Reflecting on Change, a major report by Tim Wheeler, investigates the impact of our international disability arts work
Marc Brew (UK) and Bora Kim (Korea) in Zero: Restriction, Body and Time. Photographer: Susan Hay.
Reflecting on Change
A major report exploring international disability arts launches on 3 December 2021 to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, #IDPWD.
Reflecting on Change is an independent report written by artist and academic Tim Wheeler and commissioned by the British Council.
Through artist interviews and thoughtful analysis, Wheeler tells the story of our international arts and disability work, surveying 350 events in 54 countries since 2012. He finds that our disability arts programmes have brought about significant, longterm change.
‘What the British Council has done is not just any movement; it’s a revolutionary movement,’ says artist Rabbi Mia about the British Council’s disability arts programme in Bangladesh.
The report shares case studies to explore how this change happened. Wheeler reflects critically on our methods, looking at where we could do better and recommending future directions of travel.
Reflecting on Change contributes to the global conversation about how the cultural sector could work in more equitable ways following Covid-19. We hope it will inspire others to undertake their own journeys with disability arts.
Download the report
Full report as an accessible pdf – Download now
Why read this report?
The report is aimed at policymakers, funders, researchers, organisations and practitioners who are working with arts and disability, and those who would like to do so.
An investigation of different approaches to disability arts and international exchange, at a time when there’s growing awareness of the importance of addressing historical imbalances.
Artist interviews and international stories of change from Bangladesh, East Africa, EU, Indonesia, South Korea, Wider Europe and the UK.
Practical advice including what worked, lessons learned and resources for those organising inclusive cultural events.
Future challenges for the cultural sector to address.
'What the British Council has done is not just any movement; it's a revolutionary movement'
Participant in a workshop in Mymensingh, Bangladesh. Part of DARE (Disability Arts: Redefining Empowerment), a three-year programme led by the British Council and Dhaka Theatre. Photograph: British Council Bangladesh.
The report finds that the British Council’s overall achievements in disability arts are:
Raising profiles. UK and international practitioners have grown in profile and disability arts have featured in high profile international events.
Changing perceptions. Our work has broadened the experiences of professionals and audiences and has brought artistic innovation.
Brokering international connections. We have developed the international links of key players, created the Unlimited Showcase for international professionals and fostered multi-country collaborations.
Building legacies. Our work has influenced lasting change to the cultural infrastructure of many countries.
Specific achievements include:
New companies. New inclusive performing arts companies – the first companies of their kind – set up in Armenia, Bangladesh and Indonesia.
Change through partnerships. A network that we helped to develop encouraged the new Culture Europe programme – a €2.44 billion EU cultural fund – to prioritise disabled artists and access to arts.
London 2012 legacy. Many countries have established a major disability arts platform alongside their Olympics and Paralympics Games, following London 2012, partly as a result of our work.
Amplifying new voices. Three-quarters of UK and international artists interviewed said that working with the British Council made them more likely to work internationally in the future.
Future recommendations include expanding our disability arts work to more countries and ensuring that UK artists have more equal international relationships. Wheeler suggests that UK practitioners could learn from their international peers about methods of blending socially engaged work with commercial activity.
Wheeler also calls for more knowledge-based exchange between academics and practitioners. Finally, he issues a challenge to the British Council and the cultural sector in general: how can we support disabled artists to develop an international community blending digital and in-person practice?
'How can we support disabled artists to develop an international community blending digital and in-person practice?'
Indonesian artist and campaigner Hana Madness, a key player in her country's disability arts scene. Credit: Hana Madness.
Views from artists
Reflecting on Change includes interviews with disabled artists about their experiences and their approaches to their work.
Hana Madness is an Indonesian visual artist and mental health campaigner who has been a key player in her country’s cultural scene. After visiting the Southbank Centre’s Unlimited festival as one of our international delegates, she helped to persuade the Indonesian government to launch its own festival of work by disabled artists. In 2020 she presented a collaboration with UK artist Alexis Maxwell at the UK’s DaDaFest.
In her interview, Madness says: ‘The most important thing now is to create a strong community. It is vital to have our voices heard, but it is also important to touch people's hearts and minds. When we've done it right, it will make us more prominent and more powerful. It's about connecting with other human rights issues, giving voice to voiceless and marginalised people. It is also about creating conversation and asking questions which need to be answered.’
She finishes: ‘If you stand up and fight against inequality, it is activism. I choose art as my weapon.’
Robert Softley Gale is Artistic Director of Birds of Paradise Theatre Company in Glasgow. Focusing on a project with artists in Rwanda, he speaks to Wheeler about approaching international exchange as a UK artist:
‘We had underlying feelings about being British and going to another country and telling them how to do things. It’s important to be aware of our colonial past but not let it take over, so you are always apologising because that doesn't help anybody. It doesn't move anything forwards.’
Softley Gale adds: ‘We’re not the experts; we’re not the gatekeepers of disability and inclusion. We’ve been thinking about it for quite a long time, and we’re happy to share some of that thinking, but we’re not telling you “this is how it must be done” because we don’t know how it must be done.’
‘If you stand up and fight against inequality, it is activism. I choose art as my weapon.’
Time to Act
Also launching on 3 December is Time to Act, a report by Europe Beyond Access, which is an EU programme led by the British Council. Time to Act presents compelling evidence that shows how lack of knowledge in the cultural sector prevents disabled people from fully participating as artists or arts professionals.
Together, the reports tell a powerful story – revealing the remarkable impact of British Council arts and disability programmes (Reflecting on Change), whilst revealing the huge challenges which still prevent disabled artists from fully accessing the cultural sector (Time to Act).
Find out more
> Read Time to Act from Europe Beyond Access
> See more about the UN's International Day of Persons with Disabilities
> Find out about the impact of our arts and disability work in Singapore
> From our archive: an article on how to avoid stereotyping disabled artists