Jo Verrent interrogates the No Boundaries conference’s tagline: “a symposium on the role of arts and culture in a world where there is no normal”.
Normally, when I go to book for a piece of performance I do the same as everyone else – check the venue, check the travel arrangements, check the diary, only for a standard run of a play in the UK there might only be one or two dates for me to choose from. Why? Because I’m hearing impaired and prefer accessible performances (with captions or BSL interpretation). It’s pretty much the same for anything I want to see – a smaller scale piece perhaps, a live art event or something outdoors. Of course, there are some fantastic examples of accessible work, but they’re the exception rather than the rule. For most things, there are usually no access options at all available and I have to make do with what I can see and what I can persuade those going with me to share.
I want the normal to shift, and that’s one thing I’m taking with me to No Boundaries.
No Boundaries is the latest State of the Arts event supported by Arts Council England and the British Council. Rather than simply being a talking shop run from on high, this time the event is being created and curated by a consortium of arts organisations and artists, including Watershed, Pilot Theatre, Festival of Ideas, Spike Island, Bristol Old Vic, Bristol City Council, York City Council, University of Bristol and University of the West of England. It’s billed as “a symposium on the role of arts and culture in a world where there is no normal”, and looking through the programme, I’m excited to think that it might just get there.
So what’s it doing that’s different? Well, it’s taking place in two locations simultaneously – York and Bristol – as well as being broadcast on the internet. Care has been taken get a variety of people attending – discounts for disabled artists and young people, a tiered funding structure so smaller organisations can afford to come along. It’s got a programme that’s half formalised and half open – so people can have space to talk about the things that really matter to them. And the more formal presentation side isn’t people simply recounting their pet projects but is focused on the stuff that really matters – how do we ensure the potential of young people is released? How do we build the adaptive resilience of culture? What is the future society we want? And it’s got access – with audio description, speech to text captioning and BSL sign language interpreters, even for the online stuff. Oh, and they’ve started the debates and discussions before we’ve even got there.
It’s a great short cut to getting straight to the heart of conversations – I’ve already had a few exchanges on Twitter based on the content, and look forward to having many more in the flesh next week. I like the idea of an event that gets you thinking about what you want, before you even get there. So what else do I want? What else am I going there to find out more about?
As the senior producer for Unlimited, a commissions programme to create extraordinary art by disabled artists from England and Scotland, I’m determined to challenge and change ‘the normal’. I want a cultural sector that represents the world as diversely as possibly, where all artists can be firmly embedded in the cultural sector, not just those who come from a normative, privileged background. I want access for all audiences too – not just access for a narrow spectrum of society who have the money, the access, and the opportunity. I want more, too – the arts to be seen as life enhancing, as vital as schools and hospitals for keeping our society whole and healthy. For those that work in the arts to be seen as crucial to economic and social development. For the boundaries around culture, art, science, business, technology, and the rest to be exposed for the paper thin nonsense that they really are.
Can No Boundaries deliver on all of that for me? I’ll find out, but looking at the depth of the schedule and the breadth of the delegate list I reckon it’s in with a chance.
Jo Verrent is Senior Producer for Unlimited.
[This post originally appeared on the British Council Theatre and Dance blog: http://theatreanddance.britishcouncil.org/blog/no-boundaries-jo-verrent/]