It was so very difficult to keep it to ourselves when we heard we had been successful in our application to the Challenge Fund at Spirit of 2012 Trust. We felt so excited, privileged and proud. We were about to embark on a three year process of cultural change.
Annabel Turpin, CEO of ARC Stockton, and myself as Artistic Director of Little Cog had had many discussions about how we could continue to develop our ideas about increasing opportunities for disabled people in the Arts. Annabel had supported Little Cog projects in both tangible ways, with in kind use of space, technicians, marketing and almost more importantly, with her belief in what we were doing. Quite genuinely, as someone who has worked in Disability Arts, Theatre and Cultural Equality for 23 years, I hadn’t encountered such a genuinely ‘open’ organisation, CEO, and team. So what do I mean by that often misused word, ‘open’? ARC didn’t use it as a catch-all phrase of ‘we’re open to everyone’ and let it stop there. Their practice, programme and creative learning programme have been pro-actively engaging with all members of the Stockton community for years.
We had collaborated on a number of artistic and participatory projects and knew we wanted to be more strategic and offer a comprehensive programme to local disabled people and audiences. The main aims of Cultural Shift are to challenge negative perceptions of disability and disabled people, and to involve and include disabled people in the arts at every level. The project includes both a very practical strand with lots of artistic delivery, and a strategic commitment in its ambition to share our learning with other partners in the North East, and around the country. We’re developing an excellent model of practice and cultural equality, which we’re keen to promote in other areas.
So we got the amazing news that we were successful in June, we had a lovely meeting with Oliver Williams from Spirit of 2012 Trust to discuss details, and then it was planning time. Myself and Programme Coordinator Chloe Lawrence came together to discuss lots of organisational practicalities for the programme of activity I was developing, based on our conversations with disabled people over the last three years, and, along with Annabel, laid the foundations from which to platform lots of disabled-led creativity. There was a community production to plan for, a disabled artist’s residency to support, a professional production to develop, a Club Night to set up a planning group for, and lots of participatory work to structure. I’m writing this retrospectively as it has been an incredibly busy, but it means I know how lots of these things have turned out. And I can’t wait to tell you, show you and ensure the people in the project tell and show you too….their voices must be heard!