Shifting platforms, shifting scales

photo of Jess Thom aka Touretteshero at Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Festival 2014,

Jo Verrent investigates what a little support at the right time can do…

At the weekend I sat in bed and watched BBC4 as four of the most innovative and exciting theatre makers in the UK took over London’s BBC Television Centre and made live television history, including Touretteshero‘s Broadcast from Biscuit Land, an adaptation of the Unlimited funded Backstage in Biscuit Land that has been touring since the summer of 2014.

Click here to watch the show

The response was overwhelming:

(Check out more tweets on #livefromtvc, and reviews / interviews in Exeunt, The Guardian and Disability Arts Online.)

Unlimited invested a small amount in Backstage in Biscuit Land back in 2014 to give Jess Thom the space and support to think about making a show. In typical Touretteshero style, she took that support, made a show on a shoestring and stormed the Edinburgh Fringe getting four and five star reviews and kick starting a career that’s already seen her play Brighton Festival, the Barbican and more.

As Jess says in her interview with DAO, we’ve continued to support the show and the company. This has included funds for access, for organisational development, mentoring and additional Unlimited Impact funding to work with young people with tourettes too.

“As a disabled artist being supported by Unlimited with their knowledge of disability arts and culture, and being connected with a whole community of disabled practitioners has benefited my practice and impacted on my life in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Being part of a cohort of disabled people and being valued by the community has been immense.” – Jess Thom

Supporting artists isn’t simply about the cash. It can be about providing networks, guidance and support – and opportunities. Often when artists shift the platform on which they are usually represented, they get a chance to also shift the scale on which they work.

Remember the poppies at the Tower of London (those now on a national tour)? The installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red was created by artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper. Back in 2012, Paul Cummins had his first major commission – with Unlimited (then run as part of LOCOG). It marked a move into major works with major partners.

It’s not just Unlimited that is involved in supporting disabled artists to make changes in their careers. Many organisations around the UK are opening up routes for support, space hire, guidance, contacts and more. But we still hear from artists on the ground that it’s not often enough. And we know from recent statistics that discrimination and disadvantage for disabled people is on the increase.

So a call out to the arts sector as a whole – what more could you be doing? If you have a scheme, a project, a commission, an opportunity, a resource that you’ll be kicking off soon – how might you open that up so that disabled artists get a shot at it too?


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