A day of action on social media has celebrated disability culture and highlighted the concerns of disabled artists about their future as they struggle with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Artists and cultural leaders shared work by disabled visual artists, actors, directors, writers and dancers throughout yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon and evening, through an action led by the new disability arts alliance #WeShallNotBeRemoved, which was formed as a reaction to the impact of the pandemic on disability arts.
Their efforts saw the hashtag #WeShallNotBeRemoved trending as high as number three in the UK on Twitter.
Artist Rachel Gadsden said on Twitter: “Today all day I am celebrating the disability arts movement, which I am proud to be part of.
“I am celebrating being a disabled artist, and demanding that we are involved in national planning about life in art and culture after #Covid19.”
Poet Ellen Renton tweeted: “It’s hard to ascertain the impact of the covid-19 crisis on the arts, but it’s indisputable that disabled artists must be at the forefront of the important decisions regarding how we move forward.”
Another disabled artist, Kekezza Reece, said on Twitter: “A storm is coming and we have to make sure disabled people are not pushed out of art.”
There were images and videos from scores of theatre productions and other art and mentions for hundreds of disabled creatives and disability arts organisations.
From Claire Cunningham to Mat Fraser, from Dave Toole to Jamie Beddard, from Paula Garfield to Cherylee Houston, from Amit Sharma to Jess Thom, and from Nadia Nadarajah to Bobby Baker, disabled artists from across the UK added their voices to the social media action.
Theatre company Graeae, which has played a key role in the campaign, released a new video featuring some of its disabled artists, colleagues and collaborators talking about the impact of the pandemic.
They spoke of how “work has disappeared”, and of the “sense of panic” they felt during the pandemic.
One of them, musician and activist John Kelly, said: “The pandemic has been a real indicator of how much the government has valued disabled people’s lives.
“The pandemic has just amplified our experience of discrimination.”
One disabled artist told Graeae that the lockdown had made “so many people feel alone and less empowered”.
Another said: “I am terrified that we will be left behind.”
And another said: “In the future, I hope the mainstream theatre world, the art world, won’t forget deaf and disabled artists, because in the future our ideas have to thrive again.”
Andrew Miller, the government’s disability champion for arts and culture, told Graeae: “Disabled people must be part of shaping the recovery and the future of our industry.
“We need to resist the ableism that will undoubtedly emerge to drive national reconstruction.”
Last week, in the campaign’s first action, more than 100 leading disabled artists and cultural leaders called on the culture secretary to protect the future of disability arts in the UK.
In a letter to Oliver Dowden, and culture ministers in the UK’s devolved governments, they warned that the coronavirus pandemic had left many disabled artists “facing long term shielding, a total loss of income, compromised independent living and the risk of invisibility in wider society”.
They called on the government and the arts sector “to ensure the progress we have collectively made does not falter in this moment of crisis”; to prioritise and celebrate disabled artists, employees and audiences; and to ensure that the renewal and recovery of the wider cultural industries was guided by “a fully inclusive approach informed by disabled creative professionals”.
Picture: One of the images shared during the day, from Unseen, by Suzie Larke, an Unlimited commission
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