The Unlimited fund has opened up new avenues for Deaf and disabled artists. Ben Rothera profiles the work of Jez Colborne, recipient of one of the first commissions
Learning disabled artist Jez Colborne describes himself as “a musician, composer and performer”. He can now add ‘director’ and ‘recipient of one of the first ten, much-sought-after, Unlimited commissions’ to that list. Unlimited is a fund for Deaf and disabled artists to create new work for the Cultural Olympiad. He has been supported in his commission by Mind the Gap, a theatre company that works with learning disabled and non-disabled artists as equals.
Jez's piece, ‘Irresistible’, is driven by his fascination with warning sirens; he can hear music where most of us hear noise. It is a site-sensitive piece that combines alarm sirens, non-traditional instruments and human voices in an outdoor promenade performance. It currently features six songs written and composed by Jez. According to the Olympic organisers, the Cultural Olympiad will “showcase the UK’s arts and culture to the rest of the world.” Jez says: “I think people should stop thinking people with disabilities can’t do this, that and the other, so I want to create something that makes people go ‘WOW’ and be impressed by someone with a learning disability. It’s time to understand that people with disabilities have their own ideas, and to celebrate these.”
‘On the Verge’ was a one-man cabaret show based on Jez’s experiences of fulfilling his dream of travelling down Route 66 on a Harley Davidson. He performed nationally as well as at the Edinburgh Fringe, in Hong Kong and Beijing. As lead artist on ‘Irresistible’, he is taking on the role of director, which he sees as the next development for him as a creative. An Unlimited commission can offer the recipient a rare opportunity to work on their professional development whilst realising their artistic vision. Taking on a project of this scale, Jez was aware that he would need the guidance of experienced professionals and made sure there was an allocation in the budget to audition and select mentors.
Mind the Gap is keen that this commission not only offers the opportunity for new audiences to engage in the work of learning disabled artists but also helps improve their processes. The project has helped find new ways of supporting learning disabled artists as leaders. In October, Jez held two work-in-progress showings of the piece, and he is hopeful that ‘Irresistible’ will be selected to be part of the Olympic Festival in 2012.