Who’s who: Jo Verrent, Senior Producer at Unlimited

Jo looking away from the camera. She is wearing glasses and a blue, white and pink top.
Jo Verrent. Image by Rachel Cherry.

The next in our Who’s Who at Unlimited blog series focuses on Jo Verrent, Senior Producer at Unlimited. Unlimited Trainee Simon caught up with Jo at The British Library for a chat. 

Simon Overington-Hickford: Hi Jo, if you were explaining to someone who didn’t know, how would you describe your involvement with Unlimited?

Jo Verrent: I’m the senior producer for Unlimited…which I think just means I’m old… I have quite a unique position in that I don’t work for Shape or Artsadmin, which is unusual because the programme is run by those organisations. I come in as a third entity, I work as a freelancer and part of that is because I live Yorkshire, so I don’t have a particular office. I have overall strategic responsibility for Unlimited, so I work with our funders, I set our strategic parameters and direction. And then I manage everyone else to make sure they do the work… that’s the theory.

SOH: Good theory! What might an average day at Unlimited look like for you?

JV: There is no such thing as an average day, which is partly what I absolutely love about it! I get bored very easily, I think if there was an average day I wouldn’t be doing this role. So today involved getting up quite early and getting down to London where I’ve got a series of meetings with team members, I have a meeting later with the Southbank Centre looking at their Unlimited Festival in September and where our role and our support can make that the best that it can be. I’m also seeing a work in progress today from Claire Cunningham, her piece with Jess Curtis ‘The Way You Look (At Me) Tonight’ at The Place and then I’m heading back home. Usually when I come down to London I’m here for a couple of days or I might go to Cardiff or Edinburgh, Manchester or Salisbury – anywhere. A couple of weeks ago I went to Hull to talk to them ahead of City of Culture 2017… last week I was in New York!

SOH: Yes and you wrote a brilliant blog about that as well. Are there any assumptions or misconceptions people make about Unlimited that you would like to address?

JV: Oh yes, loads, I think my top three would be, one – that we are just Southbank Centre’s festival, there’s a real assumption that this is all that we do, A) we don’t even do that and B) that’s certainly not all that we do. Southbank Centre run Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Festival, Tramway will be running Tramway’s Unlimited Festival this September as well. They are platforms that are both curated around our commissions but what we do is run the commissions programme.

The second assumption would be that you have got be a disabled artist making work about disability in order to get funding from Unlimited. Again, NO, you just have to define yourself as a disabled artist and be happy with that term but the work is whatever work you are creating. We do want to fund work that is excellent, work that is maybe a stretch for you as an artist and a stage further then what you have been able to achieve previously. That doesn’t mean it has to be political and equally it doesn’t mean that it can’t be. It doesn’t even mean it has to reference disability at all. We have a range of works with the programme we’ve funded over the years that cover all bases.

I suppose the third assumption is that we only work with certain ‘types’ of disabled people and again. NO. We work with all disabled people. We chose to use the word ‘disabled’ rather then ‘Deaf and disabled’ because we are partly run by Shape and that’s the terminology that they use. They use that terminology because that’s the terminology that comes from the social model of disability. We are absolutely not saying that Deaf people are not a social linguistic minority. Absolutely understand all the arguments around that. It’s for speed and ease of reference, and in accordance with the social model. We try and make sure that when we do speak about disabled people that we include illustrations that include Deaf people, people who are neurologically diverse, people who have mental health issues. We try and include examples to show that we do mean the absolute breadth. If you look at the work we have funded that breadth is absolutely there.

SOH: Great I think that addressed some assumptions. What Unlimited projects are you most excited about?

JV: I’m really looking forward to the Southbank Centre and Tramway’s respective Unlimited Festivals obviously. It’s an opportunity to see all of the work within one place but I also particularly like going to see the work as it tours around the country and internationally. There’s something different about the context when it’s not in a disability specific programming environment and it means that you can see the work with fresh eyes and really compare against so called ‘mainstream’ work and I’m always incredibly proud that our work doesn’t just meet mainstream criteria, its actually excels and exceeds that criteria pretty much consistently.

SOH: That’s great to hear. So we are going end with a couple of quick fire questions. Do you prefer tea or coffee?

JV: neither, I drink Diet Coke sadly – but I’m working on overcoming my addiction!.

SOH: Morning or an evening person?

JV: Absolutely morning, I usually get up between five or six o’clock. Much to the annoyance of everyone who wakes up later to loads of emails from me. Sorry.

SOH: Thanks for your time Jo. You can read more News, Case Studies, Resources and Opinion pieces from Jo and the rest of the Unlimited Team here.

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