- Two new reports commissioned by British Council review progress of global disability arts initiatives and present solutions to ongoing access barriers
- International cultural sector continues to lack knowledge, experience and funds to provide equal access for disabled artists and audiences
- British Council’s global disability arts work found to raise profiles, change perceptions and build connections for disabled artists and audiences
- Publications coincide with International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 Dec 2021
Two new reports commissioned by the British Council to mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December 2021 describe the British Council’s global disability arts programme as a ‘revolutionary movement’, while also highlighting the huge barriers preventing disabled artists from fully accessing the international cultural sector.
Reflecting on Change, an independent report by UK disability arts specialist Tim Wheeler, explores the British Council’s global disability arts programme since 2012, celebrating achievements and learnings so far, sharing stories of change in countries such as Bangladesh, South Korea and Indonesia, and making additional recommendations for the future.
An additional report, Time to Act, authored by mobility information network On the Move for Europe Beyond Access, the world’s largest transnational arts and disability project, reveals how a continued lack of knowledge in the European cultural sector creates barriers for disabled artists and audiences.
Reflecting on Change surveyed over 350 arts and disability projects in more than 50 countries worldwide, including exhibitions, residencies and workshops. Interviews took place with over 40 artists and sector professionals, 73% of whom identified as deaf, disabled or neurodivergent. The report highlights the positive impact of the British Council’s disability and inclusive arts activity since 2012 by:
- Raising profiles: supporting international practitioners at key UK disability arts festivals such as Unlimited and DaDaFest; and pioneering disability arts events in countries like South Korea, Indonesia and Qatar
- Changing perceptions: leading innovative projects, including a fashion and performing arts collaboration between the UK and Rwanda which explored disabled perspectives on design, the body and storytelling
- Brokering international connections: building the networks of disabled artists and organisations with key cultural players, such as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and International Network for Performing Arts (IETM); and supporting unique multilateral collaborations, like an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest for the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games by Graeae theatre company and artists in Bangladesh, Japan and the UK
- Building legacies: helping establish ground-breaking inclusive performing arts companies in Armenia, Bangladesh and Indonesia; working with its Europe Beyond Access partners to encourage a major €2.44bn EU cultural fund to prioritise disabled artists and access to arts; and championing the game-changing Cultural Olympiad at the London 2012 Olympic Games
Remarking in the report on the support provided by the British Council, Jess Thom, co-artistic director of creative organisation Touretteshero, says: “The British Council has supported us to take our work all over the world…I’ve experienced first-hand the positive change that’s been created by the organisation’s decision to put disabled perspectives at the centre of their work.”
Despite huge achievements, both reports acknowledge there is still much more to do to make the cultural sector fully accessible to disabled artists.
Time to Act concludes that cultural professionals across Europe lack the knowledge and experience needed to support equal access for disabled artists, disabled arts professionals, and disabled audiences. It gathered 300 responses to an online survey across 42 countries in Europe, as well as conducting interviews and a review of existing literature on disability arts. Participants included venues and festivals, artists and cultural professionals, agencies and funding bodies, and other arts organisations. Almost half stated they were not very or not at all confident in the accessibility of their artistic programmes for disabled artists due to:
- Lack of knowledge: more than half of respondents rated their current knowledge of work by European disabled artists as poor or very poor, with 1 in 6 not having recently seen a production by a disabled artist
- Lack of experience: just 28% of surveyed venues and festivals regularly present or support work by disabled artists, while one third do not regularly engage with disabled audiences. Similarly, 31% of arts organisations admitted not looking for new work by disabled artists
- Lack of access and inclusivity: an alarming 87% of venues and festivals do not include disabled artists in the commissioning process. Only 24% have front of house staff trained in disability awareness, while less than 1 in 5 have an accessible website or booking process
- Lack of funding: over half of arts organisations identified a lack of funding as the main factor preventing them from supporting work by disabled artists or engaging with disabled audiences
- Impact of Covid-19: the pandemic threatens to exacerbate pre-existing inequalities and further limit international opportunities for both disabled artists and audiences
Both reports offer solutions to encourage arts organisations to review the accessibility of their work and ensure disabled people do not ‘disappear once again from the public space’. These include:
- Making research and knowledge more accessible: guidance and best practice examples exist. With more research-based work, knowledge-exchange programmes and support for specialist disability arts organisations from the likes of the British Council, these can be made readily available to all
- Expanding networks and widening collaborations: more than a third of Time to Act respondents cited international programmes and networks like those of the British Council as trusted sources for information on disabled artists, while three quarters of artists interviewed for Reflecting on Change said they were more likely to collaborate internationally having worked with the British Council
- Implementing specific policies and budgets for disability arts: these are identified as key enabling factors: over half of venues and festivals surveyed for Time to Act who had budgets dedicated to accessibility said their organisations had become more accessible in the last five years, compared to 46% of those without similar commitments
- Reviewing programme governance and decision-making processes: involving disabled artists in the design and implementation of programmes and projects, both mainstream and disability-centred, will help build on existing inclusivity efforts
Neil Webb, Director Theatre & Dance, British Council, and commissioner of Reflecting on Change, comments: “At the British Council we believe in the power of arts, cultural relations and equality. Tim Wheeler’s thoughtful research, Reflecting on Change, shows that our global disability arts work has changed lives and challenged perceptions with a sensitive, long-term approach, adapting to 54 different countries. Sadly, disabled people still face barriers against pursuing artistic skills and careers. When we help to address these barriers, and share artistic ideas across borders, our creative lives are richer.”
Ben Evans, Head of Arts & Disability EU, British Council, and commissioner of Time to Act, says: “Those of us working to present and support the work of disabled artists have known for years that knowledge gaps in the mainstream performing arts sector remain constant barriers. This is not new. What is new, and ground-breaking, is to have the evidence to prove this is the case. Time to Act’s transnational data shows this problem extends beyond national boundaries. It shows a European cultural sector that structurally marginalises disabled people as artists, arts professionals and audiences. We hope Time to Act can be a positive contribution to the decisions being made by artists, producers and promoters, major institutions like the British Council and cultural funders and policymakers. The report shares solutions and steps to be taken. But also makes clear, without delay, it really is ‘Time to Act'."
The reports are aimed at policymakers, funders, researchers, organisations and practitioners looking for practical advice on how to be more inclusive towards disabled artists and audiences. Reflecting on Change encourages readers to reflect on how arts can create positive change, inspiring them to undertake their own journeys with disability arts, and to contribute to global conversations about the future of the cultural sector post-Covid-19. Time to Act will be presented to national policy makers and funders throughout Europe in a series of events over the coming months, organised by the British Council in partnership with On the Move.