Without Walls TALKS: You don’t have to be Disabled to make Inclusive work, by Daryl Beeton

14 October 2020

We are in a unique position right now as everyone reading this will have felt excluded or isolated at some point over the last six months, it’s a feeling we all now know, even if it’s only been for a moment it’s a feeling that is never comfortable.

Now imagine if this feeling was an everyday part of your life, even before the Covid Crisis, because of the way our society is designed. Feeling excluded is a reality for lots of Deaf, Disabled and/or Neurodivergent artists and audiences.

I made my first work for the outdoors in 2008 and over that time I’ve seen the journey of Disabled artist and audiences outdoors evolve. Like many sectors that want to readdress the imbalance, it started with embracing Disability Arts and inviting Disabled artists to create work specifically for the outdoors.  As the sector’s understanding widened, I witnessed the approach evolve into a more inclusive approach to making and presenting work.

I’m often asked what’s the difference between ‘Disability Arts’ and ‘Inclusive Arts’… surely it’s the same thing? Yet there is a fundamental difference about who makes it and how is made.

‘Disability Arts’ is art made by Disabled people which reflects the experiences of our lives and uses those lived experiences as inspiration. It’s not a hobby, it’s not therapy, its art where we are in charge.’

For example, my work, alongside Nickie Miles-Wildin, as part of Wild N Beets would fit within this category. Our shows such as Bingo Lingo and Buck A Brenda playfully explores the impact that austerity has upon the characters’ lives. Yes, it’s accessible and inclusive but it unapologetically places Disability Politics on the high street with funny, cheeky and end of the pier humour.

‘Inclusive Arts’ takes many forms, but it places access and inclusion at the heart of the work. From the start, is uses access as a positive creative stimuli and not as an additional add on. The best example of this is the London 2012 Paralympic Opening ceremony. It wasn’t a story about Disability, it was a story about humanity co-created and presented by Disabled and non-disabled artists for an equally diverse global audience.

It used access as a creative tool in a way often referred to as ‘The Aesthetics of Access’ a concept pioneered by Graeae in which access requirements shape the look and feel of the work. Access is part of the creative armoury, used to enhance the final performance for everyone involved.

So, the main difference between the two is you don’t have to be Disabled to make inclusive work. That’s an important point, it’s not something that’s created by ‘others’, it’s not someone else’s responsibility, it’s something that can be created by you. All of us have the power to make our work accessible and inclusive.

‘Most non-disabled artists begin their own inclusive journey thinking about how they make their work accessible for their audiences, and it’s a great first step, but to be truly inclusive the work needs to be co-created with disabled artist and creatives from the start.’

We all know that representation matters but it doesn’t come about by accident. By actively pursuing representation we show our audiences that they matter, that we value them and want them to feel seen, and to hear stories that resonate with them. We bring new creative ideas to our work by working with artists from different backgrounds and with different life experiences.

I’ve seen the outdoor sector go on this journey, we all need to share the responsibility of creating and presenting inclusive work, but what does this mean now in our current Covid climate?

This pandemic has pushed more of the UK arts sector outdoors and we’re having to adapt in a hurry, pivoting to different ways of working, communicating, re-structuring our creative approaches and ways we collaborate. And it’s not over yet.

But in the rush, my fear is the voices of Disabled artists are getting lost, that our visibility in public spaces is becoming more restricted and no longer by barriers we used to understand.

As artists we all want to get back making work as soon as it’s safe’ to do so and we have seen festival’s such as GDIF take those first steps, but the definition of ‘safe’ is a sliding scale; what’s safe for you is not always safe for me.

As a company Wild N Beets don’t feel ‘safe’ to tour yet, we’re not sure when we will and we are not alone. Out of all of the work that has been presented outdoors recently how much has been Disabled led? Are we still seeing the same volume of diverse and Disabled artists performing as there were pre-Covid?

I’m seeing more and more non-disabled artists back in rehearsal rooms, presenting work and I’m getting jealous, I get annoyed and angry that as a Disabled person I’m not in a position to do that yet. As a Disabled artist, I feel like I have been transported back to my childhood when the easiest option for the teachers was to just make me sit on the sidelines and watch rather than join in.

Now more than ever we need to take ‘The Aesthetics of Access’ approach to the current situation. This means thinking about how creating at distance, using the new restrictions, limitations and practices as jumping-off points, creative opportunities to explore and break new ground together.

It’s a shared responsibility, an opportunity to take a new step on that journey together, to co-create, to collaborate, to start a new narrative with those Disabled artists who have been forced to sit on the sidelines. We need to ensure the outdoor arts sector doesn’t lose the incredible visibility of diversity that we’ve spent the last decade achieving. I don’t have the answers, who does?… but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to have the conversations.

Find out more about Daryl’s work and Daryl Beeton Productions at DarylBeeton.com

Bingo Lingo is supported by Without Walls and commissioned by Greenwich+Docklands International Festival and Stockton International Riverside Festival. Developed with support from the Mayor of London’s Liberty Festival.

Buck A Brenda is supported by Without Walls and commissioned by Greenwich+Docklands International Festival and Hat Fair with R&D investment through Without Walls Blueprint.

Want to develop your understanding of access and inclusion?

Check out Daryl’s #ADiffWayToThink Mobile resource library, a one-stop-shop of thoughts, discussions, toolkits and resources on access and inclusion which formed part of the ‘#ADiffWayToThink – The Online Series’

About the Author:

Daryl Beeton is a Director and Performer who has worked extensively within the Theatre, Disability and young people’s arts sector for the last 25 years. A recognised cultural leader in youth arts participation as well as a high-profile advocate for disabled artists.

Daryl Beeton Productions is a Disabled-led company providing arts activities that are inclusive and accessible to everyone. We provide a platform for artists, companies and communities to collaborate and create professional productions, participatory projects and creative activities.

At the core of this work is the belief that arts can enrich our lives and those of the communities we inhabit. Daryl champions inclusive approaches to creating theatre that removes barriers and places the aesthetics of access at its core.

Working in this way has required him to be ambitious, imaginative and unorthodox, creating relevant and playful theatre that removes barriers and ensures the engagement for all and across all art forms.

In 2010 he was selected as one of 15 Cultural Leaders creating and producing work in the outdoor arts sector by the Independent Streets Arts Network (now Outdoor Arts UK) and in 2013 he was recognised with an Action for Children’s Arts Members Award for his commitment to enriching children’s lives through the arts

Follow Daryl on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.