Disabled people are to hold a major international disability arts festival to run in parallel with the London 2012 Paralympics.
The free festival will take place in and around a park in east London, less than two miles from the main Olympic Park, and will probably start and end on the same days as the Paralympics opening and closing ceremonies, on 29 August and 9 September.
The Memorial Recreation Ground is run by Newham council and is a short walk from West Ham station, one of the “gateway” stations for the 2012 games, which is on the accessible Docklands Light Railway and the Jubilee tube line.
In contrast to the annual one-day Liberty disability arts festival in central London, which no longer focuses on rights issues, the new event – currently titled The Together Festival – will put disability rights at its heart, and will be led by the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC).
Organisers hope to share some work with the major Liverpool-based disability arts festival DaDaFest, which will take place from mid-July to early September, and to build close links between Newham and the city of Liverpool.
The disabled artist Ju Gosling, who will direct the festival, said there would be a “strong rights-based element to the festival”.
She said: “London used to have a four-week long disability arts festival and a four-day long international disability film festival.
“Now there is just Liberty, which is in central London, and now positions itself as just an arts festival, without any emphasis on disability rights.”
She added: “We see it as an opportunity to showcase the accessibility of Newham, which is probably the most accessible borough in the country and led the way on inclusive education.”
Jaspal Dhani, UKDPC’s chief executive, said: “We feel the Paralympics next year will be the ideal platform to draw attention to disabled artists and their work.”
But he said it was also a “way of bringing the disability rights message into the public domain”.
He said the festival would be a “great opportunity” to promote the work of UKDPC, but also a chance “for the movement as a whole to be showcased and profiled”.
He added: “This is our opportunity to be seen, to be heard, to be visible.”
The festival will include a two or three-day international symposium looking at how the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities can be used to improve disabled people’s access to art, culture and sport.
Disabled people will also be able to access information and advice about jobs, education, transport and other aspects of independent living.
Gosling hopes visitors to the Paralympics will come to the festival before or after watching 2012 events at the Olympic Park, and that Paralympic athletes will “hop on the train and come down” from the athletes’ village.
It is hoped the festival will feature a big screen, so visitors can watch live coverage of the Paralympics in between sampling the performances and exhibitions.
Gosling now wants to hear from all disabled artists with work they would like to include in the festival.
The Together Festival has already won the backing of Newham council, West Ham United Football Club, the two local Labour MPs, Stephen Timms and Lyn Brown, and Richard Barnes, one of Boris Johnson’s deputy mayors.
It will be branded as part of the 2012 cultural programme being run by the five Olympic and Paralympic “host boroughs” – Greenwich, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest – and will be the focus for cultural events taking place in Newham during the Paralympics.
Although it will have no official connection to London 2012, the festival will be branded as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
Gosling said it was hoped to pay for the free festival entirely through sponsorship and other funding, without having to ask Newham council for any financial support.
She said: “Our goal is to show it is possible to fund the festival as a commercial event, because that would make such a difference to the future of disability arts.”
The festival has tentatively been named in honour of the words of the disability rights campaigner, and mayoral adviser, David Morris – “Together we can change the world” – who died last year.
The festival was originally the idea of Morris, Gosling, and Julie Newman, UKDPC’s acting chair.
Any disabled artists interested in taking part in the festival, and individuals or organisations considering funding or sponsorship, should email UKDPC at [email protected].
22 September 2011