“Access to the arts comes with a huge physical and financial price tag, so it becomes a luxury we just can’t afford. Until society makes us a priority we will always have to fight for those rare moments of joy.” Leanna Benjamin
As we prepare our plans for Leeds 2023, we’ve been holding monthly gatherings with the sector to discuss and implement action on important topics, we’ve discussed how we can better support independent artists and freelancers and how we can reimagine the use of venues and spaces -particularly as we navigate through the current restrictions. In September our third gathering was about access into the arts for disabled people.
Access and equity should be a starting block in the foundations of every cultural organisation. So why is it that disabled people are let down by the sector time and time again?
We came together to hear insights and discuss how we can improve accessibility and inclusion in the arts, particularly for disabled people. It’s a hugely important area of work for Leeds 2023 and for the sector more widely, and it’s vital that we have these conversations now and take action to ensure that we’re creating a festival that is open to everyone.
Throughout the session we heard powerful statements from James Hill and Liam Hirst (Pyramid of Arts), Tom Bailey and Donna Coleman (Love Arts), Leanna Benjamin (writer, performer, blogger, disability rights activist and fundraiser) and Gill Crawshaw (Leeds based curator with a background in using art to highlight the inequalities experienced by disabled people. Their stories are those that are heard all too often: little or no physical access to cultural spaces, additional costs such as the price of additional tickets for personal assistants and accessible transport, and the feeling of being judged and not part of the ‘crowd’.
Our discussions were extensive and focused on attitude, communication, language, learning and resources, as well as simple ‘hacks’ that we can all use to make the arts inclusive for everyone, with or without a disability. Some positive, immediate steps we can all take are using capital letters in the first word of hashtags, getting rid of jargon, using photographs in job descriptions and sharing job vacancies in places you wouldn’t normally share them; these seem like small things, but can make a huge difference.
So, what’s next? Starting as soon as possible, the Leeds 2023 board, staff and partners will undertake specific training so that right from the beginning, we are all aware of the issues around access and inclusivity and how we can take positive action and start to create change.
As well as training, we’re committed to exploring different ways in which can affect change and help deliver an accessible and diverse cultural programme for the year. We’re also committed to building on the relationships we have with our incredible provocateurs like Gill, Liam, James, Tom, Donna and Leanna so that together, we can co-create a festival that everyone can be involved in and be proud of.