that’s ok, we are up for it. But we aren’t too busy to listen, to find out more, to explore new partnerships and opportunities. Please do get in touch if you feel you have something say that could help.

Jo Verrent

Follow the conversation on Twitter using the following hashtags: #unlimitedII #WN2013

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