Disabled-led arts organisations have welcomed millions of pounds in annual funding awarded by the Arts Council, although new figures suggest that progress in expanding investment may have stalled.
Arts Council England (ACE) has awarded funding to 32 disabled-led organisations, with the total funding awarded just two per cent of the total allocated through the 2023-26 Investment Programme.
It’s not clear whether this is an increase on the last set of awards, which were announced in 2017 to cover four years of funding and then extended for a year because of the pandemic.
Although 35 disabled-led organisations were awarded funding in 2017, ACE said this could have been an over-estimation because of a dispute at the time about the way the question defining a disabled-led organisation was phrased.
The total funding awarded by ACE to disabled-led organisations is £7.25 million a year, and again it is not possible to compare that accurately with the last announcement in 2017, which saw £7.029 million a year handed to disabled-led arts organisations.
The number of black, Asian and ethnically diverse-led organisations awarded funding has risen from 53 to 148, when compared with 2017, and now makes up 8.4 per cent of the total investment over the next three years, compared with two per cent for disabled-led arts organisations.
In all, ACE awarded funding to 990 organisations.
In 2014, after a fall of 30 per cent in the number of disabled-led arts organisations funded through the national portfolio programme, and a fall of nearly 15 per cent in their annual funding, ACE pledged to take action.
There has since been an increase in the number of disabled-led arts organisations that receive funding awards, from 23 in 2014 to 32 this year, but the increase is far lower than the increase in the number of black, Asian and ethnically diverse-led organisations awarded funding, which has risen from 52 in 2014 (PDF) to 148 this year.
An ACE spokesperson told Disability News Service (DNS): “We are committed to seeing further progress in terms of funding disability-led investment.
“We recognise that while progress has been made, an increase in leadership roles for example, there is more we can do over the coming years.
“We hope to publish an equality action plan in the coming year setting out some of what we will do in response to key issues identified, including the continued under-representation of disabled people.”
The total funding of £446 million per year by ACE is made up of £351.8 million from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, £0.5 million from the Department for Education and £93.9 million from the National Lottery.
ACE figures show that six of the 32 disabled-led organisations with awards will receive an annual investment of up to £100,000; 17 will receive between £101,000 and £250,000; and eight will receive between £251,000 and £500,000.
Just one disabled-led organisation – Graeae Theatre Company – will receive more than £750,000 (£769,000 a year), which sees its award increase from about £575,000 a year.
Graeae was among those disabled-led arts organisations celebrating their own success but also expressing empathy for those that lost out.
Jenny Sealey, who this year celebrates 25 years as Graeae’s chief executive and artistic director, said: “Graeae is unbelievably happy that we can continue nurturing the skills and creativity and provide artistic platforms for an ever-growing cohort of Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent artists.”
But she added: “We are mindful that not everyone has had good news, so it is bittersweet.”
Disability Arts Online (DAO), which like Graeae receives a significant increase in funding – from about £100,000 a year to nearly £150,000 – said: “We are delighted that this critical funding will enable us to continue nurturing our thriving community, alongside delivering impactful talent and sector development work, underpinned by exceptional creative content.
“The DAO team were particularly humbled by the fact that our hard work over our first five years as an NPO* has been recognised through a successful additional request for funds.
“These will specifically support an ambitious digital exhibition programme led by a disabled curator employed within our team.
“We recognise that today hasn’t brought good news for every organisation applying and that some sector colleagues are now having to consider what this means for their future.
“We will continue to strongly advocate for a fully representative arts sector that values diverse and intersectional voices.”
Dr Ju Gosling, artistic director of Together! 2012, which saw its award increase from about £60,000 to more than £105,000 a year, said she was delighted to be funded again, following the decision – due to the pandemic – to transition to becoming an online-only organisation.
Together! 2012 will receive an increase in funding that will allow it to employ an apprentice and a trainee artistic director.
But she said that, as a relatively new London-based disabled people’s organisation, Together! 2012 had been disadvantaged in comparison with longer-established London-based arts organisations and those outside the capital, even though it is based in Newham, in east London, which has the lowest level of cultural engagement in the UK.
She said: “In terms of the figures overall, disabled people make up 20 per cent of the population, and accessible booking systems, venues and performances are still very much in the minority.
“So we are still significantly disadvantaged in terms of public arts funding as a result of these decisions.”
Together! 2012 is due this evening (Thursday) to accept an East London Community Heroes Award for the year’s “outstanding initiative in art and culture”. Its free annual Disability History Month festival runs from 22 November to 8 December.
Jess Thom, co-founder of Touretteshero, which receives its first national portfolio award from ACE – £370,000 a year – said: “I’m excited that Touretteshero is set to join Arts Council England’s national portfolio and for what it will make possible, both for us as an organisation and for the communities we’re part of.
“We’re really pleased that many other fantastic disabled-led companies were successful too, particularly during such a turbulent and unpredictable time politically, socially and economically.
“We’re keen to continue working with ACE to ensure that disability culture and leadership is nurtured and expanded across the country.”
*National Portfolio Organisation – part of ACE’s national portfolio funding programme
Picture: (From left) Jess Thom, Ju Gosling and Jenny Sealey
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