Ruth Gould MBE DL, Artistic Director of DaDaFest in Liverpool, blogs about this year’s festival and her selection of profiled artists on Disability Arts International.
I have had incredible opportunities over the last 2 years to visit 7 different countries and 13 cities ranging from Finland to India, plus travelling to numerous UK cities to speak and share about disability and deaf arts work and practices. The work is thrilling as it is created by our communal knowledge of developing an International festival, led, proliferated and shaped by the lived experience of disability.
DaDaFest is multi-art form based which allows me to contact many diverse and varied artists and companies with the aim to programme them into a body of work that allows DaDaFest International to resonate within and beyond the UK. By bringing people together to share the work, debate, enjoy or purely absorb and allow the emotions to run amok means we can create a sanctuary in which to be critical, sharpen our skills and make the media notice, as well as entice and thrill audiences established and new. We feel very proud of our contribution to the current limelight towards disabled and deaf artists making an impact in and beyond the UK.
When we started our work in 1984, hardly any disabled /deaf people were able to develop as artists outside the disability community – a community of activists who used the arts to affect social change. This still happens, but now we also support work across all genres and places, still being able to promote activism, and social justice issues, with the resulting great arts that are inclusive and culturally diverse.
The artists profiled in this month’s edition are at the best of their craft and year on year they are growing and challenging themselves as well as their audiences. This is particularly true of Laurence Clark, who incidentally debuted in the very first edition of DaDaFest in 2001, who has gone through enormous artistic challenges both to himself and how he gets his work into venues and media outlets. He has persevered, crafted his work, growing from a pure comic stance of observational humour on how people view disability, through to a vulnerability and exposure of who he is and how he experiences life as seen from his last show particularly, Independence.
I also value the work of Rachel Gadsden: she seems unstoppable in her creativity and has demonstrated a huge range of work in not only visual arts and on the canvas, but also in her dance and work alongside others, especially those who experience isolation and segregation due to being disabled people. She is immense in her energy to capture moments, display true sensitivity and create the most spectacular and breath-taking work that stays with you for a long time.
In terms of company work, Fittings and Birds of Paradise are creating work from the place of risk and as Garry Robson says, developing ‘a risk aesthetic’. I so like edgy work that captures new stances and also shocks, enticing you into new ways of understanding. They are working to embed access creatively to include, and include, and include the audience and deserve much more profile within the theatre world.
I could go on as so many of the artists profiled known to me or have very established relationships with DaDaFest. The list gives rich pickings and I am forever thankful for the investment, the changes in law that have seen enormous changes in this work over the last 15 years, the tenacity of the artists to keep going and thankful that we are connecting globally to create a universal understanding about the power and beauty of work created by and work of disabled and deaf people. Long may it continue.