Ready, Steady, Launch!

A busy week this week with not one, but two launches for Unlimited – one at Tate Modern in London and one at the Bluecoat Gallery in Liverpool.

No apologies for having two – we firmly want to embed the idea that Unlimited is a national programme (two nations in fact as we will be commissioning both English and Scottish based artists). And no apologies for both being in iconic arts buildings – again, an important aspect of Unlimited is to embed the work of disabled artists within the cultural mainframe of UK arts. How better to make that intention real than by partnering with a couple of key big players on the national scene?

At both launches, our guests were welcomed in – by Tony Heaton (Shape) and Manick Govinda (Artsadmin) in London and by Ruth Gould (DaDaFest) in Liverpool and thanked for attending.

They explained that Unlimited is being delivered by a partnership between Shape and Artsadmin, both of whom worked on Unlimited before in previous guises in 2012.

“This time round, Unlimited might be smaller – but we are no less ambitious.”

Our hosts explained that Unlimited is here to build on the momentum from 2012 – to ensure work by disabled artists sits rightfully alongside other artists in the heart of our cultural infrastructure – across the UK and also internationally.

At both launches, Joyce Wilson (Arts Council England) gave some of the history to the previous Unlimited process – a programme linked to the Cultural Olympiad that saw 35 awards given to disabled artists over 3 years resulting in 29 separate commissions – the largest single fund for work by disabled artists ever created, worldwide, culminating in a festival at Southbank Centre in September 2012 running alongside the Paralympics, that brought together the commissions and artists involved, plus audiences from around the world.

“Unlimited was a game changer – not just for the artists, many of whom have made step changes in their careers and profiles due to their commissions, including international touring opportunities – but for the sector as a whole.”

But it can and must go further – this time round Unlimited will focus on ensuring the work gets seen across England and further afield.

Jo Verrent, Senior Producer for Unlimited then outlined the key partners for the programme alongside the commissioning partner, Arts Council England. Creative Scotland are on board, ensuring we can commission work from Scottish based artists too, British Council will be looking for suitable work to support for international touring, Southbank Centre and DaDaFest will be presenting partners – and we are looking for additional venues and organisations to join this list. Disability Arts Online will be involved in capturing the stories behind the commissions and we are looking for additional media partners to ensure our stories get told.

Jo then outlined the commissions criteria: that Unlimited is for established artists and companies working across all art forms. To apply, you need to be producing high quality arts work and be in a relationship with producing partner or company. Given the focus on getting the work seen, we are looking for work that has considered how flexible and adaptable it can be in relation to touring or being seen. Work must be disabled-led.

Round one is now open, with a deadline of 17 February. It has two parts – the main awards and awards for research and development

The main awards will be for work that can be seen Autumn 2014 and beyond (the Southbank Unlimited Festival is early Sept 2014). For this we are looking for pre-existing work or work that is tour/exposure ready, ideally work that has gained a positive critical response and yet has had limited audience exposure. We expect to give 6-10 awards in this category, most for around £20-£30,000, and fewer for up to approximately £80,000.

The research and development awards are to enable the exploration of new ideas, concepts and partnerships – and artists and companies do not need producing partners for these. The idea is that each R&D process would create something at a basic level that could be shared or showed in some form so that a dialogue could be started with promoters, venues and others about how the work might develop. There are no specific timescales linked to these and we expect to make about 10 awards of around £5000. Getting an R&D award does not mean you will automatically get a main award in the next round.

The second round of commissions, which is planned for February 2015, will be exclusively to commission new work.

Dean Rodney and Mark Williams from Heart ‘n Soul speaking at London launch

The floor was then given over to artists who had benefitted from the Unlimited programme in 2012. At the London Unlimited launch Dean Rodney and Mark Williams from Heart ‘n Soul told of the journey around the world that created the Dean Rodney Experience and looked at the impact on the artist and company, including their developing relationship with Dazed and Confused.

Amit Sharma from Graeae talked about The Garden and how the sway pole training necessary for this show also equipped disabled performers to take part in the Opening Ceremony for the Paralympic Games, taking the international spotlight in a way like never before.

At the Liverpool Unlimited launch, Laurence Clark spoke about his one man comedy show Inspired and how it had enabled him to break new ground as a comic, secure his first London gig at the Bloomsbury Comedy Theatre – and finally pay his collaborators properly to work with him! He also spoke of the doors it had opened in relation to gaining access to promoters and producers from radio and television – and told us to watch this space for news…

Both events concluded by reminding us all that Unlimited has relevance to everyone in the cultural sector – disabled artists who might apply, producers and venues who might become involved and help showcase work, our partners and partners-to-be who can help us deliver an ambitious programme in austere times.

In both locations, we then opened up to questions from the floor – and these and those coming through on email, twitter and from other sources, will form the next blog, due out early next week.

Jo Verrent

Tony Heaton, Joyce Wilson, Jo Verrent and Manick Govinda at London launch