As Jeanette Winterson once said, “If art, all art, is concerned with truth, then a society in denial will not find much use for it.” This concept of ‘truth’ is, of course, slippery and evasive. But if we take it to mean the lived experience of each and every group of people across the entire spectrum of society, then what does it say about our collective state of denial if only a select few people within that society are trusted with the responsibility of programming and producing arts events?
For many, getting into the arts can seem daunting. Although there are undoubtedly plenty of opportunities to get involved with events and productions in some guise, to be trusted with the task of organising, producing, programming and delivering a cutting-edge arts festival can seem like a role reserved only for people who have spent years getting to know the world inside out. Without connections, experience and tremendous capability, it can seem terribly difficult.
Young people undoubtedly experience this perceived isolation more than most. For disabled and Deaf young people, however, it can seem like a completely distant fantasy, something utterly remote and inaccessible, not worth even aspiring to.
But a crucial foundation of public art is its ability to challenge the way we habitually view the world, and offer us new perspectives that are unfamiliar and enlightening. With this in mind, does it not make total sense to spread the responsibility of putting together arts events as far and wide across society as possible? Is this not a necessary step in ensuring that public art both reflects and challenges every nook and cranny of our culture? And isn’t doing so an essential step in ensuring that our arts don’t become repetitive and irrelevant?
DaDaFest International is a biennial festival in Liverpool for absolutely everyone, with a programme of work from disabled and d/Deaf* artists. In addition to the main festival, we also run Young DaDaFest, an annual series of events featuring young musicians, artists, dancers, actors and performers who are in the main, disabled & Deaf young people.
As well as giving young people the opportunity to develop their own pieces in response to a theme (this year’s is ‘Outside the Box’), we also give young people involved in our ‘Young Leaders’ programme the responsibility of planning, organising and programming the festival. It’s fun, thrilling, and most of all, it works – not just in delivering electric events, but in giving young disabled & Deaf people the autonomy and responsibility necessary in finding their voice and feeling more included in wider society.
We also have a programme for performers, offering development grants to budding young people with a desire to get involved in performance. Working with established artists that act as mentors and teachers, their journey of artistic development is also a journey of personal development, and they become more confident, developed people both on and off the stage.
As Harry, one of our young leaders said when asked what Young DaDaFest and its related programmes were all about, “we are a group of young people working together to make positive change for disabled young people, speaking up for the rights of disabled young people.” This level of solidarity, empowerment and positive action is something that we absolutely need to engender amongst young people with disabilities. And we want as many young people as possible to get involved.
We’re currently accepting submissions for young performers to take part in Young DaDaFest 2017, and our ‘Rookies’ programme will be offering plenty of opportunities to get involved in the arts, through our Young Leaders programme or Development Grants. We’re tremendously excited for the year ahead.
*Note: ‘deaf’ mean those people who first language is English, and may lip read and/ or use hearing aids, whereas ‘Deaf’ refers to those who use British Sign as their first language.
– Ruth Gould MBE