My manual wheelchair, decoratively inspired by Adam Hills

My manual wheelchair, decoratively inspired by Adam Hills

I went looking for this clip many years ago – here’s why Adam Hills is the spokesperson for Mutants!

 

 

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Further thoughts on the Disability Arts Sector in Ireland

After recovering somewhat from the shock of the Irish Arts Council withdrawing from the ADAI scheme, I finally remembered another piece of news from December that sheds a different light on this decision.

Arts and Disability Ireland announced the Ignite programme, three large-scale commissions of work by professional artists with disabilities for 2014.  I was interested when I first read the headline, “Ignite Commissions Announced: Largest ever investment in Ireland’s arts and disability sector”.  But I felt a bit let down as I read the accompanying press release, since it wasn’t a call for submissions, but an announcement of a fait accomplis.  Three established professional artists with disabilities have already been commissioned to produce high-profile works with community groups of people with disabilities in Cork, Galway and Mayo.

I have no wish to take away from the importance of high-profile professional art created in Ireland.  But it now appears that this project has been undertaken instead of continuing to support a range of artists with disabilities in progressing their careers.  With the withdrawal of the Irish Arts Council from the cross-border Arts and Disability Awards Ireland, there is no longer a support mechanism for those of us who are not yet (nor may ever be) in a position to work full-time as artists and get international recognition.

This got me thinking about an issue that has nagged at me since my days at university.  People with disabilities are not expected to have careers.  Some of us may get jobs, but we are not presumed to have a specialist skill-set, personal ambition or take a hand in deciding just what we want to do with our lives.  For example, an employment scheme set up by government agencies to “encourage” employers to take on one of these dregs of society is structured on the assumption that an employee with disabilities will be between 50% and 80% as productive as employees without disabilities.  The scheme is designed to compensate employers for the inevitable loss of productivity associated with taking on a lesser person. This precludes the possibility of an employee with disabilities being either as productive or even more productive than other workers.

The shift of focus from the Irish Arts Council from supporting career development to high-profile projects, which involve only 3 artists who are already established in their arts careers, is another example of the neglect of people with disabilities’ wishes and ambitions.  I feel that this initiative is a way of making it look as though we have a thriving disability arts sector while simultaneously withdrawing the means for developing that sector.  This feeling is intensified by the structure of the Ignite commissions, where the work will be created alongside voluntary participants from community-based disability groups.  The majority of us are expected to be participants, not leaders or instigators.

Again, while I support the overall work of Arts and Disability Ireland, (the Republic’s counterpart to the Northern Irish Arts and Disability Forum), I have long felt that they have not prioritised supporting the career development of artists with disabilities. Rather, their focus seems to have been on people with disabilities as spectators, audiences, passive consumers of “mainstream” art.  I have no complaint about the availability of audio-described theatre productions, (even if they are mostly in Dublin and mostly mainstream popular shows), but this does reinforce the vision of people with disabilities as a passive, homogenous mass without individual tastes and desires.

It’s unsurprising, since most impoverished and excluded groups are treated this way by a thoughtless “mainstream”.  Gay men are not expected to have various tastes in clothing and music. Moslem women are not expected to have differing opinions about their role in society. The poor everywhere are expected to take the scraps they’re given and be pathetically grateful. So while it may not seem as though this move by the Irish Arts Council and Arts and Disability Ireland will affect many people, it is nonetheless symptomatic of an out-dated attitude from which we in Ireland have never really broken free.

Sad News for Irish Artists with Disabilities and Deaf Artists…

I have just received this via e-mail from the Arts and Disability Forum, from whom I am now even more glad to have just received funding! This is a dark day for Disability Arts and artists with disabilities and deaf artists in Ireland.

 

Arts Council of Ireland withdraws from cross border awards scheme

 

A unique cross border scheme which has benefited dozens of disabled and deaf artists has come to an end after An Chomhairle Ealaion, the Arts Council of Ireland announced it was withdrawing its support.

 

The future is now uncertain for disabled and deaf artists as this signals the end of the Arts and Disability Awards Ireland (ADAI) scheme which has allocated £526,274 to 216 projects on the island since its inception.

 

The decision was revealed in a letter to Chris Ledger, Chief Executive of the Belfast-based Arts and Disability Forum (ADF) which has managed the scheme on behalf of both Arts Councils since the year 2000.

 

The ADF received the news from the Acting Head of Arts Participation of the Arts Council of Ireland. The Council’s letter stated that, as a result of an 11% reduction in its own funding, it has decided to explore alternative ways of meeting the needs of the arts and disability sector in Ireland.

 

Ms Ledger thanked the Arts Council of Ireland for its support over the years, adding that the scheme had been valuable in promoting the careers of disabled and deaf artists.

 

She said: “Of course we understand the pressures on funders but it is sad that the scheme is ending. The ADAI programme has been extremely valuable in providing dedicated year-round support for disabled and deaf artists who are on a professional career path. It has enabled them to compete in a very tough market.

 

She continued “Artists from both sides of the border who have received ADAI bursaries have gone on to win awards, commissions, recording or publishing deals and major grants. For example one of ‘our’ artists was shortlisted for the Hennessey Literature award last year, two albums were released, a Wellcome Trust award was granted and artist who got started with an ADAI grant has won no less than seven international awards in the past couple of years! The funding loss is not about supporting us as an organisation; the ADAI funding wasn’t about us! It levelled the playing field and enabled talented artists to overcome barriers that they face simply because they happen to be disabled or deaf.

 

The ADAI scheme itself is a past recipient of an Aisling award for cross-border co-operation.

 

Chris Ledger pledged that the ADF will continue in its work to promote excellence among artists who are disabled or deaf, saying that the ADF is now in discussions with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, exploring new possibilities for Northern Ireland artists.

 

She added: “We are saddened that this important cross border work has been lost but the ADF will continue to keep in contact with artists in the Republic and even though we can no longer offer money we will still showcase their work through our gallery space and events like Bounce! Arts Festival.”

 

Ms Ledger started to break the news to artists at the launch of ‘Ebb and Flow’, a new exhibition of landscape paintings at the ADF Gallery in Royal Avenue by talented visual artist Cathy Henderson, a previous recipient of an ADAI grant. Ms Henderson is an ideal example of how disabled artists have forged positive relationships on both sides of the border and gone on to thrive.

 

Born in London and living in Dublin, in 2010 she was awarded a commission from the Museums of Northern Ireland and also an RoI Artist in the Community Award. Since 1998 Cathy has taken part four times in the Great Northern Arts Festival in Canada and in 2011, with funding from Culture Ireland, she held a solo exhibition of relief prints in Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon Territory. She recently completed a commissioned project with the Dublin painter Robert Ballagh to design a commemorative artwork celebrating  the centenary of the 1913 Lockout and the establishment of the ITGWU.

 

Messages of support for the Arts & Disability Forum’s work can be sent to chris@adf.ie.

 

Notes to Editors

 

The ADF has received a total of 390 applications since the ADAI scheme began in 2000. From that, 218 projects from both jurisdictions have been awarded a total of £526,274.

 

For more information: contact Gary Kelly on gary@kellypr.co.uk, 02893340275 or 07581282723