Who’s Who – Fiona Slater

Fiona Slater is centre of the picture with brown curly hair. She is looking to the left and laughing at the conversation she is having.
Fiona Slater at Unlimited's Welcome Day 2017, British Council.

Next up in our Who’s Who blog series, Unlimited Trainee James Zatka-Haas chatted to Shape Arts’ Fiona Slater, Unlimited team member and Programme Coordinator for Shape’s flagship art award, the Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary…

JZH: You work at Shape Arts. What is Shape to you?

FS: Well I can start with what we do – Shape, one of the two organisations which co-deliver Unlimited, creates opportunities for disabled artists to showcase their work and platforms to discuss and critique it. We also train, support and encourage other organisations within the cultural sector to be more accessible.

To me, it’s an organisation that has taught me a lot! I’ve had the pleasure of working with people who were at the forefront of the Disability Arts Movement and shaped the way we think about access now. Learning about our unique history in the UK has really informed my work with artists now.

What is your particular role at Shape and within the Unlimited team?

At Shape I lead on the Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary, which is an annual award and residency opportunity for a mid-career disabled artist, run in collaboration with a different arts venue each year. The ARMB offers time, space and funds to support an artist’s professional development and brokers relationships between mainstream galleries and brilliant disabled artists that need to be on their radar.

My focus within the Unlimited Programme is on emerging artists, so I get to work with people just setting out on a creative career to more established artists – which is a real privilege. We have just launched a new commissioning strand for emerging artists which has proved hugely popular; this comes after a three year project which offered support and mentoring to emerging artists on a smaller scale and supported oganisations around the country to think about access.

What is Unlimited to you?

Unlimited is a commissioning programme which supports a completely diverse range of work by disabled artists. The selection process is pretty democratic which means there is (hopefully) something for everyone. For me, it’s the activity that happens around the commissions that is really important: the networking, discussions and training. The fact that the work often polarises people is great because we get to have a good debate over it!

How would you say Unlimited has changed over the last few years?

I started working on Unlimited in 2011 when Shape was administering the first iteration of the programme, working with the London Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG). Since being awarded continuation funding in 2014, and working as delivery partners with Artsadmin, we have much more creative ownership over the programme.

The additional support from Spirit of 2012 has enabled us to support the next generation of disabled artists which is a new and much needed element of this programme.

What are your Unlimited highlights and favourite commissions?

There have been too many to choose! I loved Noëmi Lakmaier’s ‘Cherophobia’, one of our 2015 commissions; it was a ridiculous idea, beautifully executed and had an unexpectedly profound impact on me. I really enjoyed working with our first Unlimited Impact Trainee Emily Crowe. It was a joy to bring someone into the team who wasn’t heavily involved in the sector previously and to see now how much they got from and brought to the opportunity. She is certainly someone that has a bright future career in the arts.

How do you see Unlimited and, by extension, perceptions of disability changing?

The demand from programmers and audiences for the work we commission is getting bigger every year but I think there is still a way to go before the work is shown, seen, reviewed and critiqued on an equal basis as work by non-disabled artists. That will have a huge impact on the perception of the work and disability overall, so there is still work to be done!

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