Cultivating spaces for extraordinary artists

DASH Artistic Director Retires

"I wanted to write to say how much your advice, guidance and gentle (but effective) persuasion has transformed my world. It really has. I literally wouldn't be on the path I am now without you - so a HUGE thanks from me.”

Joanna Holland, Disabled artist in residence, Wysing Arts Centre 2022.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

This month sees Mike Layward retire as Artistic Director of DASH, a post he has held since 1999.

During his tenure, Mike has been instrumental in DASH gaining a national reputation as a leading Disability visual arts organisation. He has managed commissioning projects such as Inside, Tu Fewn and the Curatorial Residencies projects which has seen d/Deaf and Disabled artists commissioned to make new work and curate exhibitions in established mainstream art venues. Most recently, Mike led a team to secure the Ampersand Foundation Award for the ambitious We Are Invisible We Are Visible (WAIWAV) project, which saw 31 artists stage interventions in 30 galleries and arts venues across the UK.

Mike has also been key to developing and delivering mentoring schemes for d/Deaf, Disabled and neurodivergent artists, and establishing the ‘Awkward Bastards’ series of forums, which offered space to discuss difference and explore the issues and barriers facing artists with the mainstream visual arts.

A participant of the mentoring scheme said, “It has been a really amazing journey for me with DASH and the mentoring I have received .... through this mentoring scheme I have gained in confidence - ten fold!”

Mike’s input to the 2017 publication ‘The Incorrigibles: Perspectives on Disability Visual Arts in the 20th and 21st centuries’, which was devised as an important resource to recognise and promote understanding of the recent history of Disability arts was invaluable, bringing together artists that DASH has worked with over the past two decades. The book aimed to promote the position of d/Deaf, Disabled and neurodivergent visual artists in the present, and to inspire new and more enlightened practices in the future.

Prior to joining DASH, Mike worked in the arts for nearly 40 years as a performer, musician, carnival designer, maker, puppeteer, producer, director and live artist. He has worked across the UK, France, Holland, Spain, Palestine and India.

Mike studied for an MA in Activism and Social Change (Leeds University) 2009, and his philosophy is based on the belief that the arts are and have to be a vehicle for Social change – a belief that has been the backbone of his work with DASH.

Staff have paid tribute to their much-loved colleague. Operations Director Paula Dower said,

“I have worked with Mike Layward, Artistic Director of DASH since September 2004. He truly is an Awkward Bastard, and he will be missed enormously by myself and all the team at DASH.

Mike has devoted the last 20+ years to DASH, taking leadership in Disability Visual Arts to a new level. His tireless enthusiasm for equality has seen over 20 galleries across the UK incorporating DASH's commissioning programmes into their organisations supporting Disabled visual artists to become the leaders of tomorrow.

During lockdown, Mike refused to step back, realising that this was the time that Disabled artists needed DASH the most. From March 2020 to September 2022, he mentored over 120 Disabled artists via Zoom.

Mike decided that his retirement year would see the biggest event to date, the largest single day takeover of 30 galleries across the UK, from Orkney to Cornwall and from Derry to Margate, with 31 artists. All involved, I hope, will be developing learning from the day that will further place Deaf, Disabled and Neurodivergent artists in the heart of arts and culture in the UK.

I hope this reflects on my appreciation of his work and his selfless dedication to Disability Rights, Disability Arts and Disabled people, especially during the pandemic.”

DASH’s Chair Craig Ashley also paid homage to Mike:

“The contribution Mike has made as a driving force within DASH is immeasurable. From the high-profile work with galleries and museums to the hours and hours of mentoring to artists and curators that has gone largely unseen, he has enabled progress in a sector that is tough to change and made a substantive difference to organisations and individuals who work within the visual arts. For DASH, Mike has been a constant and an inspiration, galvanising the board and the team around a bold and provocative vision that has sought to playfully disrupt the visual arts mainstream, and made visible the challenges faced by Disabled people both in the sector and beyond it. He has provided a solid base from which DASH can continue to build as we move into our third decade, and we’re incredibly grateful to him for all he has done.”

Mike will be undertaking a practical art course at Hereford College of Art, and will be continuing to work with the team in a freelance capacity advising on the Future Curators Programme.

The Board and staff team at DASH wish Mike all the best for his retirement.