Funding means national disability arts archive starts to take Shape


theweek120by150A pioneering project to develop an archive for the disability arts movement has secured vital lottery funding.

The National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA) will provide a home for some of the most influential and important work since the birth of the disability arts movement in mid-1970s Britain.

The aim is to preserve and promote works of art and associated items that have been important to the movement, and also upload the collection onto a new online archive.

The project is being headed by the disability-led arts organisation Shape, whose chief executive Tony Heaton first came up with the idea of a national disability arts archive more than 10 years ago, after discussions with the disabled writer Allan Sutherland.

Much of the material is likely to be archived at Buckinghamshire New University, with further works archived by other organisations partnering Shape in the project – DaDaFest, Disability Arts Online, Zinc, Graeae, Holton Lee and the disabled-led digital arts agency filmpro.

There will also be a travelling exhibition of materials from the archive that will visit galleries, libraries and museums.

The collection already includes framed photographs, sculptures, paintings, hand-made books, framed poetry, sets of postcards, catalogues, the collections of the former London Disability Arts Forum and Northern Disability Arts Forum, and a complete set of the Disability Arts in London magazines.

Heaton’s ultimate ambition is for the archive and collection to have its own permanent home.

He said: “This is the first disability-led collection and archive in the world and will be truly unique.

“For the first time the achievements of disabled artists will be properly documented and our rich history will be told.”

He added: “We have a sense of a collective understanding that we need to set out our own archive and own our own history.

“If we don’t, it will be completely lost, or people will appropriate it. It is really important that we take control of it.”

Development funding of nearly £100,000 will help Shape develop plans in preparation for applying for a much larger grant within the next 18 months.

Shape is already displaying 130 works of art from the archive in a pop-up gallery in empty office space in central London*, while on the top floor of the same building, work has begun on piecing together the archive.

Heaton pointed to the close links between the roots of the disability arts movement and the politicisation of disabled people in the 1970s, and said he hoped NDACA would draw the political and arts strands of the disability movement together again.

He said: “It is a great time to do it because of the political pressure on disabled people to be forced to end up back in the 1970s, where we were seen as objects of care and control.

“It’s about tying together the political movement and the arts movement. I think we have got to reconnect that.”

*Shape in the City is open to the public from Monday to Thursday, 10am to 2pm, at 40 Gracechurch Street, London EC3V 0BT.

19 March 2013

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