The UK development organisation and membership
body for community and participatory dance
Animated Edition - Autumn 2005
What a view
Paddy Masefield OBE MA and former Board Member of the Foundation for Community Dance has completed the first UK book ever to appraise and applaud disability Arts. STRENGTH: Broadsides from Disability on the Arts will be published early in 2006. In the following extract he reflects on the stark contrasts in public perception between disability artists and disabled sports people, which will need to be addressed before the staging of the 2012 London Paralympics
'Before my better known careers as a playwright, theatre director, arts consultant and campaigner for issues of disability in the arts (I was the only disabled person on any of the five original lottery Good Causes Boards), I was briefly an athletics coach in Uganda.

'That experience pops up as predictably as a synchronised swimmer in my arts writing. This excerpt is taken from a Chapter in which I was deploring the fact that the medical profession seeks to divide the family of disabled people into its constituent impairment labelling. While my own special interest was in the stunning but not widely known, poetry and art work of people who choose to call themselves 'Survivors' of the mental health system. A title that will be acquired by one in 14 of us during our lifetime.

'So it fascinates me that while there are even fewer professional disabled athletes than there are artists, they nonetheless have such a high profile and recognition in the form - for instance of wheelchair racing multi-champion Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson - the second most recognised wheelchair user in the UK after Professor Stephen Hawking. Yet that recognition derives from the largest base of impairment separation known to disability. The Olympic Games cover an immense diversity of 301 sports from pole-vaulting to handball. The Paralympics have an even greater number of events, 417. Because within each sport, such as the 100 metres run on the track or swum in the pool, there may be as many as seven categories for competitors who lack only one foot, one leg, two feet or both legs, let alone distinctions of sight, and other impairments.

'In the arts world we're rightly enthralled by the evidence that David Toole was a "once in a decade" dancer, while Ian Stanton was a revered folksinger/songwriter who could weave a wonderful lyric into the warp of Talking Disabled Anarchist Blues. To the superficial observer they appeared to have very similar impairments. But because we don't compete, that was totally irrelevant to which art form they chose to represent.

'But television viewer figures for the Paralympics are increasing rapidly. Could this be because this impairment segregation is perpetuating the voyeuristic viewer instincts that also drive up the ratings for TV programmes about children whose parents seek miracle cures, or whose behaviour (conditional on medical dysfunction) actually supplies the same fascination that audiences once derived from unequal contests between maned animals and adherents to a new religion in Roman Amphitheatres?

'As a former athletics coach and very occasional TV worker I don't know. What I do know is that Jude Kelly, once offered the job of being my Repertory Theatre Associate Director, now appointed to head up the legally obligatory arts festival element of the 2012 London Olympics, will have to seek the wisest counsel if she is to make of it anything as long lasting as Paralympic sport. Or indeed to echo the ambition of Manchester's 1993 Olympic bid, when Manchester City Council committed themselves not only to bequeathing a legacy of sporting stadia, but also Europe's first disability-specific arts centre. Perhaps incorporating adapted accommodation on site for performers, car access to the heart of the building and not its perimeters, and instead of loads of lifts, a whole section of floor that could transfer bar customers to theatre auditoriums or drop stages into restaurants. I was only a junior partner to the proposals by access consultants Victoria Waddington and James Holmes-Siedle, but they lit an Olympian flame of desire within me, and Ken Livingstone is a man who can spot a spark a mile away. He still has time.

'What disability needs to find in double quick time is an arts equivalent of Tanni Grey-Thompson. An articulate, sensitive wheelchair sportswoman of an era, it was totally appropriate that her role model status was recognised by being made a Dame. In turn what that achieved was her spectacular television profile as a key member of London's historic trip to Singapore to clinch that Olympics deal. Now she is a member of a committee which recommends which other sportspeople receive royal honours. Jealous? No actually - I'm just inspired!'

STRENGTH: Broadsides from Disability on the Arts by Paddy Masefield can now be ordered at the reduced price of £16 (inc p&p) via paddy@archbrook.plus.com

In the next edition of Animated, Trentham Books Ltd will be offering a pre-publication 33 per cent discount to all disabled people and a 20 per cent discount to all arts professionals.

3 December, European Day of disabled People will see the third annual Paddy Masefield Award presented by Sir Christopher Frayling to the winner of Europe's only visual arts award specifically for learning-disabled people. (Paddy was supposed to have died of terminal cancer in 2002).

(c) Paddy Masefield

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Animated: Autumn 2005