The chance to make it
December is Disabled History Month, being marked by the arts charity Create with a special exhibition. Nicky Goulder, Create’s co-founder and chief executive, asks what opportunities are given to young disabled artists and what can be achieved when they are.
The latest figures in the government’s report Creative Industries: Focus on Employ- ment, published in June this year, reveal that there are 1.9m jobs in the creative sector, including visual artists, sculptors, graphic designers, photographers, actors and film makers. The expansion of jobs within the creative industries has grown three times faster than the average rate across the economy as a whole.
With 19% of the UK’s population identifying as disabled, you would expect that this demographic would be reflected in the number of disabled people within the creative industries. A closer look at the figures, however, suggests otherwise.
First, only 5.6% of the creative in- dustries workforce report that they are disabled, a huge disparity from the 19% mentioned above. Secondly, more than half of the roles in the crea- tive industries are filled with people who have a degree or equivalent, which is contrasted by statistics show- ing that disabled young people are more likely than their non-disabled peers not to be in any form of educa- tion or training and half as likely to hold a degree qualification. Thirdly, 91.9% of these roles are performed by people in more advantaged socio-economic groups, again contrasted by re- ports that have found that the poverty rate for disabled people is twice that of non-disabled people, and that day- to-day living costs are 25% higher.
What message does this send to aspiring young disabled artists?
December features both UK Disa- bility History Month and Internation- al Day of Persons with Disabilities, of which this year’s theme is Inclusion matters: access and empowerment of people of all abilities.
Awareness campaigns like these offer a chance for people to focus their efforts, encourage everyone to get involved, and reveal what can be achieved through collaborative work- ing. After all, the objective of the UN’s awareness day is to ensure that disa- bled people are able to be active mem- bers of society.
When 36% of people admit to thinking that disabled people are not as productive as others and a quarter of disabled people have experienced patronising attitudes in which less has been expected of them because of their disability, opportunities for disa- bled artists to create work and share it with the public are both personally and collectively empowering.
The challenges for young artists with disabilities fall into two interlocking categories: making and show- casing their artworks. The problem starts with opportunities to explore their creativity, and we know from Arts Council England’s Taking Part survey that disabled people have a lower engagement rate than non-dis- abled people.
Not everyone who takes part in the arts will become an exhibiting art- ist (nor even wants to, because engag- ing with the arts has its own unique value), but it is highly unlikely that someone will reach that stage without that initial contact with the arts.
In terms of creating art and participating in the process, opportunities for young disabled people to develop their creative skills need to be tailored to respond to any access issues they might have. This is the first step in tackling inequality in opportunity. We have already seen that lower income and higher costs can present a chal- lenge for many disabled people, and they affect not only the artwork that they can create in terms of purchasing materials and equipment but also their ability to showcase their work. 63% of disabled artists have turned down requests from galleries to exhibit because they cannot afford to do so. This challenge is exacerbated for those who are disabled.
Socio-political issues such as negative assumptions about disabled peo- ple are also visibility issues, and this is where exhibiting artworks created by disabled artists comes in. How can people continue to think that disabled people are less productive than others if their contributions and achieve- ments are allowed to shine?
Creating art is a very empower- ing process: it is a position of control and ownership where you can make decisions, find your voice and rep- resent yourself. In this sense, giving young disabled artists the support to develop their skills and opportunities to exhibit their work creates a fairer, more inclusive society. It raises the visibility of disabled people and levels the playing field.
Beyond, an expansive art exhibition curated by arts charity Create, is on display at KPMG's headquarters in Canary Wharf until the end of December. The exhibition features photographs, artworks, sculptures, short films and a mural created by young disabled artists who have worked with Create during 2015. Many of them have collaborated with their non-disabled peers in projects that have encouraged positive relationships between disabled and non-disabled young people.
The young people have varying needs and abilities. One series of photographs was produced by 19-23-year-olds with autism who took portraits of each other to celebrate and understand better their individual personalities. The process of creating these portraits was a way in which they could learn about each other and form friendships. Sculptures of a cityscape and the urban environment have been created by 15 young Bangladeshi artists from East London, all of whom have special needs. There are many more sculptures, artworks and photographs on display.
Create's programme for these young creatives has been supported by The Eranda Foundation, Intu Properties plc, John Lyon's Charity, MK Community Foundation and The Queen's Trust, enabling all workshops and opportunities to be offered free to the young people including the cost of the materials and equipment.
Many of the photographic artworks on display are available to purchase and the funds raised will enable Create to offer more opportunities that will allow young disabled artists to develop and showcase their work.