Shape's Georgia Macqueen Black, who works on our NDACA (National Disability Arts Collection and Archive) project, talks about her time speaking at the British Council Mexico's Arts and Disability conference about social inclusion, disability and public policy, and delivering a workshop...!

In March 2017, I was invited to take part in the British Council Mexico’s Arts and Disability conference, held at the Museo Memoria y Tolerancia (Museum of Memory and Tolerance) in Mexico City. Many important cultural and social organisations from both Mexico and the UK were represented, including policy institutions dedicated to resolving human rights issues, and various practitioners from the disability arts field. These different insights – both artistic and political – provided a textured framework in which to discuss arts and disability. The cultural experts positioned art as a space where disabled people can explore their emotional response to discrimination; political practitioners in turn explained the long-term process of implementing policy changes towards inclusivity in Mexico. 

My role was to speak on a public policy panel about social inclusion, disability and public policy, and also to deliver a workshop about my involvement in the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA), a £1-million Heritage Lottery Fund project delivered by Shape Arts that will be completed in April 2018. NDACA is collecting the unique 40-year history of the UK’s Disability Arts Movement, a heritage story of disabled people and their allies who overcame barriers, protested for equality and made inspiring art along that journey – ultimately achieving lasting change with the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995.

The two-day conference gave me the opportunity to think more deeply about the political and artistic resonances of the Disability Arts Movement, and how Shape can collaborate with museum, arts and government professionals working today. The Museo Memoria y Tolerancia was a fitting location for these discussions – the museum interprets complex historical issues with sensitivity and eloquence, and provided a reflective background for personal experiences of disability intolerance.

The conference was an exciting professional environment in which to explore the benefits of NDACA as a digital archive - how our tools and resources could eventually have international reach. During the panel discussion, I shared the specific context of the Disability Arts Movement: its grassroots beginnings, how disabled activists and artists formed the social model of disability, setting out the destructive precedent of a disabling world and society’s need to restructure itself to include disabled people. I also spoke of art as the heart of a political movement, allowing disabled people to challenge the mainstream view that their lives are isolated and hopeless, and how this is continued today through Shape.

I hope that those who attended the conference were able to understand the history behind the current access to the arts for disabled audiences and artists in the UK. One of the key lessons of the Disabiliy Arts Movement is that artistic and political action lead to changes in public policy for disabled people. For this reason, it felt significant that NDACA was presented at the conference alongside Unlimited, the successful disability arts commissioning programme, also co-delivered by Shape. Together, these examples of UK disability arts practice provided a hopeful model for furthering the impetus for cultural inclusion in Mexico.

My lasting impression from the conference will be the enthusiasm for disability rights and the arts from attendees and organisers alike. It was a privilege to be able to learn from British Council Mexico about the international organisations and festivals which also have disability arts at their centre, and I am certain there will be collaborations between Mexico and the UK in the future.

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Banner Image: Attendees and speakers at the conference British Council Mexico’s Arts and Disability conference, c. British Council Mexico

British Council