Associate opportunity with Salisbury International Arts Festival

Stop Gap Dance: David Toole in Billy and Bobby. Photo by Adrian Harris.

The Ageas Salisbury International Arts Festival is advertising for a disability associate with support from Unlimited Impact. It’s a chance for someone to bring a disability perspective and a critical eye to both the programme and the whole of the festival operation with a remit to subvert, contextualise, challenge, and provoke.

Jo Verrent, Senior Producer for Unlimited, chats with Helen Keall, Festival General Manager to find out more…

Jo: Many organisations want to improve access and develop their programmes – why now?

Helen: The festival (a multi-art form, international festival specialising in transformative experiences for artists and audiences) has had an active equality policy and action plan since 2008 but we want to make a step change in our approach. This was specifically triggered by attending the Shaping a Diverse Future day at The Point, Eastleigh in July 2015. The conversations started there were reinforced by the theme of diversity running through the Arts Council’s No Boundaries event in September 2015, where time and again the challenge was issued to delegates to open up the professional arts sector to better reflect the diversity of experience that 21st century UK life encompasses.

The creative energy unleashed by the inclusion of exciting new voices was really inspiring, and we came away fired up with the ambition to embed diversity into the festival’s programme and approach. We developed an idea of a two-way exchange with a freelance programmer who is a specialist in the sector: they would bring their expertise into the festival and we would offer the chance to extend their art form knowledge/experience.

Jo: Why pair up with Unlimited Impact?

Helen: We weren’t sure where to find someone who would be interested in the opportunity, or even if this was the best way of going about things. So we approached Unlimited, asking for advice as to whether our proposed approach was a good one or not. We got a really positive response including an offer to help develop the opportunity in tandem, which boosted our confidence immediately.

Jo: For us it’s a win-win. We commission work by disabled artists but it is also part of our remit to develop the cultural sector so it’s best able to receive that work. This seemed like a unique and valuable way to do that within a mainstream international festival context.

Helen: We see Unlimited’s support as crucial to the success of this initiative in a number of ways: as a respected and knowledgeable sounding board and source of advice and support; as a well-networked and effective way of reaching potential candidates and letting them know about the opportunity; as a match funder for the risky first stage of the initiative; and as a ‘badge’ to endorse what we are trying to do and give it credibility and profile in a sector who may know nothing about the festival.

Jo: Could you tell us a little about the festival as it is, to give people considering applying a sense of what you do?

Helen: The festival works all year round across Wiltshire with community groups, schools and artists, building towards 16 days of high profile events featuring local, national and international artists in early June. Innovation and creativity are central, from inspiring our audiences to explore and develop their own talents to commissioning new work, enabling artists to respond to our region’s extraordinary monuments, landscape and environment. Since the first festival in 1973, over a million people living in or visiting Wiltshire have enjoyed outstanding performances of theatre, dance, film, every kind of music, literary events, the visual arts, spectacular outdoor pieces and work designed specifically for children and families.

Although we have a long tradition of exploring different cultures and showcasing artists from around the world, with an international focus which each year looks at a different country or region (in 2015 it was the Middle East, the year before the Nordic countries), we now want to make a step change from diversity to inclusion, by embedding diversity at the heart of the festival’s programme and organisational structure. We are seeking to recruit a new member of the festival team: a disability associate, tasked with bringing a disability perspective and a critical eye to both the programme and the festival operation. Working within a small and flexible team, across a wide range of art forms, will offer the disability associate the opportunity to bring about real and lasting change within the festival and to expand their own art form knowledge into new areas.

Jo: I’m particularly excited by the fact that it’s not just ‘behind the scenes’ activity you are after. Even in the pilot phase, there is the potential for the post holder to make things happen such as curating or creating a series of small scale interventions and/or an industry-facing seminar, open to public, listed as a brochure event within festival programme. There is a lot of scope for action, how will you know if the post delivers for you?

Helen: We will feel that the initiative has been a success if, three years down the line we can point to positive changes in both the content of the festival programme and the way we communicate it; if we have diversified our audiences and increased the audience for diverse work; if we are developing learning and participation opportunities and exploring the commissioning and support of new work by diverse artists; and if the disability associate has become a permanent member of the festival team ensuring diversity is an integral part of day to day operations and decision making.

Jo: So, if people are interested, how can they apply?

Helen: Go to the Salisbury Festival website, to download the full brief – application is by CV and covering letter. The deadline is 8 February 2016 with interviews on 24th February. Please help spread the word!