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Concerns that progress towards diversity is being de-prioritised as a result of the Covid crisis have prompted a new forum from which to raise the voice of D/deaf and disabled creative practitioners and campaign for inclusion.

A performance of The Who's Tommy at the Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich
The Who’s Tommy: a New Wolsey Theatre Production in co-production with Ramps on the Moon

Mike Kwasniak

An alliance led by disabled people working across the UK’s creative industries has formed in response to widespread concerns that progress toward the inclusion of disabled people across the cultural mainstream will be undermined by the Covid crisis.

#WeShallNotBeRemoved is an emergency response forum that will be working across artforms and across impairment groups to advocate and campaign for “an inclusive cultural recovery”, aiming to amplify the voices of D/deaf, neurodiverse and disabled creative practitioners and disability arts organisations. It will also support D/deaf, neurodiverse and disabled creative practitioners and organisations through the pandemic and after, to ensure a sustainable future for disability and inclusive arts in the UK.

The alliance is providing a new space for D/deaf and people to contribute ideas and solutions, initiate conversations and signpost opportunities on a dedicated Slack platform and through monthly Zoom meetings. More than 150 creative practitioners, disability arts organisations and others working inclusively in the four UK nations have joined so far, and new members are being welcomed to ensure the involvement of the widest possible diversity of disabled people working in creative industries.

A key priority is ensuring D/deaf, neurodiverse and disabled artists and arts organisations are integral to the reshaping of UK culture through and after Covid19, and that inclusive principles remain at the heart of public funding strategies in all four UK nations.

Jo Verrent, Senior Producer of commissions programme Unlimited, has spoken out about the danger that the work of disabled and D/deaf people will marginalised. She said: “Isolated and increasingly ignored by many, disabled people in the cultural sector are at risk of losing everything we’ve gained over the last 40 years. #WeShallNotBeRemoved has given us a place to meet, to shelter, share and reimagine. We must be at the centre of the cultural sector to come, one that is both physical and virtual, includes all and excludes no one”.

Other alliance aims are:

  • supporting the next generation of D/deaf and disabled talent and promoting the interests of emerging, mid-career and established D/deaf and disabled artists in the new cultural landscape
  • promoting greater intersectionality within disability arts to reflect its breadth of diversity
  • building greater inclusion in wider society to catalyse and support the existing disability movement to influence government policy on health, social care and benefits

Founding members of the alliance include Andrew Miller, UK Government Disability Champion for Arts & Culture, who said: “Coronavirus threatens not only the existence of our national culture as we’ve known it but also the health, creativity and civil rights of disabled people. Many of us face long term shielding and therefore risk invisibility to wider society. So it is essential that we come together as one creative disabled community to ensure we are not left behind, but instead shape and reset the coming cultural recovery inclusively”.

Leading companies and representative bodies involved include Graeae Theatre, Candoco, Unlimited, Drake Music, Hijinx, Shape Arts, Museums DCN, British Paraorchestra, HeartnSoul, TourettesHero, University of Atypical, Access All Areas, Disability Arts Cymru, Birds of Paradise, Attitude is Everything, poet Jamie Hale, playwright Vici Wreford-Sinnott, theatre directors Nickie Wildin and Amit Sharma, actor Jamie Beddard, arts consultant Michele Taylor and musician John Kelly.

Robert Gale, Artistic Director of Scotland’s Birds of Paradise Theatre Company said: "My colleagues and I have spent our careers believing the stories of disabled people are so incredibly important to culture in the UK and around the world. This pandemic could threaten everything we've worked towards unless we ensure that our response is solid and places disabled people at the centre of all discussions about our future. This campaign is us taking the microphone and ensuring we'll be heard."

Anyone interested in joining the alliance should email weshallnotberemoved@gmail.com

Liz Hill