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> > > Tony Heaton discusses Shape's 'Animate' programme

Colin Hambrook interviewed Tony Heaton, Chief Executive of Shape about the inspiration behind Shape's 'Animate' programme

a map of great britain made from wheelchair parts

Great Britain from a Wheelchair. Photo © Chris Smart

Animate will explore key events and art pieces from the rich history of Disability Arts through a programme of workshops and artists talks."

The first talk is at Shape's offices in Kentish Town London on 4 February 2010.

As part of the programme we are also commissioning Allan Sutherland to bring his Chronology of Disability Arts: 1977 - March 2003 up to date – as a key tool for bringing our history alive. Animate is about inspiring disabled people to engage with culture. On one level it’s about making art for its own sake - for enjoyment and self expression; but it’s also about celebrating the history of the disability arts movement.

Animate is something that’s been part of my thinking process for a long time. If your history is ephemeral it will either be misappropriated or dismissed. And I wanted to try to do something about articulating the rich history of disability arts, so that others can come and find out about it.

Allan’s chronology gives a context to the achievements of the past, as disability arts practitioners and of the broader disability arts community. So firstly Shape invited him to talk to the staff team, pulling out some of the major events and sharing his reasons for the importance of its being updated.

Foremost in my mind was that his chronology provides a good object of persuasion to attract funders to support development of a National Disability Arts Collection and Archive. Dao plays a part here too, because it is a custodian of that history and a viable resource for identifying good practice.

Many of the people who helped to create the movement aren’t alive. I feel a responsibility to make sure others who’ve moved us individually and made us stronger through their commitment aren’t forgotten.

photo of a series of sculpted blocks of white stone

'squarinthecircle?', sculpture made from Portland stone. Image © Chris Smart

We should celebrate disability life and our culture. It is inspiring when you see disabled people who are new to disability arts, suddenly come alive, when they realise what a source of enriching experience it can be."

Julie McNamara once said that the disability community is a family of cousins. We are not always going to agree on things, but there is a commonality between us, that it is vital to maintain. If we don’t tell our stories then others will do it for us.

By being active in determining what we think is good, promoting high quality practice and doing our best to promote good work being made by disabled artists. By commissioning Allan Sutherland to bring the chronology up to date Animate will signpost people to events that have been influential and provide stimulation.

Disability arts won’t go away no matter how much decision-makers and social engineers want to mainstream disabled people; not necessarily a bad thing, but there is always a danger that our voices will be side-stepped.

Academics and social commentators will be able to use the chronology as a tool for understanding the genre where we are coming from. It is not an end product but is a next step on journey to getting a disability arts archive up and running.

The history will become a vehicle for participants to explore their own living history, as they begin to investigate wider issues around disability rights and human rights.

As we work through the project, we want to encourage people to contribute their own views and experiences to the debate. So, a key part of the project is to develop an on-line resource for people to contribute to this living history via an interactive website.

This will also create a fantastic legacy for anyone who wants to learn more about Disability Arts. This is a celebratory project which looks at the achievements of disability arts using the chronology as a springboard in inspiring a whole new audience whilst also creating a considerable web presence.