Shape Arts has been the leading and innovative force for the inclusion of disabled people into the creative and cultural sector since our inception in 1976, when dancer Gina Levete MBE first took the idea of Creative Movement into the classrooms of disabled children. Shape was a unique organisation, London based, and the ideas promoted by Shape were radical.

Over the intervening years and throughout the political changes that saw the first ever legislation enshrining rights for disabled people, Shape was at the forefront, developing access audits that clearly articulated the changes and improvements that cultural institutions would have to make to include disabled people, delivering Disability Equality Training to ensure that the staff teams in those institutions welcomed and understood the needs of disabled people, employing artists and initiating the first ever National Disability Arts Conference in 1991. 

Sally Booth and young artist at Liberty Festival 2014Throughout this time we have worked constantly with the major cultural institutions to partner positive change for disabled people. As a result of all this work the focus of our activity has changed and our current strategic plan is to now work more closely with disabled creatives at all stages of their development and to broker opportunities for their full inclusion into the mainstream of arts and culture.

This direction is predicated on the work we have been doing over the past five years and the evaluating of the impact of that work. Evidenced by the growth, popularity and success of the Shape Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary, described in the media as the Turner Prize for disabled artists, ARMB has drawn in mainstream partners who see the value of this collaboration with Shape, and Patron Sir Antony Gormley (RA), as such we now have venues agreed and booked for the next four years including the V&A, Turner Contemporary, Margate, New Art Gallery Walsall and Pallant House Gallery whilst retaining the enthusiasm of our existing partners such as Camden Arts Centre and Spike Island. 

The Shape Open, a new innovative opportunity engaging disabled and non-disabled artists has proved hugely successful, and will continue to grow the confidence and profile of artists and give Shape an opportunity to see new artists who we will want to develop as part of a virtuous circle of sharing and gaining learning.

Our Learning and Development work continues, with our three year BIG Lottery funded Inspiring Futures project which builds on the earlier project work funded by BIG in the field of Learning, Training and Development. This work feeds the progression into our virtuous circle of growth, mentoring and the development of leadership skills.

Continuing our partnerships with the high profile National Portfolio Organisations that we work with, such as the Royal Opera House, National Theatre, Tate and the South Bank Centre is vital to our reputation, as is the work we will do via our leadership in projects such as NDACA (the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive) and Unlimited, the nationally important three year initiative funded by Arts Council England, Creative Scotland and Arst Council Wales. Both these high profile nationally significant projects, which articulate the past and the future for disabled artists are crucial, whilst Shape works within the present, creating future opportunities and evaluating and archiving past achievements as legacy to the contribution made by disabled artists.

Artist Yinka Shonibare MBE RA (and now Patron of the Shape Open exhibition) started his career at Shape and said,

Shape offered me my first opportunity to be involved in the arts – what Shape does for disabled artists can have a very big impact on their development … supporting Shape is to support an inclusive arts sector.


Banner: Diverse City performance of 'Touch', featured at the Southbank Unlimited Festival 2014
Insert right: Shape Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursay 2009 Winner Sally Booth and young artist at Liberty Festival 2014
Insert left: From left to right, Shape Open Prize 2013 Runner up Katherine Araniello, Bow Arts Chief Executive Marcel Baettig, Shape Open Prize 2013 Winner Eric Fong, Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA), Shape Arts Chair (then Chief Executive) Tony Heaton OBE