In the UK, an international disability and deaf arts festival wins prestigious prize

Helen Carter, The Guardian [UK], 1/25/12

The DaDaFest in Liverpool has won this year's prestigious 10,000 Lever Prize, just over a year after fears over the festival's future funding due to Arts Council cuts. The UK's largest disability and deaf arts festival, which attracts international artists was chosen by senior representatives of the 30 largest companies in the north west to receive the prize. In 2011, DaDaFest celebrated its 10th anniversary, having begun in 2001 as a community arts event. Over the last decade, it has attracted 100,000 visitors. When it started, there were a handful of performers; last year the number of artists has swelled to 313, with a total of 1,200 participants and visitor numbers expected to reach at least 11,000. The festival's aims are simple -- to inspire and celebrate talent and excellence in disability and deaf arts. The performances took part in mainstream venues -- Liverpool's theatres, art spaces and galleries, so the festival was accessible to all audiences. The festival's artistic director, Garry Robson, explained its ethos.  "Disabled and deaf people are not simply passive consumers of a tragic destiny but active participants in all areas of life, with a unique and valuable cultural perspective that we plan to share during the festival."  The festival's CEO, Ruth Gould, said that research undertaken to evaluate the festival shows that 75% of participants have gone on to get employment in the creative arts sector. "At DaDaFest we know that the arts give us a voice; give us a hope in a world where we feel excluded, forgotten and ignored," she says. This year's DaDaFest takes place from July 13 to September 2.


Related: Other major disability arts projects planned for the UK in 2012

Same Difference blog, 12/30/11

[2012] will shine a spotlight on the many top-notch art projects by, for and involving people with disabilities throughout the UK. The Cultural Olympiad will make a heavyweight contribution with its strand "Unlimited," featuring dozens of innovative projects, from a large-scale dance work by Candoco Company to theatre piece "The Ugly Spirit," inspired by the lives of conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker. Both London's South Bank and Ilkley Moor in Yorkshire will ring to the sounds of a "symphony of sirens" by musician Jez Colborne; the east Midlands will see 10,000 ceramic flowers bloom, in an installation by Paul Cummins; while artist Susan Austin's underwater wheelchair will make its way through the swimming pools of the south west. A classic will be reinvented at Shakespeare's Globe in May, when "Love's Labours Lost" is performed in sign language. Elsewhere, The "d" Monologues aims to do for the disabled community what Eve Ensler's monologues have done for women. The buzz around Unlimited should draw attention to other arts organisations, from Project Art Works in Hastings to Project Ability in Glasgow, many of which develop work by people who have mental health issues and learning disabilities. There are also initiatives to make galleries more accessible: at Nottingham Contemporary, visually impaired people are reworking the gallery's audio guide.


Commentary: It is still rare for disabled arts to reach the 'mainstream'

UK playwright Kaite O'Reilly on her blog, 1/1/12

In Water I'm Weightless will be National Theatre Wales' 20th production, produced in July 2012, setting an important precedent about which practitioners and what content are produced on a national platform. It's rare for the material which makes up [this work] to reach the 'mainstream' -- and it is even more rare for such a high profile trans-cultural experiment to happen. I have one foot in the 'mainstream' and one in disability arts -- and previously it was a case of never the two shall meet... It has taken several decades to reach this position where I can openly fold disability content into a 'mainstream' project without having to find clever ways of hiding it and my intentions, or endlessly having to justify this way of being, or why I might want to write about human difference whilst challenging established parameters of 'normality'. There's often an assumption that this kind of work has no place in the 'mainstream' - or it will be hectoring, or politically correct. Personally, I'm far more interested in the provocatively politically incorrect - and am sure that the combination of NTW's creative team and the witty, subversive performers will ensure In Water... is anything but 'worthy'.


Commentary: Should art by people with disabilities be considered 'outsider art'?

Sarah Douglas, The New York Observer, 1/24/12

London's three-year-old Museum of Everything is dedicated to what most of us call outsider art. [Its founder, James] Brett has long been vocal in his disdain for that term, a catchall for a hodgepodge of self-taught, folk and vernacular creations, as well as art by the mentally ill and handicapped. Nevertheless, this week he is launching his first foray into New York at the Outsider Art Fair, with an installation of his Shop of Everything, the store that accompanied his museum's latest exhibition of work by 200 people with disabilities (ceramic cameras by a man who is deaf and blind; fantastical scenes painted by a woman who is deaf and has cerebral palsy). We were surprised he was showing at the Outsider Art Fair. "Me too," he replied, and launched into the "long philosophical rant" that is his objection to the term. The gist is that, far from being "outside" the tradition of art-making, so-called outsider art is actually central to it, in the sense that it represents a pure form of creativity that harks back to original forms of human expression, such as cave painting. He thinks the term carries shades of a kind of cultural segregationism, and bigotry. Creativity, he maintains, comes before language. He zipped through the history of the material. The artist Dubuffet's becoming interested in Art Brut. Collectors acquiring work by mental-hospital patients. MoMA founder Alfred Barr's taking an interest in vernacular art. Then he stopped. "People liked the coolness of the name 'outsider.' The more it infiltrated, the more everybody was an outsider artist. When I made the museum, I would get no end of people coming up to me and going, 'Hi, I'm an outsider artist.' Every good artist thinks they're a bit of an outsider. Let's be honest: every good artist is probably a bit of an outsider. So what the hell does it even mean?"


Commentary: Chuck Close on the creative process for a handicapped artist

Dylan Klempner on his blog, 1/2/12

Art making is often a solitary business. In fact, many choose to become artists precisely because they enjoy working alone. That is true for painter Chuck Close. In a 2007 interview, Close described the working methods that have allowed him to continue to paint with minimal assistance from others after a spinal artery collapse in 1988 left him paralyzed from the neck down. Close is known internationally for his enormous, nine-foot portraits of human faces on canvas. Prior to becoming paralyzed the artist painted with the help of a forklift truck. As a result of his impairment, however, he needed a new working method. Maintaining independence and solitude were primary goals. "You become an artist because you wanted to be in a room by yourself," he says. "And all of sudden you're handicapped and you need help. Well, you want to make it as much like it used to be as you can..." Close's solution has been to work in a two-story studio where he can move his paintings vertically through a hole in the floor. Though Close enjoys the seclusion of the art-making process and tries to work unassisted as much as possible, his paintings express the personal connections he shares with other human beings. Close was born with Prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces. He has said that the disorder is part of what motivates him to paint enormous portraits of friends and family members' faces. Through his paintings he hopes to etch the details of people's faces onto his memory so that when he meets with them again "face-to-face," he will know them more deeply. Close's work reminds us that regardless of how it gets made, all art is done in the context of the community in which it is made. Art -- whether it is painting, music, poetry, or dance -- speaks through self-expression and shared transcendence. It is a byproduct of human relationship.

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