Waving Goodbye to Emily

Emily is smiling whilst picking up a nibble with a crowd of people behind her. The light is blue and purple.
Emily Crowe at Southbank Centre Unlimited festival 2016. Photo by Rachel Cherry

We’ve just said goodbye to our wonderful Unlimited Impact Trainee Emily Crowe (and welcomed our new Trainee Becky Dann). In this blog, as she moves on, Emily reflects on her traineeship, and the challenges and growth it afforded her…

The Unlimited traineeship is a one year scheme that enables disabled arts professionals to learn new skills by assisting the Unlimited team in a range of areas, from marketing to project evaluation. Sadly my experience has reached its end as I pass the baton over to new trainee Becky Dann.

For me, the traineeship has been a fantastic opportunity to finally crack into the arts sector. As we all know, careers within the arts are notoriously competitive, with rejection being an inevitable part of the journey, however it is additionally frustrating and disheartening when certain barriers still prevail. The Unlimited traineeship opened that door to me, allowing me to finally gain access to a whole wealth of information, support and opportunities I’d never known existed.

My own barriers are communication based. In spite of all the technological advances in recent years, and rapid dissemination of information, there is still a profound lack of awareness in ensuring such information is accessible and reaches target audiences; whether simply a matter of adding captions to videos, making sure websites are user and screen reader friendly, or providing alternative formats of text, access is still trailing behind as the added-on afterthought.

However it is heartening to see progress happening, with more organisations becoming allies of Unlimited, and artists, with their immense problem solving capabilities, are coming up with ever-new, exciting ideas to creatively overcome such barriers.

So what did I get up to with Unlimited?

I had my “soapbox moments” – sharing my experiences to producers at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, the IETM Valencia, and with other emerging artists at the What Next? Symposium in Glasgow.

I count myself lucky to have been involved right from the start of the new Unlimited 2017 commissions – facilitating the application process, from scrutinising the language being used in the initial callouts, having my own illuminating experience of creating an easy read document, processing the thrilling and vast array of 269 Expressions of Interest, and the challenge of weeding these down to a shortlist, to witnessing the level of debate by the selection panels to decide the final commissions.

I have attended talks, exhibitions, conferences and performances, enjoying the full breadth of talents, across different artforms and all the UK – from the Project Ability studios in Glasgow, Graeae’s ‘The House of Bernarda Alba‘ at the Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester, the Hijinx Unity festival, Cardiff, the Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary Shortlist exhibition at Artlink Hull, and many others.

There was also the excitement of being involved in the preparations and seeing the culmination of the last round of commissions at the Unlimited festivals at the Southbank Centre and Glasgow’s Tramway. These included being moved by the stories of Bekki Perriman’s ‘The Doorways Project‘, having my views changed by the controversial ‘Assisted Suicide: The Musical‘, and watching the spine-tingling lift-off of tightly-bound Noëmi Lakmaier by 20,000 colourful balloons!

From being based at Shape Arts, I’ve have my own preconceptions challenged of what disability arts is, respecting the rich history of the Disability Rights Movement that came before and alongside it (currently being chronicled by NDACA, a project Shape delivers). I have also gained a greater understanding of the Social Model of Disability, and a wider awareness of barriers and access provisions, and negotiating the tricky hierarchies within.

I also discovered a surprising affinity for data and spreadsheets along the way!

I am very proud of what Unlimited sets out to do. It is no small feat to be “challenging society’s perception of disability” and to consistently get this right, and I admire the team’s evident passion and commitment in continually reflecting on lessons learned, how to improve and take those risks to go bigger, better and bolder – even reaching out on an international scale.

As my year coincided with massive political upheavals on a global scale, it was impossible not to be incentivised and fired up, particularly in face of the yawning gap of public awareness and the role that art can play in challenging this; consequently I leave feeling more empowered and justified in demanding equal access. All in all it has been a fantastic, challenging and mind-blowing experience.

I wish the current Trainees, Becky and James, all the best on their respective Unlimited journeys, and to those thinking of applying to the future trainee opportunities, all I can say is you will be stretched, you will be challenged… You will have the time of your life! What have you got to lose?