Disability-led visual arts organisation DASH has launched a new series of residencies for curators who identify themselves as disabled. Over the next three years the Curatorial Commissions programme will see it work with three major institutions, including Arnolfini, Bristol, MAC Birmingham and Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA).

£100,000 of Arts Council England funding has been allocated to the residencies, as part of DASH’s work as an ACE national portfolio organisation.

Mike Layward, Dash artistic director, explained that the programme aims to change the culture of the visual arts sector so it becomes more inclusive and accessible.

He said: “There is a lack of disabled people in positions of influence within the visual arts, and the longer-term aims of the project are to support the development of disabled curators, who will become the directors of the future.”

Although all three institutions will be working with DASH, each will be offering a slightly different take on the residency. At MIMA, the curator will focus on a research project that explores ‘depictions and understandings of disability and difference’. This will involve working with the Middlesbrough Collection held at MIMA, and with the town’s archival collections.

MIMA’s senior curator Elinor Morgan commented: “Through this partnership project we will be able to enhance our existing work by increasing our work with children and young people who live with disabilities. This important project opens a well-resourced opportunity for a curator who identifies as disabled to be embedded within the institution. With them, we aim to address historic and contemporary representations and perceptions of disability.”

Awkward Bastards

MAC are offering experience working across its various departments, from film screenings to event and exhibition planning, with a specific focus on working with collections. This will include working closely with the gallery’s visual arts producer, Jessica Litherland.

Deborah Kermode, chief executive and artistic director at MAC, said the residency will build upon work that began with the Awkward Bastards symposiums, which are co-productions between the two organisations.

“It’s vital we continue the debate around diversity in the arts,” said Kermode. “Working with DASH on the Awkward Bastards projects offers the opportunity to discuss the issues – no holds barred – while celebrating the achievements gained. It’s been hugely informative to engage with artists, academics and the sector at large, in radical, thought-provoking dialogue.”

The Arnolfini’s residency will involve working with its programme team on new partnerships and networks, building on the organisation’s track record of collaborating with disabled children and young people.

Local, national, international

Layward added that the project be as open as possible. “I would expect that a part of each residency will involve working with disabled artists locally, nationally and internationally, but it won’t be a prerequisite that they can only work with disabled artists.

“One of the outcomes we are aiming for this programme is that we will have three experienced disabled curators who will feel confident to apply for high-profile positions in galleries across the UK and begin to influence change from the inside, so experience with working with all artists will be essential, otherwise we are creating a ghetto.”

As part of the commissions, DASH will be working with each organisation’s learning and engagement team to increase levels of participation and engagement among disabled children and young people.

Layward said: “We are putting time and resources into working with each gallery’s learning and engagement team to increase the number of disabled people engaging with their gallery, with an emphasis on young disabled people/artists. We will also look at a mentoring and support role for the curator with [local] disabled artists.”

The duration of each commission will be from one to two years and each venue will advertise its residency over the next year, as well as on the DASH website.

1. Noëmi Lakmaier, Does that include us? Courtesy: DASH

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