Unlimited, the artist commissioning programme delivered by Shape and Artsadmin, had a huge presence at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year with six theatre performances and a visual arts exhibition at Summerhall’s Meadows Galleries. 

Combined with work shown by StopGap, Graeae, Access All Areas and many independent disabled artists, this year was a huge milestone for the disability arts movement. Not only was there a strong presence of disabled artists at the world’s largest arts festival, but the widespread media coverage and glowing reviews are a testament to an arts sector that is becoming ever more inclusive.

The Unlimited exhibition, which is on until 5 October 2015 at Summerhall, consists of visual and mixed media installations, paintings and films from leading disabled artists in the UK. Stories of people living on the street echo in the empty doorways of Summerhall’s internal courtyard in Bekki Perriman’s The Doorways Project. Fragmenting the Code(x) by Aidan Moesby and Pum Dunbar leads you into Lea Cummings‘ kaleidoscopic LIFEFORCE ALTAR/ER and on to find out 213 Things About Me (Richard Butchins). The exhibition also includes screenings of Does it Matter?, a series of Channel 4 and Artsadmin commissioned shorts twisting the legacy of war, by Claire Cunningham, Tony Heaton, Jez Colborne, Simon Mckeown, and Katherine Araniello. Video pieces by Sheila HillNicola Canavan and Craig Simpson muse on human fragility, whilst Katherine Araniello (plus her larger-than-life inflatable effigy) hosts a very extraordinary dinner party.

The live performances sold exceptionally well with Touretteshero’s ‘Backstage in Biscuit Land,’ Jo Bannon’s ‘Alba’ and Claire Cunningham’s ‘Give Me a Reason to Live’ being sold out well in advance. Fittings MultiMediaArts’ Edmund the Learned Pig and Birds of Paradise’s Wendy Hoose also enjoyed great attendances.

Debates such as Stopgap’s If Not Now, When?, Disability a Creative Advantage and Producing and the Art of Including Everyone attracted many venue representatives, producers and media, showing that inclusion and diversity are more important than ever in our industry.

The increased visibility as a result of this year’s Fringe has sparked a debate on the importance of funding disability arts; Lyn Gardner wrote a compelling article for The Guardian emphasising the need to provide funding in order to support disability arts:


Celebrations aside, there is still a long way to go in terms of improving access: out of the 5000 shows in the festival, only 75 were BSL interpreted; however this is a big improvement on last year which had only 19. Also, many of venues still have poor physical access, which combined with the city’s hills and cobbled streets, can make the festival experience festival experience daunting, unsatisfactory, and even impossible, for many disabled people.

There is however a noticeable shift in attitude towards access and disability within the venues and festival as a whole, which is a major step forward, with many key bodies – such as Ed Fringe and British Council making real commitments to improvements.  Best of all, many of the conversations which were started have already been continuing. Watch this space!

Image Credit: ALTAR/ER (detail) by Lea Cummings