Who’s Who – David Hevey

2 men in suits face the camera. The man on the right with a blue tie talks, the man on the left with a brown tie faces him.
Alex Cowan, NDACA Archivist (L) and David Hevey, Shape Arts CEO (R). Image c. Andy Barke

Unlimited’s Trainee Producer James Zatka-Haas interviewed Shape Arts’ new CEO David Hevey on Unlimited, the commissions, and the changing landscape of disability and the arts.

Congratulations on being the new Chief Executive of Shape Arts, who co-deliver Unlimited with Artsadmin. For someone who is new to Unlimited, can you describe Shape?

Shape Arts is arguably one of the world’s leading barriers removal art organisations, which seek to include diverse and different people in creative industries and output. We are a charity that campaigns for inclusion.

What is your particular role?

I am the CEO of Shape Arts. My professional role is CEO and Artistic Director of Shape and we’re partners with Artsadmin in delivering Unlimited. I passionately believe in creativity from the margins about the mainstream. As a CEO I’m responsible for the delivery, but as a person I massively believe in the project. I believe in barriers removal and stories of barriers removal. I’m a big fan of championing disabled artists who face barriers, and in the removal of those barriers they make interesting work. And I have extensive life experience of disability.

What is Unlimited to you?

Unlimited is a big event. It’s a visual and performance arts space for disabled and diverse artists to explore what they want to say about the world now. It’s high impact – a big event, big audiences, great value for money, but above all cutting edge disability pioneering.

Which particular commissions stand out to you the most?

I have no perspective on what stands out but, sometimes, the more it talks about the way we live now, the bigger the impact, perhaps? Acts like Liz Carr’s “Assisted Suicide: The Musical” is a huge mirror on life now – being both politically driven and well performed. Other work, like Jack Dean’s “Grandad and the Machine”, was a superb show because it was about now in all our fragmented mythologies and fears. Noëmi Lakmaier’s “Cherophobia” was very much not about social realism, but it was a superb piece of work about who goes where and how, in my view.

Why is it so impactful?

Because the grand narratives of our age are not easy to show. Do you do things in digital? Do you do things about identity? Do you stick it to the man? What do you do to make an imprint now? Unlimited I think is one of the great (on a global scale), examples of how you can make radical, interesting, pioneering aesthetics and works. It’s fearless; Liz Carr is fearless in her work and Noëmi Lakmaier was fearless in her work. That aesthetic courage is so important.

So Yinka Shonibare MBE, Shape’s Patron, was right in saying “The Disabled Avant-Garde are the last avant-garde”?

I think the disability arts movement is the last avant-garde because it’s trying to show society that there is a new way of seeing. It’s saying that there is a different way of seeing difference and that is an enriching aesthetic.

I did an interview on the BBC last year. We were talking about how we can build an audience; I said go to the radicals – Matt Fraser, Liz Carr, John Kelly. Not because radicals are the best artists necessarily; rather they are normally at the cutting edge of a new way of seeing. So the right radical is breaking a new mould somewhere. That’s why you go to those people, that’s why you want to commission those courageous, out there, tangential pioneering people who say ‘I think the world is this way’ because they often are right. And that’s why it’s the last avant-garde.

Unlimited has been going for 4 years. You’ve been working in the field and espousing disability rights for 30 years. Have you seen perceptions of disability change both over the arc of your career and within Unlimited’s period?

In the bigger society picture, the viewing of disability and difference has massively changed; both good and bad. The good changes are that everyone expects everyone to be included (in principle), the bad things are the state and government don’t necessarily want to pay for that inclusion. There’s less space to accept diverse / disabled culture contributions because of the cuts. I don’t accept the government’s attacks on disabled people; I don’t buy it on any level. It doesn’t work economically, it doesn’t work creatively – I don’t think it works towards a just society.

Has Unlimited come at the right time then?

Yeah it has come in the right time. I think it should carry on for a long time yet, too. These disabled artists bring interesting, compelling, and diverse perspectives on the mainstream – and outsider voices are box office. It’s got an authenticity about the voices and originality about the works.

Thanks David 

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