16 July 2012
Paddy Masefield, award winning playwright, innovative theatre director and stalwart campaigner for disability rights, has died of cancer, aged 70. DAO Editor Colin Hambrook, remembers a few of his achievements.
My condolences go out to Paddy's family and in particular his wife Caroline who supported him every step of the way over the last 10 years. Paddy was well-loved by the disability arts community for his endearing wit, indomitable wisdom and the heart-warming passion he gave to our arts movement and our campaigns for the right to access to the arts, as artists and as audience members.
Paddy's major incredible achievement was to influence changes in arts funding and policy, which mean that it is a condition of the Arts Lottery system that any building that receives an award has to be made accessible. He did this with guile, an endearing charm and a resolute determination to not back down.
For years Arts Council had resisted making access a condition of funding. Their reasoning was that they couldn't impose something that they couldn't fund. So when the new Arts Lottery funding came into place in the 1990s, Paddy insisted that the decision be overturned. In the foreword to Paddy's book 'Strength: Broadsides from Disability on the Arts' Lord Puttnam talks about their time together on the Arts Council Lottery Panel between1995-98:
"In every discussion about what to fund and what not to fund, he refused to cut corners or to compromise. And it was through his apparent obduracy that I eventually came to realise that to move forward, to really get our priorities right, we had to listen to and learn from his experience."
And that is why if a building project has received Arts Lottery funding today, it will be accessible, whilst if it has received Heritage Lottery Funding, the chances are that it won't be!
Having lived with M.E. since 1986, Paddy was diagnosed with cancer in 2002. At that time Paddy was only given 6 months to live. And The Paddy Masefield Award was set up in 2003 as a posthumous award, in collaboration with Equata and Art + Power, to recognise the talents of learning disabled artists in the South West.
Paddy recognised how of all impairment groups, those of us with learning disabilities are at the bottom of the ladder, in terms of discrimination. The award ran for three years with the final presentation to Jonathan Barr Lindsay at the Arnolfini Gallery by Sir Christopher Frayling, chair of ACE. It was another real high point.
Some of the symptoms that had been assumed to be cancer were in fact M.E. which luckily for us meant that Paddy had a few more years in him, than had initially been thought possible. He continued his work for disability equality at a time when by rights he should have laid down the baton. Paddy got a piece in the Guardian as he launched into the production of Strength - determined that the 50 or so speeches he had developed in his single-minded 20 year campaign to put disability arts on the map, be rightfully recorded.
If you haven't read Paddy: A Life, it is recommended DAO reading. Whether he is talking about the inequities of the arts funding system in 'Conditions of employment', or the strange tale of gobbing in the wrong direction in 'The Year of the Artist', you'll find the integrity of the man shining through.
Paddy Masefield's passing is a great loss to the Arts. None of the focus on Disability Arts in the current Cultural Olympiad programmes of work by disabled artists would have happened without him. And indeed it is likely there would be no DAO without the insistence of his arguments on the ridiculousness of the prejudice against Disability Arts and disabled people.
Even now the employment of disabled people in the Arts does not waver much above the 3 per cent mark. The message Paddy spread, still needs to be made. Paddy, of all people, would recognise that the Disability Arts movement has not done its job. Thanks to Paddy a few more of us can now access more arts institutions than previously, but we still have a long way to go before the notion of equal access is achieved.