Arts festival set to make disability history in east London


Organisers hope that a month-long disability arts, culture and human rights festival could become an annual fixture and help turn a London borough into a centre of excellence.

The Together! 2012 festival had been due to take place during the London 2012 Paralympics, but most of the planned events had to be cancelled when its main east London venue was forced into administration.

The festival, which begins this week (16 November) and is organised by the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), will now be part of UK Disability History Month (DHM), with events centred on venues in the east London borough of Newham.

The line-up includes visual arts, poetry, dance and photography, and reflects Newham’s status as the most culturally diverse borough in the country.

Dr Ju Josling, the festival’s director, said: “The aim is to make Newham an international centre of excellence for disability arts.

“We also want to ensure that the experiences we gain in Newham will allow other organisations around the country to start running their own cultural events in Disability History Month.

“We want to show the importance of disabled people organising and participating in our own cultural activities.”

The Together! festival will also promote the importance of article 30 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which describes disabled people’s rights to participate in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport.

As part of the festival, there will be a one-day conference – organised by UKDPC – on the convention.

Another aim is to increase the number of people who engage with the arts in Newham, the borough in the country with the lowest level of arts engagement.

Workshops will play a major part, with sessions on low budget film-making, poetry, story-telling, wheelchair dance and photography.

The festival has secured backing from a wide range of disability and mainstream organisations, including DaDaFest, Disability Arts Online, the University of East London, the TUC, Newham council, the Greater London Authority, Cooltan Arts, East London NHS Foundation Trust and Regard.

Gosling is also working with the east London-based fashion training organisation Caramel Rock and Models of Diversity, which campaigns for more diversity in the modelling industry, to set up a fashion week as part of either this year’s or next year’s festival.

One of the highlights of Together! 2012 will be a three-day film festival at the University of East London, which is being sponsored by Channel 4 and will include the UK premiere of Warrior Champions, the award-winning story of four wounded US veterans who want to compete in the 2008 Beijing Games.

The film festival, from 7-9 December, will include pieces by disabled artists, dance films, work by people with learning difficulties, animations, documentaries and short dramas, and a tribute to the late activist and artist David Morris, whose idea it was to create the festival.

Gosling said: “It was very much David’s philosophy to bring everybody together to enjoy arts and creativity, whether they are amateurs, professionals or have no previous experience – that old punk philosophy that anybody can do anything.”

Together! 2012 will finish with an “End-of-Festival Winter Party” on 18 December, with live entertainment compered by the disabled actor and broadcaster Mik Scarlet.

Although all the events are free, booking is essential for the workshops.

6 November 2012