“But do any disabled people become performers?”

Diversecity Perfomance, Young man Dancing on Stage
Diversecity Perfomance

As we’ve said many times, Unlimited is nothing without its allies – and we’d like to hand the blog over today to Clare Hodgson from Diverse City to tell us all about Diverse Futures, an initiative designed to make connections and link disabled people with training and eventually employment opportunities… We’ve signed up – have you?

Many parents of the young people in Remix Gold (Diverse City’s youth performance company) would ask this slightly nervously of me at the end of sessions. Their sons and daughters were talking more and more about what they planned to do on leaving school. Dave wanted to write his own material and direct. Freya wanted to be a choreographer and Anthony wanted to develop his skills on the trapeze. I have been working with these young people for the last seven years as part of the Remix project. The Remix is a family of integrated youth companies based in Dorset delivered by a partnership of Activate performing arts and Diverse City. Young people in the companies are a mix (hence ‘remix’) of young people with physical impairments, young people with learning disabilities and non disabled young people. We had one company to start with and now we have four including a French remix based at La Breche the circus creation centre in Cherbourg. French circus artists came to work with us and were so impressed they went back and set up their own company. Remix has been a transformational journey for us all with perhaps the highlight being performing our Unlimited commission ‘Breathe’ to 11,000 people on Weymouth beach to open the sailing Olympic events in 2012.

But now these young people are reaching 19 and facing real barriers to their progression. The local FE college said that some classes on the BTEC performing arts are not accessible to a wheelchair user. Young people with learning disabilities were not able to go onto vocational performing arts courses because they wouldn’t be able to ‘cope’ with the academic workload. I was endlessly positive to parents along the lines of ” some of my best friends are disabled performers” but I knew they needed more. The young people worked regularly with a range of disabled artists such as Dave Toole, Jamie Beddard and Alex Bulmer but they needed facts and to understand how exactly how their careers might begin. I knew there were arts organisations offering outstanding training and employment opportunities.

I am no stranger to this territory. In the early 2000’s I was the course leader of the performing arts degree at London Metropolitan University. I worked in partnership with Graeae to set up ‘the Missing Piece ‘in the University – a performer-training course specifically for disabled performers. It was a fantastic course enhanced by Graeae’s artistic brilliance and industry contacts. When it finished around 2006 the hope was that mainstream training was becoming more integrated. So nine years later I decided that Diverse City should build a map of inclusive training opportunities across the UK and diverse futures was born www.diversefutures.org.uk. I wanted young people and parents to be able to see in one place all the opportunities out there. Arts organisations rather than institutions offer many of the opportunities although there are beacons of excellent practice in further and higher education. By the summer we will be putting up case studies of the very best higher education courses. Further education is very mixed and is a huge sector. We are pondering over whether to set up a forum where people can recommend a further education college who excels in inclusive practice.

Our brilliant researcher Emma McFarland found 375 opportunities from over 138 organisations and initiatives. The site features training, semi professional opportunities, professional development opportunities and organisations that employ disabled artists. We don’t list community engagement opportunities. The site is for people with disabilities who already have some training and experience in the performing arts. It is for young people looking to build a career and older disabled artists looking to build their skills. We have built it on limited resources but we have got it out there because it is needed. It is a start – we are not afraid to take a risk but now need support to keep the site up to date and to develop it further in response to feedback. We need partners and financial support. Many organisations are currently planning an audit of provision in disability arts. Why not use our research and build on it with us?

www.diversefutures.org.uk is about Freya, Dave and Anthony’s futures. It is called ‘Diverse’ because it lists opportunities in theatre, dance, circus and music. The next time someone asks ” but do any disabled people become performers? ” we want people to point to Diverse futures and say ” of course they do”

www.diversecity.org.uk

@diversecity1

Diverse City is ten years old next year and has been nominated for the National Diversity awards (community organisation- multi strand). Vote for us here https://nominate.nationaldiversityawards.co.uk

If you want to support the development of Diverse Futures email Claire on c.hodgson@diversecity.org.uk

www.diversefutures.org.uk launched on Friday 16th May. It has been funded through grants for the arts Arts Council England and the Esmee Fairbairn foundation

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