Cultural Shift

Cultural Shift was a disabled-led strategic project funded by Spirit of 2012 and delivered by Little Cog in partnership with ARC.

It involved a three year programme of artistic activity led by disabled people. It aimed to ensure that the extraordinary voices of disabled people were heard and the incredibly diverse art created by disabled people was valued as equal in our cultural landscape. We set out to challenge perceptions, create new opportunities and introduce new people to the work of disabled artists.

Under the leadership of Vici Wreford-Sinnott, artistic director of Little Cog, the programme transformed the way ARC thought about disability. It helped us embed disability equality into all aspects of the organisation, and enriched our programme through the presentation of disabled-led work.

Read more about the programme in this Report

Download our guide: Ideas for your Venue and Disabled People

Artistic Policy


The aims of ARC’s artistic policy in relation to disabled-led work are:

  • to challenge negative commonly held perceptions about disability and disabled people
  • to involve disabled people in the arts at every level

ARC is committed to supporting work which is contemporary in its approach and relevant to peoples’ lives today.

The work of disabled artists and participants in the programme may or may not have a disability focus, although we are ensuring that the work is disabled-led.


Disability: We work to the Social Model of Disability which was developed by disabled people. The social model says that disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference. It looks at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people. Such barriers include physical, sensory, information and attitudinal barriers. Solutions include accessible buildings with level access and lifts, British Sign Language, and infra-red or induction loop hearing access, guide or assistance dog access, braille, large print and audio information, and a change in attitudes and practices by increasing understanding of disability and disability equality. We aim to work with disabled people of all ages and from across all communities.

Disabled-led: A programme or project informed, managed and delivered by disabled people.

Self-defining: We realise that many people with impairments do not identify as disabled, for lots of reasons. Sometimes this is due to the negative stigma attached to ideas around ‘disability’. We believe that in order to achieve equality for disabled artists, practitioners, professionals, managers, participants and audiences, it is necessary to use definitions about disability, although we do not expect people to change how they chose to define themselves.

Disabled Voices: Artists, Directors, Actors and Writers

In line with our existing commitment to present work that is contemporary and relevant to local audiences, artists, and participants, we are exploring the ethics of who tells the stories of disabled people in the work we commission, programme and support. We aim to ensure that work with a disability focus is disabled-led and that artists creating work about disability are disabled people or have a lived experience of disability. We expect disabled people to fill the roles of disabled characters and also to encourage artists and companies to cast disabled people in roles where disability is not necessarily a focus of the production.

Audiences and Participants

We aim to both increase the audiences for the work of disabled people and increase disabled people as audience members and participants. We do this through our marketing, audience development, engagement and partnership work.

Programming and Commissioning

Our programme will continue to be a platform for the voices of disabled artists and companies. We work with artists to ensure that the content of their work champions changing perceptions of disability and disabled people. We ensure the work we programme does not perpetuate negative stereotypes and myths around disability and disabled people.

Read more about that on this blog from Little Cog’s website.

If you are a disabled artist or are approaching us about work that considers disability, illness or mental health, please watch our short film first.


Furthering the Conversation

Our work around disability is not an ‘add-on’ to our existing work but embeds the cultural equality of disabled people into all aspects of ARC. The programme exists neither in isolation nor a vacuum. All staff receive disability equality training and each department continues to examine the implications of this knowledge for its work.

ARC supports artists to develop new work and in so doing provides a home for the creation of new work, an outside eye, and aims to support artists with mentoring and professional support for anything outlined in this policy.

The work of ARC does not sit in isolation but is part of the local, regional and national cultural ecology. We are proactive members and leaders of professional networks with whom we share our work and practice. Our work will be shared in wider cultural settings by our partner, Little Cog, and its director Vici Wreford-Sinnott, who is a key influencer.

More than anything we are ready and keen to talk to disabled artists, disabled-led companies and organisations, participants, young people, staff, participants and audiences about improving opportunities for disabled people.

Explore the Cultural Shift Archive


REACH – Touring in the North East

REACH was a strategic touring project funded by Arts Council England, designed to increase the amount and quality of contemporary theatre touring into the North East region.

Phase I (2014 – 2016)

Phase I of the project brought some of the most exciting artists and companies in the country to perform at nine venues in the North East. It was underpinned by a programme of support for venues around marketing, audience development and programming.

The project was a partnership between ARC Arts Centre and Dep Arts Ltd, Leeds based theatre and dance producers.

Key people involved were:

Project managers: Annabel Turpin, Chief Executive, ARC and David Edmunds, Director & Executive Producer, Dep Arts

Audience development: Kate Sanderson, Indigo Ltd, Kelly France, Marketing Manager, ARC and Louise Wilkin, REACH Audience Development Coordinator

Production: Hazel Plummer, REACH Production Coordinator

Partner venues:

Alnwick Playhouse
Arts Centre Washington
Bishop Auckland Town Hall
Customs House, South Shields
Hartlepool Town Hall Theatre
Queen’s Hall Arts Centre, Hexham
Saltburn Community Theatre
Seaton Delaval Arts Centre

REACH presented ten shows in each of the venues (including ARC) between September 2014 and the end of November 2016. Eight of these shows were touring shows, and two were brand new commissions, partly developed in the North East as part of the project.

Kate and her support staff worked with venues throughout the project to support audience development and marketing around the shows, to grow audiences for contemporary theatre.

In addition, there were funded opportunities for programmers to get together, meet other companies and go and see new work, as well as a showcase event in summer 2016 bringing venues and companies together for one day at ARC.

The programme included:

  • 154 Collective – Under the Bed
  • Analogue – Stowaway
  • Redcape Theatre – Be Brave and Leave for the Unknown
  • Stan’s Café – Made Up
  • Tangled Feet – Kicking and Screaming
  • The Paper Birds – Thirsty
  • Theatre Alibi – Fish Eye
  • Third Angel – Cape Wrath & The Life and Loves of a Nobody
  • Unlimited Theatre – MONEY the game show

Download a Summary of the Project Achievements

Phase II (2017 – 2020)

Phase II continued to bring new, contemporary performance to the North East, building on the development work carried out in Phase I. Following annual showcases providing opportunities for programmers to see excerpts of new work, two shows per year were chosen for touring.

Managed by ARC, the six venue partners were:

The programme included:

  • Rhum & Clay – Testosterone
  • Middle Child – One Life Stand
  • Altered Skin – Confessions of a Cockney Rebel Dancer
  • Gracefool Collective – This is Not a Wedding
  • Victoria Melody – Professional Strangers
  • Leo & Hyde – Guy the Musical 

    A bride hold up the front of her dress to reveal she's propped up on a succession of other people who are stacked underneath her
    This Is Not A Wedding by Gracefool Collective