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A New Initiative Places Curators Who Identify as Disabled at UK Museums

The disability-led visual arts organization DASH is funding curatorial positions at three museums across the UK.

DASH partners with galleries across the UK to increase the presence of disability persons in the arts. Pictured: An ‘in’ with a stranger at Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre, “Fall of water” by Catrin Andersson (image courtesy DASH, photo by Greg Jones)

The disability-led visual arts organization DASH recently announced a new three-year project that provides funding for three curators who identify as disabled to work with cultural institutions across the United Kingdom. The Arts Council England has allocated £100,000 (~ $135,470) to fund opportunities at Arnolfini (Bristol), Midland Arts Center (MAC, Birmingham), and Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA). The goal of DASH’s new initiative is to make the art world generally more inclusive at a time when museums are just starting to think about the accessibility of their spaces.

“We are very excited about the potential and the possibilities that will come from these three curatorial residencies,” DASH’s artistic director, Mike Layward, told Hyperallergic. “We hope this will lead to more Disabled people having key influential roles in the visual arts in the UK.”

Primarily partnering with groups across England and Wales, DASH’s Curatorial Commissions program will aim to increase levels of participation among disabled children and young people. The duration of each commission at the organizations listed above will be one to two years.

Founded in 1992, DASH has organized numerous art exhibitions, fundraisers, conferences, and public workshops devoted to exploring the disabled person’s experience. (The group even produced a trendy zine in 1996 focused on art by disabled people.) With aging infrastructure and cobblestone streets, Britain (or Europe in general, for that matter) isn’t the easiest place to live for disabled people. According to a 2017 Access Survey by the charity Euan’s Guide and Disabled Access Day, 92% of British disabled people polled said they didn’t feel confident visiting new places due to accessibility worries, while 83% admitted they’ve found it difficult to access buildings in the past. Yet according to a 2016 survey released by the UK’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport, disabled participation in the arts has significantly risen for the past decade.

“Personally I think there has been a lot of work done by galleries in the UK to make their spaces more accessible. They have moved on from the physical access (well most have) to looking at attitudinal access so audio described tours for visually impaired people, BSL tours for Deaf people, small group tours for people who find crowds difficult,” said Layward. “So this is all good, but as an old anarchist saying goes, we don’t want the crumbs from the table we want the bakehouse.”

This problem is not unique to the United Kingdom. Just last year, members of DisArt wrote about the inability of wheelchair users to access the Paris Outsider Art Fair, for example. In the United States, American Sign Language (ASL) tours are fairly common in most major museums, but programs addressing the broad range of the disability community are rarer. Some recent efforts include the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s verbal imaging and touch tours for blind visitors and the Museum of Modern Art’s Create Ability studio program, which has serviced over 10,000 guests with learning and development disabilities with hands-on activities.

DASH will announce details of applying for the curatorial program in the coming weeks. In the meantime, more details can be found at the organization’s website.

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