Welcome from Julie Newman

Together! 2012 CIC Chair Julie Newman opened the Making History Together! 2020 Disability History Month Festival on 12 November at 7pm.

Welcome to the ninth Together! 2012 Disability History Month Festival. Who would have thought, back in 2012 when the United Kingdom Disabled People’s Council, with Jaspal Dhani as the Chief Executive, set up our first Disability Arts Festival, that we were creating a Paralympic Cultural Legacy? That first Festival came about because of the determination of local Disabled people that we should not be overlooked, while international attention was being directed to cultural events that had no relationship to our lived experience. Other than a brief participation in the vast Opening and Closing ceremonies, there was no obvious opportunity to showcase the diverse art forms and expertise of Disabled artists.

Yet, the Charter of the International Paralympic Committee, the IPC, specifically mentions culture as one of the missions for Legacy. The IPC has worked for years to ensure the place of our elite Disabled  sports people as part of a globally recognised sporting movement, on a par with the Olympics as the pinnacle. Greater inclusion and improved accessibility are expected within the Host cities, if not nations. A significant part of the London Paralympics, alongside the Olympics, was the investment by the Big Lottery Fund, the Arts Council and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, DCMS. The Cultural Legacy had far reaching aims in attracting greater revenue through tourism and increased global awareness of national cultural attractions. This was emphasised by the UK being a signaturee to the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, specifically Article 30, which states that Disabled people have a right to experience and participate in arts, culture and sports.

Our 2012 Festival from the moment of planning kept those principles foremost. We saw the value of showcasing Disabled artists across the range of art forms as critical in breaking down barriers of exclusion and demonstrating excellence, on a parallel with the legacy of increasing access to sport and training opportunities for disabled people.

During the 2012 Festival, we listened to local people who told us that arts project work wasn’t enough. The short period of time that the arts offer was being delivered would not give enough opportunities to learn and develop new skills without an infrastructure to support that knowledge to grow. The closures of the community resources and day centres impacted massively on this lack of opportunity. At a time when the nation had entered austerity, we decided to create an organisation that would provide a rich and full cultural legacy for Disabled people. So in 2013, we set up Together! 2012 CIC, a not-for-profit Disability Arts organisation based in Newham, the main Host Paralympic borough.

The Mayor of London’s Policy Advisor, David Morris, had sadly died before he could see the realisation of his part of this dream. His ambition was for the 2012 Paralympics to leave behind a new awareness of the ever-widening potential of Disabled artists, both nationally and internationally, and opportunities to include new generations. He saw an inclusive society that welcomed all regardless of publicly perceived success. Rather, success was measured upon the value of individual efforts that made the whole. David believed that all of us as Disabled people had the right to access and enjoy arts and culture, and importantly to share that. While we are not yet at that point nationally or internationally, as an organisation we continue to strive to contribute to make this a reality.

It is not just the immediate barriers that we face together, but the long-held prejudices that deny our children access to full and proper schooling, further and higher education, and the opportunity to pursue life goals whatever they may be. The arts, like sports, are not just about creating an elite level of achievement, but alongside that allowing the freedom of expression in established and new art forms in unique and creative demonstrations of excellence at all levels. 

How do we measure success? Is it in the first tentative marks on a piece of paper by someone who has been previously been denied access to art materials, or is that only available to a nationally renowned artist exhibiting at the Tate Modern? Together! 2012 would ague for the value of both. We hold the belief that the Cultural Legacy of the 2012 Paralympics extends for everyone to access, and we continue in our efforts to showcase Disability Art.

The 2020 festival is remarkable on several fronts. First and foremost it is the first festival for our current staff team, Dr Ju Gosling, the Artistic Director, Alison Marchant our Clubs Programme Leader, and we  started the year with two new members of staff, Hazel Brill, our Youth Engagement Worker, and Noel Guinan, the Engagement Support Worker. Despite the restrictions that the current pandemic placed on our activities, all have worked together, including our Volunteers, to continue to realise our commitment to our work programme.

So, in 2020, Together! 2012 went virtual. Our staff worked tirelessly to ensure that all of our participants were supported in their individual art programmes, and created a new telephone poetry club, and online opportunities for those with internet access. The creation of an online television show, Together Unlocked!, has three times a week since the end of March given an opportunity to showcase our artists during Lockdown, and helped to combat that enemy of mental health, isolation.

Our team has benefitted by being joined on the shows by our Business Director, Robin Surgeoner, and our Youth Presenter, Josh Surgeoner. Robin is a medalled Paralympian as well as being an artist and performer, and Josh, a PhD student, has presented our sports and app updates. Both are swimming coaches, so we have furthered benefited from that expertise. 

The opportunity to see live presenters, and to hear the latest news not just about the arts, or sports but also about how to stay safe and well during the unfolding health crisis, has been an important contribution to community engagement. In order to widen the audience and make the viewing more accessible, we have obtained funding to have the show captioned, both live and on our website and YouTube Channel.

Our Artistic Director, Ju has actively contributed to public health discussions about sharing information and supporting each other in our wonderfully diverse Borough of Newham. Under her guidance we have created and contributed our own resources. Charlie and the C Monster is a free-to-share comic-book format guide about how the virus spreads, also made available as an animated film. What’s App Aunty is a film that can also be shown in short clips to demonstrate how to use the NHS Covid-19 App that was piloted locally. The primary language is BSL and it is captioned in English. Both resources were launched as Open Source and promoted on our shows. Ju has also produced and directed Together Unlocked! in addition to her other work as Artistic Director.

We are very pleased to present our 2020 Disability History Month Festival, and this year have named it Making History. That is what we are all doing this year. As I said previously, this is our first completely online festival. Along with others we have had to spend the year developing a range of opportunities to continue our work, and furthermore to extend it and break new boundaries. The festival this year has been produced by Ju, as our Artistic Director, but has achieved a lot of support to make it as far-reaching and diverse as possible during these very challenging times. 

I would like to thank the Arts Council England for their ongoing belief in our work and continued support and funding. The National Lottery Community Fund have helped us to create a wonderful core staff team through their funding and support. Finally, the London Emergency Fund have ensured that our work continues to strive to be inclusive by funding our BSL Interpreters and Captioning Services. We are deeply grateful to each, and to all of our other supporters who contribute in so many ways.

Today’s launch is an important opportunity to pay tribute to those Disabled artists who sadly have left us this year. Many of us have suffered loss, either directly or indirectly during a year of tremendous tumult. Together! 2012 has always valued our artists and their contributions to the rich mix of talents and skills that make up Disability Arts. I will hand over to Ju Gosling, to introduce the Festival programme and the next section of our Launch.

You can read Ju’s tribute to the History Makers here