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Colin wishes all DAO's contributors and readers all the best for the festive season / 15 December 2011

black and white image of a furry teacup, taken from above

Furry Teacup © Anne Teahan 2010

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DAO is preparing to wind down for the end of year break. Firstly I'd like to give a warm thanks to all our contributors and to wish all our readers all the best over the festive season. It has been an exciting year for DAO, with its readership having gone up by a fifth since the summer.

We have recently come to the end of our New Voices programme in Brighton and are now looking forward to a fresh start running the course in London in partnership with New Writing South and with Shape.

There have been lots of highlights this year. The time we spent in Manchester at the decibel performing arts showcase with our New Voices Brighton writers – and alongside having the task of launching the Creative Case website – has given us lots to think about in terms of how we evolve as creative practitioners and as disabled people working in the arts.

Decibel gave us a wonderful opportunity to be working up in the moment, writing up reviews and interviews with the artists and delegates at the festival. It was an energising experience to see the freedom that can come from labeling work under a ‘diversity’ banner, encompassing ‘disability’ as a key component. I’m not convinced that’s the answer. All labels are problematic. But it gave a broader sense to the notion of how difference can inform and uplift the quality of arts practice.

A big part of the argument for the Creative Case is that we need to be talking more about the Art itself - rather than focusing on the barriers to being creative – as the starting point. [Not that we don't challenge lack of access and barriers to becoming paid artists. But that if we are to become more professional we need to find ways of getting professional feedback on what we produce.]

Aaron Williamson wrote an interesting piece of polemic in Serpentine Galleries 'Parallel Lines'. I don't agree with his comments on Unlimited and Liberty, but he makes a crucial point about the importance of professional critique. There has been a dearth of a critical voice when it comes to giving disabled artists the feedback necessary to develop as artists. Alan McLean reviewing Dash's 'Defying Definitions: disability arts in the mainstream', commented on how going beyond the Disability Arts label is essential to engagement with mainstream art galleries. As long as there is a precedent for an understanding of disability as meaning 'disabled by impairment' rather than 'disabled by society' we will continue to fight a losing battle.

DAO has tended to concentrate on giving support to emerging, rather than established writers, which is why there has been more of an emphasis on producing blogs on the DAO journal in the last two years. I spend a lot of time giving feedback to individuals on the clarity of their writing, rather than emphasising a need to be critical. But I wonder if this emphasis should change?

Next year we are hoping to showcase more Art on DAO - alongside your discussion. Two valued pieces of work that have become embedded within DAO this year have been Anne Teahan's brilliant piece of research on attitudes towards disability arts here and in the US. 'Sharing Cultures: disability and visability' was a multi-layered piece of research with a blog, galleries, a series of essays and a research document with a Q&A with a wide range of artists engaging in work exhibited at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington in 2010

The other extensive piece of work I've been proud to showcase has been Allan Sutherland's Neglected Voices. As an aspiring poet I am fascinated by the transcription poetry process; reformatting spoken language directly into a poetic format. Neglected Voices is most powerful where the words relay the strength of the human spirit in challenging disabling barriers.

On a last note, please do keep on uploading your listings via the online forms at http://www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/Send_us_your_listings - this year has seen a bigger emphasis on getting information about jobs, opportunities and events out to you via our weekly bulletins. If you haven't done so yet, please sign up for these at http://www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/Join_our_mailing_list

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