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1 September 2014

Trish Wheatley caught up with events at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford for National Paralympic Day 2014, featuring The Liberty Festival on 30 August

Photo from a performance at Liberty Festival 2014

Photo from a performance at Liberty Festival 2014

Another spread of performance acts and visual arts from disabled artists marked the second occasion that Liberty Festival was held in tandem with National Paralympic Day at Queen Elizabeth’s Olympic Park. Again, it was the physical scattering of acts across the park, which seemed to be the main talking point for improvements to be made.

However, this was the first Liberty at this location for me and I was keen to see the offer. The various temporary stages and sitings were integrated with the various ‘come and have a go at wheelchair this, or wheelchair that’ sports stands, which did help to draw a mainly family orientated crowd through the arts events as they keenly went autograph hunting for their favourite Paralympians.

Arriving with friend and wheelchair user Hayley Davies from Waterloo we took the Jubilee Line and then the free event bus to the park and were pleasantly relieved that there were no access niggles, hiccups or gigantic failures along the way.

Despite always seeming to be at the wrong end of the Park we managed to see a performance of Gift by Jez Colborne with Mind the Gap, reviewed by Gus Garside for Dao earlier in the year.

Strong winds hampered the sound quality for audiences opting to view from outside of the container. Those who dared to venture inside the box reported a textured, altogether more rich, subtle and layered sound featuring piano strings being struck and bowed and tubular bells that afforded them a more unique and satisfying auditory and sensory experience that also included the vibrations of the shipping container which became a huge polyphonic musical instrument.

The area that seemed to have the most spirit for me was the Together marquee. It was a real symbol of what has been achieved in Newham by the Together team and featured artists from the local community alongside disability arts favourites such as Signdance Collective and Allan Sutherland.

Dao blogger Bonk gave a fantastic performance, which was the highlight of the day for me. The ‘liberty’ for Ju and her Together team was the freedom in programming (with the acts not being fixed into the main printed programme) and that, I believe, resulted in a good sized crowd through the whole afternoon. 

Liberty remains an important date on the disability arts calendar. I wonder though, whether it is being eclipsed by Unlimited Festival? Should organisers programme these events at different times? In 2012 Liberty was hosted at the Southbank in partnership with Unlimited. Was that a better option?

Bounce Festival in Belfast is far enough away geographically to draw a different crowd, but still, three disability arts festivals in one week is a probably too much even for diehard disability arts audiences. What do you think? Let me know through the comments forum below. 

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