A major international disability arts and human rights festival set to take place during this summer’s Paralympics could be forced to scale back its plans because of a drop in private and public sector support for disability culture.
Organisers of the Together! festival say that, despite spending for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad approaching a reported £100 million, with £55 million for its finale – the London 2012 Festival – it has failed to involve and resource disabled people.
They say London 2012 is missing a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to celebrate disability arts, disabled people’s culture, and promote disability rights.
And they warn that the failure to fund Together!, taking place in the east London borough of Newham, puts at risk any chance of a significant disability arts legacy from the 2012 Paralympics.
Dr Ju Gosling, Together!’s director, said: “Instead of the Paralympics attracting a flowering of activity and a real legacy for east London and the UK, we have had a mass closure of disability arts organisations that have lost their funding over the last few years.”
The Cultural Olympiad has funded a series of 29 collaborations between disabled and mainstream artists for its Unlimited programme, and many of the commissions will be showcased by the Southbank Centre in central London during the Paralympics.
But Gosling said: “Newham is one of the poorest boroughs in the country, but all of the money has gone to central London, which is already massively publicly resourced.”
She said that – despite the quality of the Unlimited commissions – the Southbank festival would not be disabled-led, would leave no lasting legacy and would be hard to access for disabled visitors attending the Paralympics in east London.
In contrast, Together! will include a conference on how the UN disability convention can be used to promote access to art, culture and sport, will be led by the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), and will take place in Newham, the main London 2012 “host local authority”.
Newham is seen as a leading borough for accessibility and inclusive education but also has the lowest level of engagement of its residents with the arts in the UK.
Both Arts Council England (ACE) and LOCOG, the London 2012 organising committee, have so far declined to provide any financial support for Together!, which will take place from 29 August to 9 September.
LOCOG defended the failure to fund Together! and said that Unlimited was “the largest ever programme of commissions of major new work by the UK’s finest Deaf and disabled artists”, which were being seen across the UK, as well as at the Southbank, while some were expected to tour internationally.
A LOCOG spokesman said Southbank would also show other work by disabled artists, while some of the Unlimited commissions could be available for presentation at Together!.
But Gosling said the disability arts sector in London had been left decimated over the last few years, and Together! aimed to provide a “springboard” for disability arts in east London, with four new voluntary arts groups to be created if the festival goes ahead as planned.
She said: “Our vision for Together! is for disabled people and their organisations to come together to celebrate our own arts in our own space and participate in our own culture, and the season at Southbank is not intended to do that.”
Together! is now likely to take place at London Pleasure Gardens (LPG), a new venue in The Royal Victoria Docks that is opening on 30 June.
UKDPC has already secured “in kind” support worth more than £150,000, which should allow it to put on Together!, including backing from LPG, Newham Council, and West Ham United Football Club.
It needs just £50,000 in financial support to produce most of the festival that has been planned over the last two years.
Julie Newman, UKDPC’s acting chair, said the response from LOCOG and ACE to funding requests had been “very disappointing”.
She said: “I don’t think we could have got any wider support than we have, the costings are phenomenally cheap.
“What I find personally quite heart-breaking is that we have a disability arts sector that has been decimated by cuts over the last few years and there will not be another opportunity like this in my lifetime.
“When I think of all the work that disabled people have contributed for free to ensuring that these are the most inclusive games ever, I do feel very let down. I think we have been sidelined and I think it is very, very disappointing.”
An Arts Council England spokesman said the funding application from Together! “did not meet the published eligibility requirements” for its Grants for the Arts programme because it “was not developed or detailed enough for the Arts Council to assess its quality and potential impact”.
He added: “The Arts Council continues to support a wide range of work by disabled artists, having supported the Liberty Festival since its inception and the 29 new artist commissions for Unlimited, part of the 2012 Festival.”
The call for funding for Together! came as it emerged that DaDaFest – Liverpool’s world-renowned disability and deaf arts festival – has had to drastically scale back its plans for this year’s festival because of a lack of interest from funders.
In 2010, DaDaFest’s budget was £270,000. It hoped to capitalise on London 2012 to boost that to £400,000 this year but has had now to settle for just £130,000 after raising only £14,000 from funding applications.
Ruth Gould, DaDaFest’s chief executive, said there were many factors in the failure to raise more funding, including the recession, but added: “There is a rise in disability hate crime and the notion that disabled people are benefit scroungers.”
Gosling agrees with Gould that the impact of months of disablist rhetoric in the media and from the government, as a result of its welfare reforms and cuts to disability benefits, had left funders unwilling to spend money on disabled people.
DaDaFest has had to scale back on the international aspect of the festival, but hopes that two artists who will be taking part, the Indian musician Benny Prasad and the Canadian comedian and performer David Roche, will also perform at Together!.
DaDaFest will take place from 13 July to 2 September.
Gosling is also producing Vis-a-Visibility, a participatory theatre project – funded by ACE – about the lives of LGBT disabled people, directed by Clare Summerskill, which takes place on Sunday 10 June at People Show Studios in Bethnal Green.