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.