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Disabled artists call for support for ground-breaking national archive

Disabled artists call for support for ground-breaking national archive
26th June 2012 developer

Campaigners are seeking support for a project that will create the world’s first collection and archive of the work of disabled artists.

The disabled artist Tony Heaton first came up with the idea of a national disability arts archive more than 10 years ago, following discussions with the disabled writer Allan Sutherland.

The idea originally had been to host the archive in one location, but Heaton is now supporting the new National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA), a community interest company which will seek significant funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a “dispersed archive”.

The work – most of which has been donated to the collection by disabled artists – will be archived at several locations across the UK, with much of it also available online.

The work in the collection dates from the mid-1970s and already includes framed photographs, about 15 sculptures, nine works on canvas, four hand-made books, framed poetry, more than 150 objects, and boxes full of other material, including the collections of the former London Disability Arts Forum and Northern Disability Arts Forum.

Two of the most significant pieces that have been loaned to NDACA are works by the renowned disabled sculptor Adam Reynolds, who died in 2005.

The archive also includes all of the Disability Arts in London magazines, books by disabled artists and about disability arts, and “ephemera” such as invitations to exhibitions, catalogues, sets of postcards and photographs.

It is hoped that the collection will be used for exhibitions, academic study and education programmes, with plans for tours and themed exhibitions, said Heaton, perhaps around the anti-Telethon campaign of the early 1990s, the various Disability Discrimination Acts, or particular moments in the history of the disability movement.

The disabled-led arts organisations DaDa, Disability Arts Online (DAO), Shape and Zinc have already signed up to NDACA, while Buckinghamshire New University, the disabled-led theatre company Graeae and Holton Lee are also expected to join.

Heaton, now chief executive of Shape, said: “Disability arts is a British invention, it started in this country.

“We really need to have that archive. We really need to capture some of our history and archive some of the materials. If you don’t have your own history, you have nothing.”

He added: “We have a heritage full of shiny steam trains, castles, country houses and the like… what we don’t have is a comprehensive archive and collection of works relating to our political struggle, which still goes on, and the artistic and creative output that was intertwined within the battle for social change.

“If we as disabled people and disabled artists don’t get behind this bid we actually reinforce the stereotype that we are apathetic and passive recipients.”

Trish Wheatley, director of DAO, said on DAO’s website that the disability arts movement had “a unique position in the history of the disabled people’s movement and has campaigned for disability rights whilst also recording the changes in society that this initiated”.

She said that the objects and materials held by NDACA “hold the key to plugging a huge gap in articulating and understanding the history of disabled people in the UK”.

She added: “At a time when many of the rights disabled people campaigned for are being undermined by cuts in funding, NDACA must be supported in order to make this archive safe and public so that people in the UK can access this unique aspect of their heritage.”

To write a message of support for the project, visit the DAO website.

Meanwhile, DaDaFest has announced the full programme for this year’s festival of music, art, comedy, theatre, poetry, performance, workshops and seminars.

The opening event is on 12 July but most of the festival is taking place from 17 August in venues across Liverpool.

Highlights include performances by Dame Evelyn Glennie, Benny Prasad and Laurence Clark, and the major Dutch contemporary art exhibition Niet Normaal: Difference on Display, which is visiting the UK for the first time.