The Ardent Hare is no more. Eighteen months after it lost its Arts Council England core funding, the arts organisation for the deaf and disabled which started life eight years ago as Dada-South – taking its name from the Disability Arts Development Agency and based in Maidstone – has given up the unequal struggle. Its artistic director, Stevie Rice, is so disillusioned with the arts and the disabled sector that she has taken a job in wildlife conservation.
Ardent Hare’s demise is an indictment not just of government subsidy policy but of the arts council, regional support and the disabled sector which sill seems to find it hard to lift itself out of the miasma of victimism to see the possibilities of art in all its manifestations in giving self belief and confidence to those we still, as a society, see as less capable than the majority.
And this is despite the evidence of the Paralympics and the Cultural Olympiad in which those with both physical and psychological disability shone, showing an unsuspected world that the disabled can be capable of things the “able” could never dream of accomplishing.
Dada-South developed a framework for listening, reflecting and challenging artists with disabilities, showing them their potential and giving them ambitions, successful professional careers resulting. Since March 2011 it has been reaffirming itself as it sought funding elsewhere, working with the University College for the Creative Arts to make mentoring programmes and training courses.
They won an Arts Plus award for a permanent piece of public sculpture in Portsmouth. They launched a new website, began discussing wider programmes with regional partners, and changed their name to Ardent Hare. Accentuate, developed by Ardent Hare as an agency to promote the talents of deaf and disabled artists, had 15 programmes as part of the Cultural Olympiad.
It is an irony that the disablement minister that effectively did for Remploy – the seeker and finder of jobs for the disabled – by cutting its subsidy is now the culture secretary.
Colin Hambrook, the poet, artist and editor of Disability Art Online who now has an arts council grant himself, benefitted from being commissioned from Dada-South, and he owes his success to “that shared sense of experience, of knowing where the work was coming from and of what my aims and objectives were|” that came from Dada-South.
Now, he says, “the path to finding a career in the arts will be made more difficult, if not impossible, by the absence of this organisation. Without their expertise, mainstream arts organisations are unlikely to have the understanding of the barriers disabled people face in establishing themselves within the arts”.
Ardent Hare was an example of the arts working with, for and among the community without the stigma of instrumentalism that used to disfigure some arts charities.
It is an irony that the disablement minister that effectively did for Remploy – the seeker and finder of jobs for the disabled – by cutting its subsidy is now the culture secretary. “At a time when deaf and disabled people face increasing threats to their welfare through public expenditure cuts” Ardent Hare’s chairman, Graham Wiffen, said in February at its relaunch, adding that “Ardent Hare’s voice will need to be loud and clear if they are not to be marginalised even further”. Infuriatingly prophetic words