Photo shows Liverpool Museum, Open Eye Gallery, and Port of Liverpool Building.
View from the Royal Albert Dock Liverpool. ©

Doc. by Levina Wirawan


From Liverpool to London, via St Helens, Manchester and Bradford – Levina Wirawan, British Council’s Arts programme manager shared six takeaways from our disability arts learning residency UK visit.


In 28 November – 9 December 2019, I had the opportunity to join along with three Indonesian delegates from the disability arts sector on a visit to the UK for the ‘Disability Arts Learning Residency’ programme that was developed by British Council in partnership with DaDaFest. Our delegates are: Aulia Amin – Deputy of Persatuan Penyandang Disabilitas Indonesia (PPDI) and co-founder of Indonesian Disabilities Creative Industry Center (IDCIC), Sukri Budi Dharma a.k.a. Butong – artist and managing coordinator of Difabel and Friends Community (Diffcom), and Ricendy Januardo co-founder of Handai Tuli. We went on a ten-day visit to five cities to learn more about the UK disability arts sector.

The objective of this programme is to offer new reference on artistic and organisational approach, skills exchange and professional networking opportunities focused on disability arts. Here’s my top takeaways:

High quality arts and high accessibility

The inclusion of accessibility is not an impediment to the artistic quality of the work, but something that enhances it. For example, British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters are as performative as the actors, as they are often embedded in the performances. Relaxed performances designed for people who might benefit from a more relaxed environment are gradually becoming the norm and artists are now thinking about making their work accessible to diverse audiences from the get-go.

Arts for activism

With artistic excellence, comes recognition. Festivals or venues would want to programme high quality works by disabled artists, and in turn the artist would have the opportunity to advocate for access. Audience would get to see the artwork and have their perspective shifted. On the other hand, venues will start thinking about access to reach out to a more diverse audience. People would meet and talk after seeing the work, creating new discourse. And the wheels would start turning.

Talking about the real stuff 

We saw Raw., an inclusive cabaret centering on disabled women’s voices in the North West of England. It was hilarious, blunt, and punctuated by uncontrollable references to explicit body parts but so heart-wrenchingly honest that I couldn’t help but think it was an experience every person needed to have to understand disability and impairment and the way it can humorously (and not so humorously) affect a woman’s life. It was one of the most original pieces of work I had seen that completely changed my perception and understanding of living with a disability as a woman.




[Pictures from Left to Right]: Two pictures on the left shows an image of a children playground allows families with small children to come see the artworks and a giant bell-shaped tent built as a calming area with comfortable couches and soft music. Photo on the right  shows an image of a city map on a wall that features listings of places in different colour codes, with the title “Take Care St Helens” under the map in giant prints.
Accessibility Facilities at Madlove Take Over in St. Helens. [Left to Right] A creative project to create a safe and open space for public to understand and care more towards mental health issues.; A care map of St Helens city. The map, created by Hwa Young Jung celebrates special spaces and places in St Helens that offer support, advice and care. ©

Doc. by Levina Wirawan

Photo shows a fabulous disabled woman artist from North West of England performing in a cabaret show.
Photo shows a fabulous disabled woman artist from North West of England performing in a cabaret show. ©

Doc. by Levina Wirawan

Photo shows five people who are an actor, director, and artistic crews discussing a particular scene with a bed as a property.
Photo shows five people who are an actor, director, and artistic crews discussing a particular scene with a bed as a property.  ©

Doc. by Kenya Rinonce

Sense of community and openness

During the visit, we met many artists and organisations. One of which was Proud and Loud Arts, a Bradford-based theatre company – invited us to see their Christmas performance rehearsal, on the middle of the stage no less for us to get VIP experience as well as to sharpen the actors’ focus. We had the privilege to see first-hand how the artistic crews interact with the disabled actors, ensuring they are fully involved in every step of the creative processes. The company members also shared the props and methods they use to rehearse for the performance that accommodate both the needs of the actors and the needs of the potential audience. There’s a feeling of openness, honesty, pride and enthusiasm on our conversations. They generously shared about their working approaches, artistic practices, their struggles, and their never-ending ideas of new work and new collaborations.

The power of the arts

This ten-day visit to five cities created undeniable opportunities for our delegates and me to experience exciting new connections with people and places. Conversations turned into promises, and experiences evolved into meaningful new ideas. But most notable was the power of the arts and culture to allow people to meet and connect, and to move past cultural, physical or mental impairments that may have once prevented such relationships from developing or ideas forming. 

The path may be different, but the goal is the same

On the way back to Jakarta, I have been thinking about what I have observed in the last few days of the visit. There are different working approaches of disabled-led arts collective/companies in UK. Some are focusing in the development of their core members; some are focusing in nurturing new talents. There are also organisations that are simply providing places for people to meet, to work and to share ideas, as well as organisations that bring opportunities, helping young artists sustain and grow. In each and their own way dealing with serious challenges and making significant impacts to bring social change by placing disabled artists in the spotlight in each and their own ways.