Where are the Disabled Curators?

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After I had presented at the Southbank Festival I headed up to Glasgow to speak there about my increasingly digital practice and the Unfixed Residency. I had a few moments to reflect and wrote this for kimaskswhat.online. There is a real shortage of disabled curators and no real model that fits the producer model of performance. As a disabled Curator this concerns me. Here is a start at thinking about this.

In the last 10 days I have been at the Unlimited Southbank Festival followed by a week long residency at the Pervasive Media Studio in Watershed, Bristol. The residency brought together artists from the UK and Australia to explore Digital and Disability – a conversation which started in Adelaide last October – under #Unfixed. A collaboration between Australian Network for Art and Technology, Access2Arts and Unlimited.

I mention this because I have felt both incredibly supported and liberated by being surrounded by people with disabilities within this context and yet it has raised many conflicting feelings too.

In London there was no hint that you had to justify or explain your disability. You were not any less or more of a person because of it. I knew I was existing in a tolerance bubble. Outside on the other side of the world the Paralympics were going on in Rio. The heroes and inspirers – Channel Four took out huge billboard adverts with Paralympians posing and the word ‘disability’ below with the ‘Dis’ crossed out. In one mark denying so many people of their identities or part of their identity. What if you aren’t a hero, what if you don’t inspire – what then for your worth as a human being, as a person. What if you can’t get out of bed or dress yourself? What if you need assistance and can’t walk 10metres let alone run 26 miles? This insidious disability inspiration porn and the hero tropes hung over the southbank – a dark weighty cloud of malevolence.

To add to this, for me, there is a lack of representation in the paralympics of hidden disabilities. Of particular interest to me is the complete lack of Mental Health acknowledgement – no classes for us there. We are denied a presence and a voice.

In some way this resonates with me around issues in the arts and disability world. Performance by disabled artists has improved in quality dramatically over the last few years. Last year at Edinburgh Fringe Festival a huge number of disability lead performances drew in the mainstream crowds, and rightly so. This year at Edinburgh, as a writer with The Sick of the Fringe, I saw a huge variety of issue based live works. The Unlimited festivals continue to invest and showcase the best of the best in performance, dance and live arts. Long may it continue.

Conversely, as a visual artist with a hidden disability – I feel under represented, under acknowledged, not just me, but I look around for my peers and wonder where they are. I wonder where are the white cubes, the hallowed conceptual walls, the abstracted spaces of the galleries, the cathedrals of modern art to be showcased in.

I meet producers at events and I am glad of it, but where are the curators? Surely the ‘Producer’ model of performance is similar to the ‘Curator’ model of art. Somewhere there is a dis-connect, that for me, does not quite add up.

This brings me back to Bristol Watershed, the Pervasive Media Studio, where diversely disabled writers, producers, theatre makers, photographers, visual artists, filmographers and technologists met and worked together. I had a glimpse of a possible future and I took my first steps towards it.

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