Last month, Access All Areas (AAA) and Disability Arts Online (DAO) brought together an outstanding group of talented and innovative arts leaders to London’s Battersea Arts Centre for a unique event to reconsider and transform the cultural industries’ approach to accessibility and inclusion.
After decades of exclusion and very little representation, this event, held on 10 March 2022, was well received by the arts industry and was the start of addressing the lack of senior practitioners and performers with learning disabilities and autism in the arts. It was also a celebration of their work and how they will revolutionise the landscape of the arts industry.
“Young disabled leaders help to create demand for change and to defy expectations; to open up a dialogue for us to shine” – Paul Christian, Co-Deputy Chair of the Board of Access All Areas
The conversations were headed by nine learning disabled and autistic leaders from Access All Areas Transforming Leadership programme. They shared their experiences and offered practical action for change for arts organisations that will ensure learning disabled and autistic voices are at the heart of the cultural sector.
The event welcomed guests in person or livestreamed for those unable to travel to the venue. There were discussions on how the arts and culture sector can ensure learning disabled people are able to take up executive and governance roles. There was recognition of a need to develop a sector-wide infrastructure and a palpable legacy for learning disabled leadership. There were also practical discussions on how to upskill existing executive leaders across the arts and how organisational accessibility could be improved.
“Lived experience is imperative. Fairer and more varied representation improves fairness, variety, and accessibility for all” – Emma Selwyn, Co-Director of the Performance Company
Attendees included Royal Court Theatre, Clean Break, RADA, Arts Council England, British Council, Mind the Gap (online), Hubbub Theatre, Derby Theatre, Blink Dance, Entelechy Arts, National Theatre (online), Diverse City (online), Attenborough Arts Centre (online).
After the success of the event, Access All Areas will work with cultural organisations around the UK to remake how the sector thinks of inclusion for learning disabled and autistic people. They will offer consultancy and training on inclusive governance, access training, co-facilitation, and co-leadership, with learning disabled and autistic professionals taking up new roles with organisations across the country.
Watch the event
The nine leaders come with a wealth of experience:
- Cian Binchy (digital content creator) starred in Access All Areas’ ‘MADHOUSE re:exit’ play. He was one of a cast who devised and performed unReal City at Battersea Arts Centre in 2020 and 2022. On television Cian’s acting credits include ‘Doctors’ on BBC1 and ‘Grace: Dead Simple’ and ‘The Level’ on ITV1. He also toured his own production ‘The Misfit Analysis’ throughout the UK and at ITESM University in Mexico.
- Paul Christian (co-deputy-chair) is a member Access All Areas’ Black Cab Company and starred in their 2021 audio walking tour production ‘Still, Here’. In 2020 he was appointed to join the #FreelanceTaskForce that worked to strengthen the influence of freelancers in deciding the future of theatre.
- Katy Cracknell (co-director, Performance Making Diploma) who started as a student on the diploma is now Co-Director of Access All Areas’ Performance Making Diploma at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.
- Terry Huggett (digital content creator) appeared in the giant outdoor theatre event ZARA with Mind The Gap Theatre and appeared in ‘unReal City’ at Battersea Arts Centre in collaboration with dreamthinkspeak in 2020 and 2022.
- Adam Smith (co-director, Take Part) co-directs Access All Areas’ Take Part programme, he also leads drama workshops, writes and performs music. He has performed and composed music for The National Theatre, Southbank Centre, Face Front, Vital Xposure, Mind the Gap, and Emergency Exit Arts. He is a founding member of ‘crip-punk cabaret’ collective Not Your Circus Dog.
- Lee Phillips is a dancer and performer, he trained at Pineapple Dance Studio and performed with London Bubble Theatre and Oily Cart. He specialises in physical theatre, hip-hop urban movement Street Dance as well as spoken word and poetry.
- Charlene Salter (co-chair) has performed at Battersea Arts Centre, with Mind the Gap and on BBC1’s Casualty. She co-created ‘The Interrogation’ for Access All Areas which toured in 2021. In 2020 she was appointed to join the #FreelanceTaskForce that worked to strengthen the influence of freelancers in deciding the future of theatre. In 2018 she co-directed the Black Cab show ‘Winged’.
- Emma Selwyn (co-director, Performance Company) has performed in venues such as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Battersea Arts Centre, Rich Mix, the Brixton Electric and South Hill Park Arts Centre in Bracknell. Last year they directed for the NHS and performed virtually with First Brick Productions as part of the ‘Screaming Inside Showcase.’ They are a founding member of ‘crip-punk cabaret’ collective Not Your Circus Dog.
- Deen Hallissey (digital influencer – DAO) creates content for Disability Arts Online’s YouTube channel and social media, and previously worked with Access All Areas.
About the companies
Formed in 2007 out of “Rainbow Drama Group”, Access All Areas are known for making disruptive theatre by learning disabled and autistic artists. Their immersive performance events create intimate moments of interaction between performers and public, occupying unexpected spaces in venues, on the streets, and in public buildings. The theatre company supports the artistic development of some of the world’s leading learning-disabled creatives. Access All Areas won the Guardian University Award for Student Diversity and Widening Participation in 2015.
Disability Arts Online (DAO) is a charitable arts organisation led by disabled people, existing to serve artists and arts audiences and, in doing so, to enable social change. It occupies a unique global position with its UK-based website and disability arts content, social media network, commissioning and artist development programmes, partnership work, and vibrant community of disabled creatives. DAO has a rich history of challenging dominant narratives, championing the development of disability arts and breaking down barriers to arts engagement from a disability-led position. DAO recognises that disability is an intersectional experience and is on a mission to loudly and proudly nurture an equitable community space for everyone.
Funded by Arts Council England. This event was supported by Battersea Arts Centre.