Intoxicated in Cologne

10 performers on stage (5 sitting, 5 stood behind) Performers sitting have hands over faces and are wearing coloured wigs. Performers standing behind are painted white and are pulling funny faces and poses
Braindance in Spacetown

Famous for its Cathedral, the Rhone and of course the birthplace of the fragrance, Jo Verrent, Senior Producer, headed off to Cologne last week as the guest of Un-Label, a three year programme multi arts ‘mixed ability’ programme funded by the EU.

 I first met Lisette Reuter at Tramway’s Unlimited Festival in Glasgow, and was fascinated by the Un-Label model – training, leadership development, audience development, symposia activity – all for disabled and non-disabled artists from across Europe working as equals. I was also interested to hear how the project was transitioning after its period of EU funding had ended. One way was to develop a series of ‘round table’ conversations – small group discussions to look at learnings and the ways in which the ethos of the work could be embedded within the work of many different organisations. I was invited to speak at one of these round tables, taking place in the middle of the Sommerblut Festival in Cologne.

Sommerblut (translates as Summer blood) is a ‘Festival of Multipolar Culture’, an inclusive cultural festival combining different social and political views and identities. This year’s festival focus was ‘rausch’ – intoxication – and the different facets of this particular mental state. A provocative opening statement for the festival commented: ‘a world without intoxication, alcohol and other drugs is hardly imaginable. But who can say exactly whether the paradises that are seen in intoxication are artificial?’.

Inclusion at the festival is defined broadly – disability, value systems, traditions, beliefs – and considered in relation to programming as well as access; they are one of the few German Festivals offering some form of access for audiences at some of their events, although not for the majority. I attended a site specific performance (Braindance in Spacetown) which took place at Odonien, an artist’s workshop/scrapyard/nightclub created by the artist Odo Rumpf nestled between the railway line and Europe’s largest brothel, which drew a wide and eclectic audience to its awesome opening night, exploring myriad experiences of drug induced intoxication (and no, there was no actual drug taking included in the performance!).

Both Un-Label and Sommerblut foreground inclusion but both are seen as rarities with in Germany, and indeed in wider Europe. So why so little access – or focus on inclusion? The German arts funding model is often referred to as a barrier, with no centralized body looking at issues from a national perspective.

The round table meeting took place at Kat18 Kunsthaus, an art space with arts studios, ceramics area and a gallery for learning disabled artists and a great cafe (also providing valuable employment for learning disabled people) with incredible cake. It was great to get a sneaky tour before the meeting – and of course buy art!

Paper cutsouts of various trees and animals, All with black ink drawn on

Kat18 Kunsthaus

The meeting itself is one of a series looking at models and issues from across Europe and working out next steps for various partners. The attendees varied – disabled artists, the director of Sommerblut, a journalist, people from the university, from Un-Label and other partners – and the discussion was wide ranging, covering financial models of support for disabled artists, the issues of labelling and even a discussion on what was art in the first place. It was great to be in a conversation that focused foremost on the art and the experience of artists – and not only one that focuses on access. Un-Label’s practice is innovative; both collecting and stretching artists from across Europe. But it’s also expensive to tour and, without a support structure like the UK’s Access to Work (with all its problems, caps and flaws) the work is outpriced for most festivals and events, even those that would like to support such large scale ambition.

With a pre-meeting the day before with Dr Daniela Laufer, who has been instrumental in leading projects around inclusion within dance and music training at the university, the visit was a rich one. I took day off on the Friday to mull on my experiences and be my version of a tourist – visiting the Rhine, eating spargel, drinking kolshe, checking out the bone art at St Ursulas and ending up, inevitably for me, at the chocolate museum. By the time I flew home I had a notebook full of possible connections and link ups to follow up on. The legacy of projects is vital – it’s not just what happens during the years they are funded but ultimately the changes they have made in the world that are important. Great learning for me.


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