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Disability Arts Online

Question 5. How do British and American approaches to disability and art differ?

Leni D. Anderson   Columbus, Ohio, USA
Differences in language? The first difference between the British and American website and approach is Americans’ attempt to be more 'P. C.' in how we approach and communicate with each other about disabilities. Maybe PC is too strong, but Americans, we do our best to say we all have different abilities. Whereas it seems the British set a line in the sand between people with “disabilities” and people who do not have disabilities..

The British site seems to be made by artists with disabilities, and the American site seems to be made for (artists with disabilities).

Do you relate more easily to one or other? I relate to the American way, not just because I’m an American but I do not think we should have all the division. Yes, there are some whose disabilities are more profound and may need more assistance than others but at some point and time in our lives “WE ALL NEED A HELPING HAND!”

Strengths/weaknesses across both? I will just say we cannot be blind to people who have different abilities, and that we must create an environment, a place that is accessible for all. Is this a strength…is this an acknowledgement of a weakness…?

Loretta Bebeau  Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
After seeing the British website, I am a bit envious. And I'm a bit sorry for speaking so harshly about the Disability Arts name choice. 

Yes there are differences to the language used on the websites. The British site is more personal and allows the artists to see art, and exchange ideas via blogs and other written notes. There seems to be an intimacy between the artists.

The American website seems more marketing directed, and doesn't allow an easy communication between the artists. It is not an inviting website. It seems to be communicating to an audience outside-of the disability culture.

Personally, I like both websites for different reasons. But I would use the British website as a source of professional friendship and sharing the development of ideas. I like the warmth and informality it seems to convey. It seems to be organized by the artists and not by people without a disability (but want to help the disabled). And of course we know the focus is different because of that. 
Disability Arts Online is a good organization, with top-notch ideas.

Allen Bryan  Brooklyn, New York USA
Disability Arts Online (DAO) for Britain seems like it’s working on the fringes of cultural inclusion and VSA Arts in America presents an image of a strong all inclusive institution that offers vast resources for all.

Liz Crow Bristol, UK 
Of course I’m an old school activist.  I’m more comfortable with DAO.  It has come from disabled people, it represents us, or those of us who are politicized...  That’s the ultimate contrast - it’s out loud and proud.

VSA reminds me of a wealthy version of the original Shape... traditionally an organization designed to help disabled people access the arts … not owned by disabled people in its early years.

I don't know if that is now shifting ……. my tour manager said (VSA) they were quite corporate in a very high-energy, entrepreneurial way  –  but with a heightened professionalism and visibility that comes from the Kennedy link and the profile.

Liz Doles  Newburgh, New York, US
Language? I do appreciate the philosophy behind ‘artists with disabilities’ as opposed to disabled artists, even though the language might be clumsier..
Attitudes? The British website seems more grassroots, the American more corporate. . . Both seem to strive for inclusion... I like them both for different reasons… The British website does seem to be more personal, with artists speaking for themselves with the blogs.'

David S. Forbes Queensland, Australia
I have lived in Australia for the past 20 years, so I cannot comment on American “branding”. I would anticipate Australia to be more akin to Britain however.

Ju Gosling aka ju90 London, UK
I don’t think this is about the difference between the UK and the US; it is the difference between the Medical Model approach of an organisation ‘for’ disabled people and the Social Model approach of an organisation ‘of’ disabled people.

Joan Fabian San Antonio, Texas, US
It seems to me that the British site is more direct and gives more images that are interesting. They seem less afraid of explaining someone's disability or to show it in a picture. With VSA, it seems harder to find out what disability an artist has. I wish both of them had more opportunities for artists.

I do not think the VSA website is made by artists with disabilities. Sometimes I think that VSA people don't want to talk about the issues that artists have to face regarding their disabilities.

Attitudes?  That is hard to tell but I think the British site is more direct and they have a "lighter" more "artsy" feel. They do not seem to worry that they are taken seriously like a contemporary art website does. They are more cutting edge.  I enjoy the blogs and the comments. VSA does not have that going for themselves.

Maybe I like the interaction more because I already interact with international artists and have had a number of art residencies that take me out of my home environment. I do wish that VSA would have international residencies for artists with disabilities to meet and work together. It would serve as an ambassador for better understanding (and) open up much dialogue.  We could meet with the public and talk about our work. That is something I would love to see. I would love a collaboration with an artist outside of the USA, like from England.

Do you relate more easily to one or other?  I like the British site because it seems updated more often and has a personality of innovation to it. VSA seems "conservative" in a formal way. I do not like the artist registry format VSA has. It doesn't give much representation to the artists just a small glimpse-showing only one image. Each artist should have a better web page just for them in a contemporary format. I don't see any artist profiles on the British site, though but it looks like they are in the process of getting them created.

I believe both have strengths and weaknesses and need to be aware of each other.  The British site has many ‘call for entries’ but only in England and I wonder if they are only for British artists with disabilities.  I wish there were more venues for international exhibits for both sites.  (On DAO) There seems to be more specific areas of disabilities that are targeted for exhibits and performances. For example, artists with autism wanted for an art exhibit. Maybe there are more groups and advocates for the disabilities that call for artwork. That is my guess.

Busser Howell Troy, Ohio, US
I do feel that the disabled are more organized in England than here - I know you are much more militant than we are - good for you.

Stephanie Moore Director Of VSA Arts (1992 - Sept 2010)
Produced ‘Revealing Culture’ 2010 and the International Festival of Arts & Disability in Washington DC.
Any impressions of two British websites (Shape & DAO) compared to VSA?  I visit these sites for my own professional development.  The UK has a very progressive network. I would consider America to be much more conservative both in the arts and in its advocacy efforts.  I find both the UK and Australia to be aggressive and smart.  In terms of comment, the look of Shape is less artistic. I see the sites as contributors to the art/disability movement.  They exist for the benefit of people involved in the movement regardless of country. 

Janet Morrow, Savannah, Tennessee, US
Cultural differences?  The short answer is that DAO appears to be “by artists with disabilities” and VSA “for artists with disabilities”; however, I believe the differences between the two go deeper than that. If I am understanding the stated purposes of the two websites correctly, the DAO website is an online entity, complete in itself, and is designed to give disabled artists (as well as those in related fields) a venue in which to communicate with each other – it doesn’t sound as if there is a “bricks and mortar” component. The VSA website is designed to explain and promote that organization and its activities – most of which are “bricks and mortar” in nature. Therefore, I would say for DAO, the website is the primary piece of functionality and its scope is broader; for VSA the website is secondary functionality and the scope is limited to matters related to the organization.

It also seems to me that the DAO website is more focused on helping disabled adult artists to develop and further their careers, while VSA places quite a bit of emphasis on nurturing artistic development in disabled children and teens.

Attitudes? This is subtle and may be an incorrect assumption, but it appears to me that the VSA website acknowledges discrimination against people with disabilities and is seeking to right some of these societal wrongs by changing attitudes towards disability. I do not find this same implication on the DAO website. It causes me to wonder if people with disabilities are less discriminated against in Britain? Are British artists a bit further along in the struggle to escape stigmatization? These are not rhetorical questions – I really don’t know.

Do you relate more to one or the other? I like them both and do not really see them as equivalents. I am not aware of an exact equivalent website to DAO in the United States – it would be nice to have one.

I think both accomplish their purposes well. Where there are differences between the two, I wonder how much is due to simple variation in website design/administration and to what degree they reflect underlying cultural differences.

Isaac Powell Richmond, Kentucky, US
The main difference with the language stems from the organization’s title. “Disability Arts” confronts the reader immediately with the notion of disability. Whereas with VSA the connection with the organization and disability isn’t as apparent right away.

Both websites seem to be informative and helpful to all people regardless of their disability status. I relate better to VSA, but I attribute this in part because I am more familiar and in part because their website layout and design is better.

Janet Yagoda Shagam Albuquerque, New Mexico, US
British is more chatty and less careful with disability-sensitive language.
VSA Arts in America: - A more formal presentation. Shows the difference between American and European websites.

Bill Shannon Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US
Generally I feel that the British tend to harbour an irreverence for the preciousness of the disabled experience whereas Americans hold to a more pious trend in language and action.

Katherine Sherwood  Rodeo, California, US 
The UK website is definitely more sophisticated and more inclusive.  The VSA website still is headed towards ‘Very Special Arts’.