The Arts Council has awarded hundreds of thousands of pounds to the disability arts movement in a bid to address the under-representation of disabled-led organisations among those receiving its funding.
Arts Council England (ACE) announced this week that it was awarding £5.3 million to 40 organisations as part of its Elevate fund, which aims to increase the diversity of applications for future funding.
ACE’s latest equality analysis published last December, showed that diverse-led organisations, particularly those led by disabled and black and minority ethnic people, were “under-represented” among recipients of funding for its “national portfolio” of arts and cultural organisations.
Organisations awarded funding from Elevate include Disability Arts Online (DAO), which was originally set up by disabled artist Colin Hambrook in 2002, and will receive £150,000 to increase its staff, generate new ways of earning revenue, and support existing projects.
DAO will also create a new consultancy service for arts and cultural organisations, which will “support diversification of workforces, audiences and programmes, supporting equality through the arts sector”.
DAO describes itself as “a portal into the world of disability arts”, publishing editorial, blogs and listings, and “providing a place where opinion pieces, reviews and interviews can be shared and commented on”.
Another disability arts organisation to benefit from the Elevate fund is Together! 2012 CIC, which is aiming to create an international centre of excellence for disability arts in the main Paralympic host borough of Newham as part of the London 2012 legacy.
Together! 2012, which delivers a year-round programme of free arts activities for disabled people, as well as free disabled-led exhibitions, performances and events, will receive £126,000.
Dr Ju Gosling (pictured), who leads the organisation as its artistic director, said the grant was “very, very good news” and a “vote of confidence” in its work and “a clear message to other funders that they do not have to worry about the quality of what we are delivering”.
The funding will allow the organisation to continue with its commitment that all of its arts activities are “free at the point of use”, creating free, safe, accessible spaces “where disabled people can come together and share our culture”.
Part of the money will help disabled artists promote their services in disability equality training and consultancy, offering “creativity as a USP” and particularly targeting the “very large and untapped market” provided by the huge local business and finance sector in east London.
But it will also fund a unique new website that will sell the work of disabled artists, such as prints, music, books, portraits and sculptures, generating income for them and Together! 2012.
Gosling said: “There is quite a big market in black art, there is a market in feminist art, there’s a huge market in indigenous art.
“Disability art meets those same criteria. It is recognised as an international arts movement, there have been lots of exhibitions, conferences, books, but no gallery has wanted to associate itself with disabled people.”
The funding will also help Together! 2012 develop its board of directors and set up a community advisory board made up mostly of locally-based disabled artists.
Together! 2012 was inspired by the late David Morris, who led on disability for the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and was a friend of Gosling.
Before the Elevate award, Together! 2012 had already raised more than £160,000 in funding, including six grants from ACE’s Grants for the Arts programme, as well as funding from trusts, public sector bodies and local businesses.
It began as a free disability arts and human rights festival, spreading across the London 2012 Paralympic Games and UK Disability History Month, but in July 2013 it launched as a social enterprise.
Over the last three years it has delivered activities in at least 22 venues across the borough of Newham.
Next month it will run a tent at the mayor of London’s Liberty Festival, in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on 3 September, just days before the opening of the Rio 2016 Paralympics.
The tent will showcase emerging local talent for the third year in a row, while Together! 2012 will also produce performances around the Olympic Park site for the first time.
Gosling said she was “incredibly proud” of what the organisation had achieved over the last four years through “a team effort”, despite the challenges it had faced and the lack of London 2012 legacy funding for Newham.
She said: “There are now free cultural spaces for disabled people to come out and meet and network and enjoy themselves, whether it’s watching a film, coming to a poetry café, going to an exhibition, a performance.
“We have got some of the most accessible public transport in London, all of our shopping centres have got step-free access; there are very positive things to say about Newham and we want to ensure that a central part of the Paralympic legacy is to say that disabled people are always welcomed here, even if only by us.”
She added: “Disabled people have come together to produce something from 2012 which allowed the local community to engage with the Paralympics when nothing else was being done.
“Nobody gave us permission to do it, nobody asked us to do it. It’s all come from disabled people. I think that’s still unusual in this day and age.
“I like to think that by doing it ourselves as disabled people, it has probably been done a lot better.
“I think there is still something quite special about seeing a bunch of disabled people in one of the poorest areas of the UK, most of them people of colour, coming together from across impairment groups.”
Other disabled-led arts organisations to receive Elevate funding include Salford-based DIY Theatre, which is led by people with learning difficulties and receives £109,560 to support a three-year project to increase its capacity and develop its organisation.
Abid Hussain, ACE’s director of diversity, said: “Diversity is a crucial priority for the Arts Council and the increased scale of our investment through the Elevate fund is a further demonstration of our ambition to drive forward meaningful change.
“We hope it will help ensure the diversity of England is more accurately reflected across our national portfolio over the longer term.”