Curatorial Commission Press Release
14 April 2021
Curatorial Commissions opens the doors for Disabled Curators
Invisible work by invisible people – and doubly so if you are Disabled
• DASH Curatorial Commission programme concludes its initial set of residencies at mac, MIMA and Wysing Arts Centre
• Three disabled curators placed at the heart of organisations, pointing up and addressing serious issues of representation and access within the visual arts
• Hannah Wallis’ curated exhibition Version opens 10 July at Wysing Arts Centre, whilst Thresholds curated by Aidan Moesby is online now at MIMA
A high-level programme aimed at improving access for disabled curators within visual arts institutions reaches its conclusion this summer, with the opening of curator Hannah Wallis’ exhibition Version at Wysing Arts Centre on 10 July.
The programme has pointed up – and hopefully started to address – serious issues of access and representation for disabled people within the visual arts workforce. According to recent figures from Arts Council England, only 6% of permanent employees of regularly-funded visual arts organisations identify as disabled, compared with 21% of the working-age population*.
During 2020-2021 three disabled curators – Anna Berry, Aidan Moesby and Hannah Wallis – undertook residences with mac Birmingham, MIMA and Wysing Arts Centre respectively.
DASH set up the Curatorial Commissions programme as a multi-year collaboration, providing residencies for curators who identify as disabled, looking to further their careers in the arts.
Through years of working with disabled artists and seeking to make the visual arts sector more inclusive and accessible, it became clear to DASH that meaningful progress depended upon disabled people taking positions of influence within visual arts organisations, rather than simply on well-meaning individual projects with limited long-term legacy.
The role of Curator would be key, given the position of influence it holds over what, how and why art is exhibited.
Mike Layward, Director of DASH, explains, “There is so much history of disabled people having awful time within organisations because the day-to-day working life is set up against them. We were determined to avoid that and really address these issues, so had to ensure that our organisational partners fully understood what was expected of them.
“Open plan offices are not good for neuro-divergent people, for example. The 9-5 working day does not suit many people and flexible working hours are vitally important. Sometimes it is easier for a disabled person to spend the night in a hotel rather than be expected to travel and attend a meeting in the same day – having organisations address these small details can be the difference between a disabled person thriving in their career or being pushed out. The three residencies challenged our organisations to really look in detail at the mechanisms of their day-to-day working life and how they can make access a reality. Our three curators have benefited from the programme, absolutely, but our organisational partners mac, MIMA and Wysing have also reaped rewards.”
Aidan Moesby, Curator in Residence at MIMA, took his exhibition online as a result of the COVID Lockdown. Thresholds is an exploration of the impact of COVID on our understanding of home, and can be viewed now at www.mima.art.
Aidan Moesby comments “As a disabled person there are few opportunities to develop your own professional practice. Over 20% of adults in the UK are disabled yet we lack cultural reflection and representation as artists, audiences or employees. At MIMA I didn’t feel like I was tokenised or was there to tick the diversity box. I was embedded within the programme team from day 1. Access is a major barrier to inclusion, particularly within the established structures and processes of institutions. We discussed my needs from the get-go and this was an ongoing conversation, as access needs change over time and with different activities. Addressing these things openly and honestly with the staff at MIMA meant I could just be me and focus on my work. This was the key. These conversations lead to MIMA reflecting on wider inclusion diversity and equality issues, so the learning was two way. ”
Hannah Wallis completes her residency at Wysing Arts Centre this summer with the opening of Version, an exhibition of sound and sculpture works by artist Ain Bailey. In collaboration with the artist, Hannah, who is deaf, will present Ain’s installations around the Wysing site, looking at how sound can be understood and experienced in ways other than the mainstream.
Hannah Wallis comments, “A sense of openness on a daily basis is really important. We’re all learning how to be different with each other, and being asked what you need is key; I believe it helps the entire team if everyone is thriving rather than struggling on in a system that isn’t working. It took me years to accept the realities of my disability, and what is interesting about this residency is that it’s brought me into this conversation in a new way, whereby I have the opportunity to affect change in a much more direct way.”
John Bloomfield, Curator and Acting Head of Programme at Wysing Arts Centre, reflects that “This programme has already had an enormous effect on our organisation. We see this work as a key part of our Mission Statement - we’re interested in what art can do for all kinds of people – and it has made us look at all our structures and procedures to ensure that they work for everyone. We recognise that there’s more to learn to ensure our work is accessible, so it was important for us to work in partnership with experts like DASH in order to make meaningful change.”
Anna Berry’s exhibition at mac Birmingham took place in spring 2020. Art and Social Change: The Disability Arts Movement brought the politics and progress of disability arts to a new, mainstream audience. She comments “For a lot of people, the general idea of access is limited and very mobility orientated. I have never been able to function in a workplace before, and this was the first time I was asked what my needs are; it made a big difference. It’s important to realise that there is no access utopia – one person’s needs might be utterly the opposite of those of the next person – but to have the awareness that some people need extra support, that is key.”
Each curator was given an access budget as well as exhibition budget for their salaried year-long residency, and provided with a key member of staff who would support them during their time with the organisation.
There are plans to repeat the Curatorial Commissions programme in 2021-2022. Institutions wishing to take part will be invited to provide Expressions of Interest from June 2021.
Version curated by Hannah Wallis opens at Wysing Arts Centre on 10 July.
Thresholds curated by Aidan Moseby is available to view digitally on MIMA’s website.
Art and Social Change: The Disability Arts Movement curated by Anna Berry opened at mac Birmingham in spring 2020, and can be viewed at www.macbirmingham.co.uk
For more information contact Helen Stallard on Helen@helenstallard.co.uk or call 0774 033 9604
Notes for Editors:
* Data gleaned from the 2018-2019 Annual Diversity Report from Arts Council England, available to view at https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/developing-creativity-and-culture/diversity#
DASH is a Disabled-led visual arts charity. It creates opportunities for Disabled artists to develop their creative practice. These opportunities take many forms, from high quality commissions to community based workshops, the work it creates is centred around its vision and mission.
DASH works with artists, audiences, communities and organisations to challenge inequality and implement change.
With a history of work including visual arts, dance, theatre, live arts and festivals in Shropshire since the mid-1990s, DASH became a limited company and registered charity in 2001 and in 2004 secured revenue funding from Arts Council England. In 2009 DASH took the decision to specialise its work in visual arts, while expanding its geographical boundaries.
During the last ten years DASH has undertaken truly ground-breaking work – projects that have challenged perceptions, fostered and mentored new Deaf and Disabled artists, encouraged professional development and helped to engineer change in the sector.
DASH partners and funders include Arts Council England, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Garfield Weston, Shropshire Council and ArtFund. As well as support from HM Government in partnership with the National Lottery Community Fund.
DASH is a member of the Plus Tate Network and are we are pleased to be working with Visability Film Festival and the artists collective ArtStudio01.