More than 100 disabled artists and cultural leaders are warning of the increased impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their livelihoods, and are calling for the protection of disability arts as the industry recovers from the current crisis.
Andrew Miller, the government disability champion for arts and culture, theatre directors Jenny Sealey and Amit Sharma and actors Mat Fraser and Nabil Shaban are among 140 people demanding that government safeguards the future of disability arts in the UK.
Addressing culture secretary Oliver Dowden, they argue the effects of Covid-19 are "frighteningly magnified" for disabled people.
"Worse, most disabled people operating in the creative industries are self-employed and deeply concerned about their future as a consequence of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme ending in August. Many disabled artists are facing long-term shielding, a total loss of income, compromised independent living and the risk of invisibility in wider society," the letter says.
It warns the "inclusive progress" the cultural sector has made over the past 40 years is being threatened by the pandemic, and says: "Disabled cultural leaders call on the government and the sector to ensure the progress we have collectively made does not falter in this moment of crisis. Disabled artists, employees and audiences must be prioritised and celebrated in both cultural policy and delivery."
It goes on to argue that the cultural sector’s recovery must offer a more inclusive approach as it emerges from the crisis, in order to improve accessibility to the industry and put into practice the lessons learned during lockdown about home working and online access.
Sharma, who is deputy artistic director of Birmingham Repertory Theatre, said: "Deaf and disabled people have made a significant contribution across the arts locally, nationally and internationally. It’s taken huge progress to get here and it cannot be right that Birmingham Rep is in a tiny group of organisations that employ disabled people at senior level within our industry.
"If we’re not part of the conversation then there’s a real danger we will go backwards. We can not become invisible again."
The letter was organised by disability arts alliance, #WeShallNotBeRemoved, which was set up last month as an emergency response to the crisis, and is a forum to advocate and support D/deaf, neurodiverse and disabled artists and organisations.
Alongside Dowden, the letter is also being sent to Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop, Welsh culture minister Dafydd Elis-Thomas and Northern Irish culture minister Deirdre Hargey, as well as shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens.