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Interview with Ruth Gould (Artistic Director of DaDaFest) Part 1.

We chat to Ruth Gould, Artistic Director of DaDaFest - an innovative disability arts organisation based in Liverpool, delivering a festival and other arts events to promote high quality disability & deaf arts from unique cultural perspectives.

How and when did DaDaFest start? What did you set out to achieve?

DaDaFest started as a festival in 2001 as a one-off disability and deaf arts festival, but our organisation was actually established in 1984. We were called North West Disability Arts Forum [NWDAF]. Before the festival our programme of work involved training disabled people to think about becoming artists through workshops and, for those more established, developing their business skills to help them pitch for work.

We found that not many people outside the disability sector were taking our artists on or appreciating their work. It really came to a head when I was in a conference when one of the arts organisations in Liverpool said to me - “I’ve got a problem with your artists.” What do you mean ‘a problem with my artists’? They replied, “They’ve never had a proper arts training”.

And what they meant was they didn’t get into mainstream arts education. People didn’t realise it wasn’t until 2002 that the Disability Discrimination Act meant that you could no longer stop disabled people gaining places on arts courses. The festival came about because I was approached to put something together for Liverpool’s bid for the European Capital of Culture. It was a lot of money; it was substantial back then, and I thought “What’s the point of doing a one-day event? Let’s do a programme of events”. A festival where we could be paying our artists to go into mainstream venues and make opportunities for disabled artists, and affect change in mainstream venues. We established a working group and came up with the aims of the festival; what we were trying to achieve, and the name DaDaFest.

The organisation has changed its name to DaDaFest because it’s become the biggest thing about us – it’s like the shop window into all of our work. It had a certain set of aims:

1. To increase employment opportunities for the artists.

2. To support a cultural exchange within the venues.

3. To make everything we put on as accessible as possible so that no one would be turned away, so that every venue uses sign-language interpretation, audio description and personal assistants.

4. To increase understanding of disability politics and the need to adapt. What's particularly important is the framework of the social model of disability which organisations can build into policies around inclusion. This means arts organisations were responsible for identifying the barriers which stop disabled people accessing their venue or organisation or in galleries.

So that’s what we set out to do and I think we’ve been quite successful meeting those aims.

How have you developed over the years?

This year is our 30th anniversary as an organisation - we’ve developed by being responsive to the climate we’ve been working in, in different ways. For example funding, which is important for us as we’re non-profit so we need to keep fundraising, but also in the political climate, and how disabled people need to be positioned in society.  Our work started off in 1984 when disabled people weren’t getting many opportunities to work in or be part of the arts. If anything happened it was “passive therapeutic activity” only. We weren’t seeing disabled people being represented in the mainstream media so our aim was to challenge that. The socio-politic climate has now changed, and more opportunities are available, but we’ve still got a long way to go because it can still be very tokenistic and hit-and-miss.

What opportunities does DaDaFest deliver?

Now, DaDaFest as a festival showcases work where we invite in lots of different artists to perform and exhibit. We work within themes so that there is a rationale behind what is presented. This year the theme is Art of the Lived Experiment, so we’re looking at the issues about how the lives of disabled people are changing – a very fast changing culture around new digital work and medical advances; new technology that can make us live longer, such as replacements and implants. We’re looking at how that affects how people incorrectly perceive being disabled as a stigma and is wrong, and that they should get fixed.

One of our biggest programmes is our ongoing Young People’s Programme: with a working group of over twenty young people who tell us what art-related things they want to do. It’s a regular programme of different arts activities every year as determined by those young people. We also do a lot of work on access to provision and disability equality training, within the arts and culture sector but also outside for example with social services and probation services. We’re involved in any strategic development pertaining to disability issues; we were involved in the Olympics and the accompanying cultural Festival 2012 and other major cultural events. 

To be continued (Part 2)... 

Want to find out more about DaDaFest? Visit www.dadafest.co.uk


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Liverpool’s centre for the contemporary arts, Bluecoat showcases talent across visual art, music, dance, live art and literature. As the most ...

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