Unlimited International Impact

Jo Verrent, Senior Producer for Unlimited considers the programme’s international impact and wonders who might be interested in collaborating to gain funds for international co-commissions…

Unlimited can currently only accept applications from artists based in England, Scotland and Wales – and yet we are having emails and calls from disabled artists across the world who want support to create, and tour, exceptional art.

We do have international ambition and international reach, and thanks to our close partnership with the British Council, we were able to welcome over 100 international delegates at the Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Festival. Spin-off events have occurred all across the world, such as the seminar Unlimited: Breaking Boundaries in Arts held in Hong Kong co-presented by the British Council and the Hong Kong Arts Administrators Association, and the Unlimited Dissemination Event in Dublin, led by the British Council.

There are numerous blogs out there too, giving unique international viewpoints on what we are achieving in the UK, such as one by Volodymyr Sheyko, My Deafness is My Ability, who states that Unlimited is “…a great platform where great art emerges and exists beyond prejudice, limitations or boundaries”, and the eight top take-aways from the September festival written by Lisa Burns from British Council, Australia.

Last week, a video discussion was also uploaded by the Australia Council featuring a panel of artists and others discussing Unlimited and how it links to the situation for disabled artists in their country. It’s an hour long ‘In Conversation’ piece with Lisa Burns (British Council), Michelle Ryan (Restless Dance) – the only international artist to feature within the 2014 Festival, Emma Bennison (Arts Access Australia) and Gaelle Mellis (Access2Arts) and is chaired by Morwenna Collett (Australia Council) who was Unlimited’s International Intern for 2014.

Australia Council for the Arts. Unlimited discussion from Australia Council for the Arts on Vimeo.

The panelists discuss the sheer range of work that was on offer at Unlimited, and the different angles that the work came from, praising the UK’s stance on ensuring that so much of the work created here is disability-led. Gaelle Mellis in particular notes the dramatic shift in quality she witnessed since her last visit to the UK in 2005, due to the significant financial investment the UK has made in this area during the last ten years. The panel also praise the UK’s openness about critiquing work – and the fact that here we emphasise sharing both process and product as a way of understanding not only the finished pieces but the journey that disabled artists are taking in order to produce their work.

It’s fascinating to see what different people take from the programme and the festival. Opinions vary about favorite pieces, access and even London’s transport system – but all feedback is good feedback, enabling us to constantly improve and develop.

In Spring 2015, Arts Council England are releasing more information on their International funds, and we’d love to see Unlimited and disabled artists in general increase their international presence and significance. One strand of the international ‘moneybag’ is the Artists International Development Fund for which the next deadline is 1 May 2015. I wonder how many disabled artists we can get applying for that round? To find more information on international work, check out the new British Council website Disability Arts International.

We’d love to get some funds together to enable international co-commissioning of disabled artists and companies, so if there are others out there who share this aim, maybe we should get together and see what we can cook up? After all, there is no point in not living up to our name…

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