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Richard Downes on the Unlimited discussion, 'Changing Priorities Ahead' / 2 September 2012

Led by Sarah Pickhall, Clare Cunningham, Marc Brew, Mat Wandsworth and Jon Adams talked about - Disability, Art and Impairments.

Some think Disability Arts is not what it was; not because the values we once applied are no longer valid but, because the culture we live in has changed. Disability Arts as was depended on political ideals ensconced in the Social Model and a sense of pride. It helped us to succeed and break down the barriers that excluded us.

The change we made stimulated diversity. In doing so we have found the changes within society are reflected within ourselves as artists. The singular experience of discrimination on the basis of impairment has splintered. Should we hold a mirror to ourselves today we would find a greater array of identities.

We are no longer just disabled people. We recognise new internal areas for exploration. We now also say we are men, women, young and old, able to express sexuality, ethnicity, regionalism and class. We work in different ways, define ourselves by status, relationships to others. We discover remarkable aspects of ourselves. We have become greater sums of our parts.

We operate increasingly within the mainstream.It is easier to survive trauma and the acquisition of impairment. We have raised the bar of expectation and now express our full humanity. We have greater ownership of cultural properties.

The panel ably show this. They still describe impairments but claim to be small d, small p, Disabled People. This is not important to them. Importance resides in art as quality product. It is more relevant to be recognised as artist than it is to be seen as Disabled Artist.

Because we have only just made this move a schism exists. Our motives are to work, for the work to be valued by wider audiences and to earn greater sums from our new achievements but if grants and commissions remain in a ring fenced pot called disability then why not work there too.

Unlimited demonstrates this division. It is not a crip ghetto. It is a cross border territory where we can work within and without the disability community. What is worng with this?

Is it significant that values have changed? Is their a faint whiff of hypocrisy? Do we fail to homage those that came before? If values have changed is it a problem that traditional Disability Arts can't keep up? Are we not putting our individualism above the collective response that came before and opened the doors we glily walk through?

What of the old ways? Did we not always accept our many labels? Were'nt we prevented from doing so by the imperative of the barriers that were then more profound? Was it more im[portant then to say I am a Disabled Artist, you oppress me in these ways, you have to be responsible for the discrimination that you practice and change your ways.Should we not hold to this view what then? Do we not return to no control, no ownership, institutionalisation.

In recognising difference between then and now do we worry too much as to what Disability Arts are and what they can be? Is there value in fretting about those who remain left out, they who are not included, who still do not get enough opportunity to participate? Is the cost accrueing from our new individualism just too great.

Keywords: disability art,disabled artist,discrimination,diversity,identity,individualism,involvement,labelling,participation,unlimited