Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A noble cause?

Our website will tell you the practical nuts and bolts of what we do, but there is a second level to the work, and that is a specific desire to support artist working in the field of what might be broadly termed ‘Disability Arts’.
There are a number or reasons for our interest in supporting this fairly niche category of artists, which will be explored over the next few weeks. As a starting point however it seems prudent to tackle some common misconceptions about this field, which extend to misconceptions about what Narus, as a company, is trying to accomplish.

Do-gooding vs. doing good

If I had a penny for every time someone has told me how ‘good-hearted’ or ‘generous’ I am for the field I want to work in, I would be financially secure for the next year at least.  It is one of the most common responses to the mention of the word ‘disability.’

Of course, I like to flatter myself that I am both of those things, and a generally fabulous person, but that is a whole separate matter.   

My interest in disability arts is not about helping the ‘less fortunate’ or ‘helpless.’ Applying any of those terms to most of the artists I know is a completely laughable matter. No, my interest started with an admiration for the creativity inspired by different ways of accessing information and navigating the world; the visual music of sign language, the vivid pictures of audio description.

Once captivated, I discovered that th ere was an intensely political side to this world as well. The fire and determination that drove many of the artists I met appealed to my radical-California-girl side. Acceptance of difference ought to be a matter of common human decency, not a position of angelic superiority.

As a non-disabled advocate, one of my greatest fears is being taken for what Nabil Shaban (founder of Graeae Theatre Company) would refer to as ‘an able-bodied careerist  "do-gooder." I have been involved with the disability arts community too long to imagine anyone would stand for that.

Disability Arts isn’t Dramatherapy

A second common assumption when ‘disability’ is mentioned is that the work will be amateur or therapeutic… more focused on process than product or on keeping people who have nothing else to do entertained for a day.

While drama therapy as a field in itself is certainly a useful field it is quite separate area in which Narus primarily works.

We are, first and foremost, about supporting people who are, or are aspiring to be, professional artists who produce quality work and make a living doing so. This includes professional performances in traditional and non-traditional venues, community projects or educational programmes which use theatre practice.

There may be a therapeutic or cathartic element to the work, but that might be equally true of arts engagement on any subject.  The work may be directly about the experience of disability or completely unrelated, but it is usually about entertaining, informing, or challenging an audience rather than just giving the participants something to do.

What’s in a name?

In some ways perhaps ‘disability arts’ is the wrong term for what we want to support. Even words like ‘inclusive’ can sometimes retain the connotation of making a concession for someone who is somehow sub-standard. Perhaps ‘diverse’ is a better term.

Because of individual preference, talking around the subject can be a linguistic landmine, and we must try our best not to get bogged down in it, to listen as best we can, and hope that we are forgiven when we get in wrong.
In reviewing our website, some have commented that, given our target market, it is odd that disability is so seldom mentioned. This was a purposeful move on our part, as we consider that we focus on artists first and disabilities second.

In addition to providing what is hopefully a very practical service, we want to provoke dialogue and start to consider new ways of forming networks and reaching wider audiences. To support work to the point that venues will no longer think that having a ‘disability slot’ once a month on a Wednesday afternoon (and not marketed properly) is acceptable practice.

We see a need for a dialogue that reaches beyond what has traditionally been the disability arts community.  In many ways, the very people who make assumptions about do-gooding and dramatherapy are the ones that we most need to draw in and start to engage in conversations if we want a real shift in social consciousness.

Do talk to us, question us, support us, challenge us, let us know what you think! We’re on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and of course here on Blogspot, so there is no shortage of ways to reach us! 

Happy spring (such as it is) to all!