In December 2018 four artists were announced as the inaugural recipients of the Emergence Bursary for emerging disabled artists, facilitated by the disability-led arts organisations Shape Arts and Disability Arts Online (DAO), and a-n The Artists Information Company.

The award was created as part of a pilot project aiming to tackle the isolation, low confidence and marginalisation of emerging disabled artists, as well the lack of accessible opportunities in mainstream arts settings.

Lauren Saunders, Leo Wight, Letty McHugh, and Fae Kilburn each received a £1,500 bursary award as well as bespoke support to help develop their practice.

Here Lauren Saunders discusses the impact the award has had on her practice and her plans for the future.

What are the main benefits of the Emergence Bursary?

There’s been a few but most obviously, the cash! It enabled me to participate in something that I’d never have been able to afford otherwise in order to directly benefit my creative practice.

I attended the two week Drawing Marathon at the Royal Drawing School last summer and using what was left of the money, I put on a solo show of some of the work with additional financial support from Yorkshire and Humber Visual Arts Network. Being able to spend a dedicated and intense period of time just making hundreds of drawings was both a luxury and a challenge, benefiting my creative practice.

It’s been really a beneficial vehicle in connecting and networking with others too. Making these connections has helped me feel a lot less isolated and alone, which, with mental difficulties, one tends to feel more often than not. So that’s been good for me on a personal level. Getting to know the other three recipients – Fae, Letty and Leo – and seeing how their practice has evolved over this last year has been lovely. We’ve been very mutually supportive of one another and I can see us continuing to support each other in the future.

Being supported by Shape and DAO has been a wonderful experience – between them they’ve been helping to promote us and our work, facilitated crits, given advice and helpful information, and supported us with professional development. They have also provided opportunities at Tate Exchange, organised audio description training, and provided reassurance when we need it. Everyone I’ve had the pleasure of talking to from both teams have been amazing and are absolute assets to the art world.

The experience has also taught me a lot more about disability arts as a whole, inclusivity, and best practice in relation to accessibility. It’s made me reflect on my own relationship to my impairments, how I make work and how I present it. I’ve learnt a lot by seeing how Shape, DAO and the other recipients approach things. But also recognising how other ‘ableist’ organisations do things that discriminate against disabled people for no real reason.

How many artistic opportunities factor access needs into their budget? How flexible are these opportunities in accommodating disadvantaged people in general? Once you really look into it, not that many, truth be told. Because I feel miles more clued up now I’ve found it to have been quite an eye opener in some ways.

I’ve already been incorporating a lot of the positives I’ve learnt into my practice in various ways. So, not only has the bursary benefitted me directly, but it will indirectly benefit those who I work alongside in future.

What have you been working on with the support of the Emergence Bursary? How has it helped you develop work?

I’ve been working on developing both my technical and expressive drawing skills, which attending the Drawing Marathon helped facilitate.

I’ve been exploring questions surrounding environmental philosophy for a good while. Things like ‘what is the intrinsic value of nature?’, ‘how do we impact the environment and how does it impact us?’, ‘do we have a moral responsibility to protect our planet?’.

I had been exploring the ‘nature’ side of the equation, but the body of work created during the Drawing Marathon, which was pretty much all from life, allowed me to explore the ‘human’ side. Now I’ve got plenty of drawings of both I can bring them together and work into them. Layering features quite heavily in my work, and now I’ve got more drawings to layer.

There’s been a few other things I’ve done this last year. I’ve exhibited work in a few regional group shows, graduated from the Northern School of Arts and Activism’ UNION programme, done some campaigning, went exploring artist-led organisations whilst preparing for an upcoming exhibition/symposium with Humber Street Gallery’s Fruit Factory Network. It’s been a really productive year to say the least.

A big thing from this last year has co-producing, alongside my good friend (and ex-art school tutor) Jill Howitt and our local arts community, The Critical Fish. Fish is a new inclusive, research-led visual arts journal and I’m very proud of it.

There have been two issues so far, with hopefully more to come, funding pending. I’ve also been busy developing a proposed project for a site specific drawing installation along the East Yorkshire Coast, which I’m going to be partnering up with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and East Yorkshire Council for. I’m very excited about seeing how those two things pan out.

Nothing exists in isolation so I’m confident that the benefits gained from the Emergence Bursary will feed into all everything I do in future. Perhaps from the development of new work (based on the Drawing Marathon pieces) to exhibit, how access is built into my proposals or how I’m supported from my now expanded network.

Opportunities like this, especially for disabled artists, are too few and far between – we need more! Funders and producers, please take note.

Lauren Saunders was due to take part in Emergence with Shape Arts at Tate Exchange, Tate Modern on 21 March. The event was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic but for information about the programme visit

1. Lauren Saunders, Tree
2. Lauren Saunders, Drawing Breath
3. Lauren Saunders, Coral