Dreaming with Asia – All In One Room

Jo Verrent and Carole McFadden chatting on a bus in Hong Kong

Jo Verrent, Senior Producer for Unlimited, tells us of her travels to Asia where she’s meeting with representatives from various countries to aid in their work with disabled artists. 

I was privileged to attend British Council’s Regional Arts Meeting for Asia last week. Held in Hong Kong, the meeting had representatives from countries as diverse as Burma, Indonesia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea. In fact representatives from 12 different countries came together to plan partnerships and develop strategic responses, as a region and at country level.

I was giving a presentation on the involvement of disabled people in the arts in the UK, with Carole McFadden, Programme Manager for not just East Asia but also China, the Middle East and North Africa, for Theatre and Dance at the British Council, and one of our main links for Unlimited.

We were exploring the range of different approaches to the work that might be appropriate around the world, given each countries distinct history, social situation and resources – quite simply, what might work in one country just won’t in another!

Notes from the British Council’s Regional Arts Meeting for Asia

Each country had a different aspect they wished to move forward – be it programming UK artists and using their journeys to inspire local artists, working towards co-commissions with UK artists to create creative fusions, using the arts as a tool with disabled people on the ground to create programmes that would challenge stigma and perhaps even lead to legislative change. Some are already very established – Australia, for example, has many outstanding disabled artists, such as Michelle Ryan who was such a hit at Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Festival in 2014 with her piece with Torque Show, ‘Intimacy’.

Other countries are just beginning their journey – at the start of the workshop I asked people to show how connected each person’s work was with disability. Some showed that the work was beginning, others that it was entwined, others that it had yet to connect.

I spent time explaining the history of disability art in the UK and its emergence from a political movement focused on civil rights, the fact that we now have a network of experienced organisations and individuals who together are moving the sector forward and still how much we have to do to ensure access and equality for all.

There is an assumption that we have it all sorted in the UK – that every disabled person can be an artist if they just have the talent, can access the arts fully if they have the desire.

A couple of years ago I would have said we were heading in that direction perhaps. For a fleeting moment after 2012, we might have had, as a country, the opportunity to make something like that more of a reality. However the increasing cuts and threats to Access to Work, the closure of the Independent Living Fund and other such measures means that we may well miss our chance – our chance to show exactly what disabled artist can truly create if they have the chance to dream.

In supporting other countries to dream about their futures around the arts and disabled people, I found myself thinking about ours – and hoping it doesn’t turn into a nightmare.

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