What Next? For an Inclusive Arts Sector

Jo Verrent speaking at a conference

Unlimited’s Senior Producer, Jo Verrent’s recent talk delivered at a meeting for What Next?, a movement pushing the case for arts and culture in the UK.

Unlimited is a commissions programme for ambitious work by disabled artists based in England, Scotland and Wales. We offer talented disabled artists funds and mentoring
 support to develop, produce and show ambitious work. We are the biggest commissions programme for disabled artists in the world – we don’t say it to boast, we say it to push other countries forwards so that someone somewhere can invest more in disabled artists and claim that title for themselves.

We recently invested £500k in new work by disabled artists in our second round of commissions. And even with that level of investment, we could only support 6% of those who applied to us. It meant we turned away hoards of truly exceptional artworks, brilliant ideas from creative artists that absolutely deserve support. And many of these artists commented that they felt we were the only funder to whom they could apply for this work.

This raises questions – why do so many disabled artists feel that Unlimited is ‘the’ place to go? Why do they not feel as welcome within the mainstream funding routes? Why are they not networked into the commissioning opportunities offered by NPO’s and other bodies?

Many of these artists described themselves as being on the outside, not knowing how to get ‘in’ to the systems, networks and closed shops that they see around them. Some of the reasons link to access, some to confidence and some to the systemic discrimination inbuilt into the cultural sector that we are all trying hard to dismantle.

But ‘trying hard’ doesn’t equal success. Taking concrete positive action does. It doesn’t matter how open we say we want to be – it matters how open other people find us.

So the push is for positive action – what are you going to actually do?

  • Can you take on the R&D for an exciting new project just so it can try out some initial exploration?
  • Can you offer a disabled artist or company free space, mentoring, support or contacts over a period of time?
  • Can you genuinely look at your systems and the way you do things to ensure you are adaptable and flexible enough to meet different needs?
  • Could you become one of our Unlimited Allies – working with us to create a cultural sector where disabled artists do feel welcome?

If any of the above applies to you, feel free to get in touch with Jo Verrent the Senior Producer for Unlimited via joverrent@weareunlimited.org.uk 

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