In July 1992, the second Block Telethon campaign was launched during a press event which saw the artist Tony Heaton present his piece Shaken… not Stirred. A commentary on the hierarchical nature of the charity system, the piece consisted of a seven-foot high pyramid of charity collecting cans which were brought crashing to the ground during a performance which saw Heaton launch a prosthetic leg at it, presenting a powerful visual metaphor for what could be achieved through the collective action of disabled people.
Telethon was a charity fundraiser broadcast on ITV which many disabled people felt reinforced negative stereotypes, presenting them as helpless objects of pity. In 1990, the first Block Telethon campaign saw approximately 300 disabled people gather to demonstrate their opposition outside ITV studios during the live broadcast. By 1992, however, significant mobilisation and planning saw thousands of disabled activists and their supporters turn out onto London’s South Bank to protest. Musicians, poets, comedians, artists and other performers all contributed to the mood of buoyant defiance on the day, and campaigners travelled from across the country to participate. Protesters blocked the streets with banners and placards, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the unapologetic command to ‘Piss on Pity’, a message which became emblematic of a more radical phase in disability politics and the Disability Arts Movement.
NDACA, the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive, is a £1-million Heritage Lottery Fund project which celebrates and preserves this history; the protests, songs and artwork of the individuals who were central to this unique movement. From the satirical cartoons of Crippen, to the subversive cabaret performances of ‘The Tragic but Brave Show’, NDACA tells these stories, bringing new digital and object meaning to the Disability Arts Movement.
NDACA will offer a multi-layered, cultural experience with an interactive website, pop-up exhibitions, touring digital cinema, a learning engagement programme with Disability History Month, as well as the NDACA wing at Buckinghamshire New University, and I am currently working on the ‘going live’ phase of the project during a three-month CHASE-funded placement with Shape Arts. As a researcher, working on NDACA is an exciting opportunity to discover the individuals who have been central to the history of the Disability Arts Movement. It’s an opportunity to reflect upon the movement’s broader relationship to disability politics and to consider how these stories will enrich the public’s understanding of disabled people in new and diverse ways. NDACA will be a vital resource for anyone wishing to understand key moments in modern British history from the perspective of disabled people themselves, encouraging current and future scholars to value an approach in which the voices of disabled people are fundamental to our understanding of the complexities of the past.
My role at Shape Arts is varied; I support in the promotion of NDACA across different academic networks, as well as on the preparation and delivery of upcoming engagement events. Between the 1-4 March 2018, Shape Arts took over the space at Tate Exchange to run Ghosts in the Machine, a series of drop-in workshops, performances and talks which challenged assumptions about disability in the arts. NDACA-commissioned artist Poppy Nash ran creative sessions exploring the heritage of the Disability Arts Movement, and visitors had the opportunity to engage with this radical history by responding to the question ‘What does equality mean to you now?’ Full details of this and other workshops which ran as part of Ghosts in the Machine can be found here: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/tate-exchange/workshop/ghosts-machine
The NDACA.ORG launches later this year, but until then those interested in discovering more about the valuable and vibrant heritage of the Disability Arts Movement can sign up to the NDACA Paper by following this link: http://www.ndaca.org.uk/?location_id=3074
Chloe Trainor, NDACA Project Support and CHASE-funded doctoral student at the University of Kent.