‘I want to see young D/deaf, disabled and non-disabled people work together’
There is the very real fear that we might once again be removed from the arts agenda. Those that are long-term shielding risk being forgotten about as they must continue working from home. Many disabled people are in danger of being left out of conversations, our places at the table being lost to non-disabled people speaking on our behalf.
What I truly love about our lot is that when the going gets tough, we regroup, remap and reimagine the future. And that’s what we’ve done with #WeShallNotBeRemoved. It’s a new UK Disability Arts Alliance with a
mission to lobby and campaign for a new and inclusive dawn.
So, what does that place look like? For starters, universal understanding that equality and diversity apply equally to D/deaf and disabled creative people, as well as the sector getting its head around intersectionality and understanding that we are not defined by our impairments.
We must be absolutely embedded within the DNA of arts infrastructures at every level, with our work embraced, programmed and applauded for its excellence and boldness. And finally, while many disabled people will be the last to come out of lockdown, the sector must ensure our talent is not lost and engage us in new creative digital processes.
The pandemic has given us all an opportunity for self-examination about how we are doing things – what is important and what is not. It has exposed crass power structures, corrupt attitudes and human rights violations. There’s so much we need to change.
We have worked too hard and lost too much to earn our place within the cultural sector. We have watched your (usually inaccessible) live streams and we’ve supported your work consistently. But the status quo has to change. I want to see young D/deaf, disabled and non-disabled people work together, empowered to be the architects of a future supported by those of us who have fought the white ableist patriarchy of a previous age.
We have worked too hard and lost too much to earn our place within the cultural sector
Some of the Zoom calls I am on tend to look white, male, non-disabled, so it is clear this is the time to zoom off and engage with the more representative and powerful artists out there who are shouting right now. Those artists now are rightly angry about George Floyd, about institutional racism and about disabled people being forgotten by this government.
This is a time for the arts to reset. Think of it as a software update. We’ve had to switch it off and wait a while, but when it’s back on we’ll have a better system. Our stages will be peppered with glorious radical stories of the revolution of the disenfranchised.
I am an eternal optimist and I fear I may be hugely disappointed, but even though my community is battered, it is resilient and it’s fully energised in its thirst for greater change. I can’t promise much, but I can guarantee #WeShallNotBeRemoved.
Jenny Sealey is artistic director of Graeae
Theatre is in dire straits, and in urgent need of support. We all hope that help is on its way from the government. But whatever support it receives, when theatre re-emerges from this disastrous pandemic, it will look very different. Now is the time to think about what happens next. That is what The Stage has asked people working across our sector to do: to select an issue that can be improved upon when theatre returns. The above article is one of 24 pieces in our ‘Theatre 2021’ series. There are many more topics to cover, and many more ideas to share. This series of articles is the first step in saying that despite this terrible crisis, theatre in 2021 can re-emerge, and in many ways can be better than before.