‘How can disabled artists change the ‘mainstream’ arts sector?’

Outside In director and founder Marc Steene took part in Unlimited: The Symposium earlier this month. Here he shares an insight to the event and how the panel discussed the topic of ‘how can disabled artists change the ‘mainstream’ arts sector?’

Marc BW

Director Marc Steene

I was very pleased to be asked to be a part of the art panel at the Unlimited: The Symposium.


The panel was chaired by Andrew Millar UK government disability champion for arts and culture and on the panel was acclaimed artist Jess Thom aka TouretteHero; Finnish campaigners Sari Salovaara and Outi Salonlahti from Helsinki’s Culture for All; myself and composer Lloyd Coleman, associate music director of the Paraorchestra and Friends.

The subject was: “How can disabled artists change the ‘mainstream’ arts sector? Can disabled artists change the ‘mainstream’ from within, or does it end up changing us and our work? Are disabled artists supported to make art of quality and ambition and artistic innovation within the mainstream, or only in specialist disability specific settings? Is the UK’s ‘Creative Case for Diversity’ working?”

It was very interesting to hear a range of voices and opinions, Sari and Outi spoke about the situation for disabled artists in Finland and how much more work there was to do, Jess spoke powerfully and with great humour about her work and Tourettes and Lloyd about the establishment of the Paraorchestra and his role within it. There was no clear consensus, more a range of differing opinions and perspectives, but it was well received.

I wanted to approach the subject without a specific reference to disability given that Outside In works with a much wider spectrum of artists that just those with disabilities. As a charity our principle is to first and foremost enable people to self-define as artists, side stepping any labels society or the medical world uses. With this in mind I gave a presentation titled ‘Shit Art?’ focussing on art work that challenges concepts of value and process, artists whose work sidesteps convention, whose work is not always about commodity, but nonetheless needs to be seen and valued.

For my part I would argue that rather than ‘shit art’ that art from the margins is some of the most interesting and challenging work we can engage with. If you remove the blinkers of convention and approach it with an open heart and eyes it will strike you with its integrity and emotional charge, leaving a lasting impression of the artist’s feelings, thoughts and obsessions powerfully conveyed. It communicates on its own terms, without apology or explanation.

Artists shouldn’t have to change to fit the system, the challenge is to find a way for the art world to adapt to include a wider body of artists and art and become truly inclusive, rethinking its values around curation, commodity and terminology.

You can watch the talk below, Marc’s section begins at 49.08:

To find out more about Unlimited, visit HERE


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