Tribute to the History Makers

This tribute is taken from Festival Director Dr Ju Gosling’s speech at The History Makers event on 12 November: 2020 has been a brutal year for losing our friends and family members. Families also come in all shapes and sizes, including the families that make up many Disability Arts organisations and the wider Disability Arts movement. Those lost to us this year include Rob da Noize Temple of Krip Hop Nation, Lyn Levett of Paraorchestra, Lloyd M. Macauley of Sign Dance Collective International, Geof Armstrong of Arcadea, Chris Levett of the University of the Atypical, and David Toole of Candoco.

Rob Da Noize Temple, who died in April along with his life partner. Rob was a founding member of Krip Hop Nation, who played at our 2014 Festival as part of a UK tour that also included DaDaFest in Liverpool. In the afternoon, Krip Hop ran a workshop for locally based Disabled artists that continues to inspire them today. 

 I first met Lyn Levett when I joined the Drake Music Project’s women’s group in 2001 following a long illness. Lyn later became my tutor, teaching me to programme in Midi with techniques I still use today. As a Disabled trans woman, Lyn was a pioneer in many ways, but never more so than in the early days when she sat in pubs on music nights, playing her keyboard with her nose, and wheeling in backwards because that was the way she could control her chair herself. It is fitting that she later became a member of Paraorchestra when it was formed in 2012.

The Making History Together! 2020 Festival was due to be opened by US artist Lionel M. Macauley and Signdance Collective International. Lionel was part of the company in 2017 when they last performed with us. Lionel was a powerful and inspiring artist, and that summer I was privileged to attend the opening of the Tate Modern exhibition of US Black artists, Soul of the Nation, with him. I know from my conversation with Lionel in August that he was very much looking forward to tonight, and to being a role model for Artists of Colour in East London.  Tragically, we lost Lionel in September.

I first met Geof Armstrong early in the noughties, when he was running the National Disability Arts Forum in Newcastle. He approached me to become a specialist Board adviser, and through him I learned a great deal about how to run a successful Disability Arts organisation. Later, when Geof had moved to Arcadea, he supported me when I took my national touring exhibition, Abnormal, to the Centre for Life in Newcastle. Geof organised a team of volunteers to help me to install the show on a Sunday, and then two days later, supported me when the building managers decided to take it down again. You will see that the soundtrack chosen by his colleagues for his Muertos Ofrenda reflects Geof’s passion for creating. When I returned at the end of the show’s run in a different venue, Geof helped me again to deliver a workshop and talk. Geof helped a great many Disabled artists to make history over the course of his career, as well as making history himself.

Other friends we have lost this year include Chris Ledger from Belfast, whose leadership within the Irish Disability Arts movement resulted in a unified movement long before the Troubles ceased to exist. Chris led Arts Disability Ireland, and then via a name change, the University of the Atypical. I first met Chris during my first international gig, in Helsinki in 1999, and she joined me on the visit to a local lesbian club night that the organisers had organised for me. Later, she hosted my exhibition Abnormal in Belfast, and we were able to spend more time together. Chris was also a partner with us in the touring project that brought Krip Hop Nation to Newham in 2014. She is very much missed by her partner, colleagues, family and friends.

Another artist who will be greatly missed is the dancer and actor David Toole, whose performance with Candoco at the opening of the London 2012 Paralympics went down in history. David was the first Disabled dancer I knew of in the 1990s, and inspired me to believe that perhaps it was possible to dance without first possessing extreme youth and a ballet body.

All of these artists and others will pass into history this year. You can view the Muertos Ofrendas tributes created with Callaloo Arts to some of the artists we have lost here.