NDACA’s Research & Development grants programme will take place this autumn (for information on how to apply click here). This exciting opportunity matches four emerging disabled artists with four key participants in the Disability Arts Movement who will provide mentoring sessions in which they will share their experiences and provide guidance to help these artists develop their practice.

These four mentors are all established artists and creative practitioners: Tony Heaton OBE, Allan Sutherland, Tanya Raabe-Webber and Julie McNamara; read below to find out more about their artistic practices and participation in the Disability Arts Movement, which NDACA - the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive - is currently collecting…

Tony Heaton OBE - sculptor, lecturer, NDACA founder, Shape Chair

Tony Heaton was Shape’s CEO for 9 years of our 40-year history, and is now chair of the organisation. Prior to Shape Tony was the Director of Holton Lee for over 10 years, a disability-led arts organisation through whose doors many Disability Arts Movement artists passed. Beyond his leadership roles, throughout the past 30 years Tony has been a practicing artist in the field of sculpture and performance art.

Tony’s sculpture work has been widely profiled. ‘Monument to the Unintended Performer’ was installed on the Big 4 at the entrance to Channel 4 TV Centre in celebration of the 2012 Paralympics. It was, in his words, ‘created in recognition of all those disabled people who are subject to scrutiny simply by getting on a bus in a wheelchair or walking down the street with a white cane.’

Many of Tony’s sculpture pieces are featured in NDACA; the below image shows a 1992 performance of his famous piece, ‘Shaken Not Stirred’, part of the ‘Block Telethon’ protests. Through the destruction of a pyramid of over 1,000 charity collecting cans, this piece emphasised the needs for social rights as opposed to charity.

Black and white newspaper image of a young white man sitting in a wheelchair with a prosthetic leg slung over his shoulders. He is surrounded by knocked-over charity collecting cans

"The opportunity to act as guide, to listen and reflect, interrogate options and help others to avoid the pitfalls and icebergs on their path to being the best they can be in their personal ambitions, is a real privilege," says Tony, "realising the NDACA project has been a long-held dream and ambition for me. Spending over 20 years in disability-led arts organisations has given me insight, knowledge and experience to enable me to support and guide others on their own journeys into the wonderful world of disability arts. I look forward to some exciting new creative partnerships."

Allan Sutherland - writer, comedian, poet

Allan Sutherland has performed stand-up and poetry and written extensively on the subject of disability and disability arts over the past 30 years. He has used stand-up and performance poetry to address his own experiences of living with epilepsy, which led to him once being described as 'the first political stand-up on the disability arts circuit'. 

Before NDACA, Allan was very much the Archivist of the Disability Arts Movement; he first published his ‘Chronology of Disability Arts’ in 2003. With his 1998 discussion paper ‘Footprints in the Sand’, he was the first person to argue the importance of preserving disability arts for the future.

Allan is the author of many publications, including the award-winning ‘Disabled We Stand’, 1981. A classic text of the disability movement, the book discusses disabled people’s experiences in terms of a personal politics of disability. He was the regular MC of The Workhouse, the first disability cabaret club, and was heavily involved with the London Disability Arts Forum (LDAF) from 1986 to 2008. LDAF produced 'Disability Arts in London’ (DAIL), a long-running magazine which was for many years the journal of record of the disability arts movement. NDACA has accessioned the full collection of DAIL.

Black and white photo of a man laughing into a microphone against a white background. It looks like a poster for stand-up comedy.

In 1992 Allan created and co-wrote ‘Inmates’, the first ever sitcom pilot using a disabled cast. It was later adapted into a radio play in 1977, which was broadcast on Radio Four and won a Raspberry Ripple Award.

Allan has developed the process of transcription poetry as a way of recording the voices of disabled people, with a particular interest in disability artists. This work includes ‘Paddy: A life’ from the words of disabled arts activist Paddy Masefield (www.wearefreewheeling.org.uk/paddy-masefield), ‘The Explorer’, a cycle of poems reflecting the creative journey of visual artist Nancy Willis who is also featured in NDACA (www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/The-Explorer), and ‘Neglected Voices', four cycles of transcription poems based on interviews with disabled people (www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/Neglected-Voices).

Through ‘Electric Bodies’, part of the D4D Project, Allan is currently creating a series of cycles of poems based on interviews with leading disability artists, including Mat Fraser and Tony Heaton OBE.

One of the most important things we can do as disability artists is to nurture those who will succeed us. Mentoring is part of that process.

Tanya Raabe-Webber - visual artist

Tanya Raabe-Webber is an acclaimed disabled artist challenging the notion of identity within contemporary portraiture, often creating portraits of high profile disabled people during live sittings in high profile public art galleries and venues. She has been a professional artist since 1987. Tanya’s extensive collection of contemporary portraits and images of a disabling world in the NDACA Collection often make use of a variety of mediums including mix media collage, digital media, and traditional paint which she blends seamlessly to create her images.

Her popular ‘Who’s Who’ and 'Revealing Culture: Head On' series’ challenge the notion of portraiture using disability aesthetics and visual language. These painted portraits - which have been deposited to NDACA - depict disabled artists and pioneers of the Disability Arts and Cultural sector and were exhibited nationally, including an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 2009: www.tanyaraabe.co.uk/whoswho.html.

Abstract figurative line painting of a naked pregnant woman with a crutch in a tiled room between two columns.

NDACA’s extensive collection of Raabe-Webber’s work sheds light on the aesthetic differences between earlier pieces and her current style of portraiture. The below image shows one of her early artworks, which uses mixed media as opposed to traditional paints.

Her most recent project is ‘Portraits Untold’, is an ambitious live portrait project exploring and celebrating our common humanity; involving a series of live streamed portrait events in high profile venues including the National Portrait Gallery and the National Trust: www.portraitsuntold.co.uk

‘NDACA’s R&D mentoring opens up opportunities to support a new generation. My work is driven by the portrayal of the diversity of humanity, so to be able to meet other disabled artists, nurture the development of new ideas, and support ideas into reality excites me as an artist!’

Julie McNamara - theatre director, playwright, producer and actor

Julie McNamara is the Artistic Director of Vital Xposure, a dynamic theatre production company promoting hidden voices with extraordinary stories. Foremost a theatre practitioner, she is also a producer, playwright, musician, poet and arts development worker. Driven by a passion for social justice and raising the profile of Disability Arts, her work seeks out forgotten voices in the margins of our communities. She is a great advocate within Disability Arts and is constantly seeking out imaginative solutions to open out her work to new audiences.

McNamara is part of the Survivors Movement, producing multimedia work founded on people’s direct experience of the mental health system. Much of this work is being collected by NDACA, including a series of ‘Survivors Poetry’ which many participants of the Disability Arts Movement contributed to.

Close-up portrait painting of a middle-aged woman. The painting is boldly coloured in warm shades.

McNamara has had poetry published in several anthologies by Survivors' Press, Bloodaxe Books, London Irish Women’s Centre and Karnac Books. Her first collection, edited by Joe Bidder and Hilary Porter: Chaos Calls was published in 2012 by Vital Xposure. Spanning three decades of Julie's life the poetry rings out with humour and pathos in measured chunks, illustrating her passion for social justice, touching on the lives of those who have touched hers.

She is dedicated to succession training; bringing in new voices from younger disabled artists and nurturing neglected talent among older artists new to the Disabled People's Movement. Passionate about cultural partnerships she is extending an open invitation to any disabled artists out there with a yearning for change. Every voice matters.


The National Disability Arts Collection and Archive goes live in April 2018 - sign up to our monthly e-newsletter at the bottom of the page for news and future updates!

Click here to read last month's NDACA blog.

Images (top to bottom): Tony Heaton OBE performing 'Shaken Not Stirred'; Allan Sutherland event poster; early painting by Tanya Raabe-Webber; portrait of Julie McNamara by Tanya Raabe-Webber