This month, Georgia Macqueen Black, NDACA Project Team, on remembering the importance of the Disability Arts Movement.

Digitally preserving 30 years of the Disability Arts Movement requires time and careful thought; first, you must scan each piece of ephemera until the whole story becomes ‘digital’, then your role develops into something more: a curator of disability art, engaging with the past to create a collection of cultural history for the present.

Last autumn I followed NDACA into the rich history of the Disability Arts Movement. I remember sitting down to write this blog at Holton Lee in Dorset, the disability arts centre set up by Shape Chief Executive, Tony Heaton OBE, that now waits for its renovation into a respite centre for spinal injuries. Downstairs, we wiped artworks clean before they were photographed and entered into the world of NDACA; upstairs in the attic, other deposits laid waiting in the unforgotten world of disability arts, a heritage of broken barriers and inspiring culture belonging solely to disabled people. 

Sign that reads: Equality? Man on the moon 1969, full access to public transport 2020.

The Way Ahead, by Caroline Cardus, 2004.

The heritage collected by NDACA is one of the great stories of our time. We show disabled people at their angry and creative best, complex individuals demanding change and refusing to be patronised. One significant piece by the artist Caroline Cardus transforms a roadsign into a biting declaration of injustice. She asks an unsettlingly truthful question; how can our world be equal when we’ve chosen to leave earth before disabled people have full access to public transport? Cardus is just one disabled artist unafraid to point the finger at a society that denied its citizens basic human rights.

Disabled people can achieve with as much fire and insight as anyone else, but no social reward comes when you are refused free movement. Those involved with the Disability Arts Movement believed in their own creative potential when the outside world would not; NDACA hopes to transform how the public currently engages with disability, looking past discrimination to understand the margins as a place from which to fight back.

We believe the DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) would not have passed through Parliament without the Disability Arts Movement forcing people to see disability differently. This legislation is rooted by a colourful, energetic history: protests, songs, slogans and newspaper clippings that will eventually fold and unfold together in NDACA’s digital and analogue world.  

Artist Tanya Raabe in-front of her nude self-portait.

Tanya Raabe poses with her self-portrait

Tanya Raabe-Webber, a depositing artist for NDACA, has a past marked by the typical marginalisation of disabled people: long periods spent in hospitals, patronising visits from charities and members of royalty, a “sick little girl” receiving the treatment society thought was best for her.

The Tanya I met in 2015 is a vibrant, assertive and critically important artist, whose portrait work carries a new way of seeing disability into mainstream British culture. Her paintings convey the colours of rights and pride rather than shame and difference; Tanya’s partnership with NDACA will give those colours a wider platform when included in our digital touring cinema and documentaries, to begin filming in 2016.

Poster reads: Strength Broadsides from Disability on the Arts

Strength - Paddy Masefield

Along with Tanya, the other disabled people pledging to NDACA have waited far too long for a high-end media project to preserve their work. When we go live in 2018, the public will experience the disability arts movement as one unravelling display of diversity. I am learning so much about how to bring heritage towards the digital; our task is to re-affirm every trial of the Disability Arts Movement for the glory of its original detail.

I have my own experience of invisible disability, too, as a Type 1 Diabetic, and feel fortunate to work in an environment where my access needs are met without ever having to ask permission. I can take breaks if and when I need to, accessing a foundation from which I am free to be creative. Whenever I sit down on-set, quietly observing the breadth of history that builds through each person captured in photographs and posters, I know we have only reached the first layer of what NDACA will become.

Right now we are working through the middle, the time after past events and before the world is re-introduced to the movement of Disability Arts. Our content was always there already, in the work and saved objects of disabled artists scattered all over the country. NDACA will be the final piece to bring these stories together, transforming 30 years of disability art into an everlasting collection of British cultural heritage.

Banner image: Strength - Paddy Masefield


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