What does disability mean nowadays? Is it the way you look? The way you talk? Maybe that’s where the thinking once was, but I’m pleased to say that thinking has (albeit slowly) moved on; that it’s not about who or what you are, but how easy it is for you to participate in society on equal terms.
However, still we see a lamentable underrepresentation of disabled people in the social, cultural and political life of their communities. And the world of culture and the arts is no exception. Highlighted in last week’s report from the Warwick Commission, only 3% of those involved in participatory arts self-identify as being disabled, compared to around 18% of the general population.
That’s why I’m delighted we’ve launched our Spirit of Achievement Arts and Culture Challenge Fund. We are currently inviting applications from projects that increase disabled people’s participation in the arts and cultural activities – that means theatre, painting and drawing, literature, music dance – any art form. We want to be as accessible as possible, so we use broad definitions of both arts and disability. On the advice of our Spirit of Achievement Panel, chaired by Paralympian swimmer Susie Rodgers, and including prominent disabled artists Rachel Gadsden and Tony Heaton, we have adopted a broad definition, embracing mental health, learning disabilities and long-term life-limiting illness.
We’re particularly keen to hear from disability led organisations, and those which support disabled people to participate on equal terms with their families and friends. Organisations working in Northern Ireland are also of special interest to us. Even if you don’t quite tick those boxes but you are an arts or cultural body with an exciting and innovative proposition, do please visit www.spiritof2012trust.org.uk/challenge-fund for more information and to download the application form. And do note the closing date of 9am on Monday 20 April.
A commitment to challenging and changing the perceptions of disabled people is at the heart of Spirit’s mission. Arts and entertainment touch people’s lives and emotions in a very raw and immediate way, and are so often the catalyst for the kind of attitudinal shifts we all want to see. Therefore as we push for change it’s more important than ever that spaces and opportunities exist for disabled people to participate, perform and create on equal terms.
Finally, there is another announcement to make. Spirit is seeking to engage wider audiences of disabled and non-disabled people to help us succeed in our mission, and so I am delighted that Liz Sayce has agreed to support us, and help to represent disability led organisations across the UK by joining our Spirit of Achievement Panel.
Debbie Lye, Chief Executive, Spirit of 2012