Disability arts grew out of the disability rights movement, and the wider struggle by disabled people for equality and the right to participate in all aspects of society.

Informed by the radical political activism of the 1960's and motivated by creative ambition as well frustration at their exclusion from mainstream arts, disabled people came together to form their own organisations. These organisations provided a space where the needs and aspirations of disabled people could be realised, and their creative talents developed.

Shape was founded in 1976 by Gina Levete MBE as part of this movement. With project funding from the Gulbenkian Foundation and others, Shape launched several projects in schools, prisons, arts centres and colleges across Greater London. As the artists and the organisation gained momentum so did its reputation, leading to revenue funding from the Association of London Government (London Councils), several London Boroughs and Greater London Arts (Arts Council).

In its early days Shape worked with everyone who was 'excluded'. However, as the organisation evolved it has concentrated on working to enable disabled people to access the arts.

During the 1980's the Shape model was repeated around the UK by the establishment of regional Shape services. Many of these remain, though over the years may have changed their name, or their focus.

To this day, Shape remains firmly tied to our roots:
Shape's Ticket Scheme was established in 1988 and was still running up to 2013, when another round of funding cuts made it unsustainable. Although the name changed to Shape Tickets, the service remained the same to the end, enabling disabled people to gain reduced price tickets to arts events and to use a free volunteer escort service. In the latter years, we were facilitating approximately 4,000 trips per year.

Shape participatory arts activites have grown into a programme that spreads across all of London. We know work in partnership with arts and cultural organisations across the capital to produce festivals, deliver seminars, events and publications around the theme of the arts and disability and disability arts.

However, we have also developed new aspects to our work:
In recent years the organisation has established itself as a leading provider of disability equality training and access audits to the cultural sector,
We have developed a number of employment support programmes to overcome discrimination in the workplace and help cultural sector employers become more inclusive and disability confident.

Importantly, we have developed a programme of exhibitions and resources support and profile the work of disabled artists. We now work across London to develop opportunities for disabled artists, train cultural institutions to be more open to disabled people, and run participatory arts and development programmes.