This afternoon I went to the Liberty Festival, an annual event celebrating the contribution of disabled people to the arts and culture. It was held at a different and less accessible venue from previous years and its scale and scope had been cut back.
There was no comedy tent this year and I really missed it –previously it had been my favourite thing, and what I’d looked forward to most. For me, the logistics of the venue and the scaling back of the programme damped the energy of previous years.
The cuts to the arts and services for disabled people seemed to be on people’s minds, including the self proclaimed professional irritants and artists called The Disabled Avant-Garde. They invaded the stage dressed as grim reapers, complete with hoods and sickles, before declaring, ‘Disability art is dead’.
A statement explaining the invasion said, ‘The political future for disabled people isn’t looking too rosy, so the question might be asked: what are we meant to be celebrating?’
Their intervention was thought-provoking, funny and politically engaged, something a lot of contemporary art isn’t.
So, is disability art really dead? I’m concerned that the cuts will kill off some disability arts organisations as well as events. I’m hoping this threat will mean that disabled artists will be prompted to respond to the political climate and make work that’s challenging, innovative and critically engaged. Perhaps it’s time to stop celebrating and start revolting.