Who’s who: Ruth Gould, Chair of Unlimited’s selection panel

DaDaFest Logo paired with one of their Hero's

The first in a series of who’s who at Unlimited, delving into backstories and giving a clearer view of how the Unlimited team, board and partners all fit together.

Chairing the Unlimited panel to determine the commissions is a not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination, but one that’s been vital for fairness, diversity and maintaining exceptional quality. Steering the seemingly impossible process of whittling hundreds of exceptional ideas down to just a few commissioned works and managing the debate between a diverse panel of experts is a huge responsibility.

Each shortlisted submission was discussed in detail by the diverse panel of artists, producers, funders, programmers and more at the top of their game, who between them have exceptional knowledge across a vast range of art disciplines. In-depth discussions were held on each piece, followed by a simple ‘yes/no’ vote from the panel; the commissions with the most votes made the cut. To chair such a panel requires not only a great understanding of the arts, but also a wealth of experience working within the arts and disability arts sector, and there are very few people who fit the bill as well as Ruth Gould.

In 2001 Ruth became the Creative Director of North West Disability Arts Forum [NWDAF], which went from strength to strength with her at the helm, which was in part due to the creation of a new festival programme called DaDaFest.

DaDaFest, like many genius projects, came about by chance. Ruth was approached by Liverpool council to put something together for International Disabled Peoples’ Day on 3rd December to form part of Liverpool’s bid to be European Capital of Culture. Ruth felt a single day wouldn’t achieve much, so she pulled together a week-long festival in the city’s mainstream arts venues. The first DaDaFest comprised of 59 separate events over 10 days in theatres, museums, schools and community centres city wide.

Year upon year DaDaFest grew in size and profile, providing a great platform for many artists to launch their careers including stand-up comic Laurence Clark and Liz Carr.  In 2005 DaDaFest was named Merseyside Tourism Award best small arts event of the year with the 2008 festival being shortlisted in a further 4 awards! The work is accepted within the mainstream cultural offer of the city.

NWDAF began to integrate the schools programme [established in 2002] with DaDaFest to encourage and empower disabled young people through creativity. Aptly named Young DaDa, the young people’s programme also went from strength to strength. Over 2,500 young people to date have taken part in creative projects and training including visual arts, performance, creative writing and film-making.

NWDAF rebranded itself as DaDaFest in 2008 in response to the festival’s success.

Today DaDaFest is a role model for all disability arts organisations, continuing to provide a huge festival that literally takes over the city of Liverpool. 2014 saw DaDaFest host a truly epic international festival which presented an array of high quality disability arts from around the world with over 520,000 people visiting its various elements, which included performances from the likes of Staff Benda BililiKrip-Hop Nation and Touretteshero. The festival also included a multi art-form programme telling the story of the radical Liverpool-born slavery opponent Edward Rushton and ‘Art of the Lived Experiment‘ the arts exhibition curated by Aaron Williamson which toured to Grand Rapids, Michigan and received on average of 20,00 visitors a week.

Ruth’s passion, drive and leadership of DaDaFest has undoubtedly made a huge cultural shift in Liverpool – one of the first cities to publicly acknowledge the contribution that disability arts makes to its vibrancy. Let’s also not forget that Liverpool won the title of European Capital of Culture in 2008, where disability arts played a key role in the bid which led to Ruth being invited to join the Board for Capital of Culture developments in 2003.

Ruth’s achievements within her 30 plus years working in the arts and dedication to supporting disabled artists gives the her knowledge and a deep understanding which has been invaluable in managing the decision making processes. We are very grateful to have her on board as our panel Chair.

Tony Heaton OBE, Shape CEO said “I have known Ruth for many years and have always been impressed by her sense of fairness, her energy and her enthusiasm for our sector. She makes a strong contribution to everything she is involved in both in the UK and as an ambassador internationally, she is a real champion for disability arts. As such I was delighted when she was selected and agreed to Chair our Unlimited panel, a tough and unenviable job, but one that she has embraced with her indefatigable spirit!”

Who’s who at Unlimited


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