Powerful art exhibition breaking down the barriers of disability heads outside of London for the first time

The works include hard-hitting messages about “cripples” and invisible disabilities in the hope to change the way people see disability and drive improved access across the UK.

The National Disability Arts Collection and Archive ( NDACA) – a collection of art work showcasing the heritage story of a group of disabled people and their allies who broke down barriers of disability – has moved out of its London home for the first time in a bid to propel awareness of disability across the UK.

Including artworks, documentary materials and ephemera, the exhibition, which was launched in 2018 at the House of Lords, will have a particular focus on artists based in the North, and examines the impact of their work at both a local and national level.

The NDACA exhibition at Blackpool’s Grundy Art Gallery is presented as part of Access Fylde Coast, a project led by Disability First, Blackpool, and funded by the Coastal Communities Fund, which aims to boost tourism across the Fylde Coast while breaking down the barriers to disability.

Award-winning disabled Sculptor Tony Heaton, who initiated and champions NDACA, uses how the world perceives him as inspiration for his artwork, offering up a powerful critique of the daily barriers disabled people encounter.

His latest piece as part of the NDACA collection at the Grundy Art Gallery is Rasberry Ripple (sic), a powerful piece on the taboo topic of cripples.

“A lot of my work is rooted in how the world perceives me and how the world thinks about me as a disabled person. Like many artists I want to communicate in a different way to get people to think, so my work and I operate within a social model of disability setting, so that people start to understand that it’s the external things that very often disable.”

Tony, who was awarded an OBE in 2013 for services to the arts and disability arts movement, firmly believes that the arts is pivotal in the push for improving disability access.

“The arts grew alongside the political movement it’s supported it and spoke in a different way it was interesting back in the day where we chained ourselves to buses to highlight the fact that disabled people couldn’t use public transport and it’s quite astonishing for a younger audience to realise that in the 1970s you couldn’t get on the train or on the bus.

“One of the things about the disability arts in politics movement is there was a huge amount of subversion going on when we started to protest we had placards and the police would take the placards off us, so we put the slogans on t-shirts because they couldn’t take them away from us.

“Very slowly over a 40-year journey we started to make change and a lot of disabled people have been part of that fight for change – and many who were part of the golden age of disability arts were from the North of England. So, for me, it’s great to see the exhibition curated for the first time in the North West before it moves to other parts of the country.”

Grundy Art Gallery NDACA collection
The NDACA collection at the Grunday Art Gallery, Blackpool.

NDACA, which is of great importance to Britain’s heritage, tracking the key developments within the Disability Arts movement since its beginnings in the early 1980s and Paulette Brien, curator at the Grundy Art Gallery – the first gallery to host the collection outside of its home at Bucks New University – says it’s important for her to bring the artists stories to the forefront.

“What I hope is that when people come to the gallery that they see the movement is continuing and artists who define as disabled continue today to make exciting and exhilarating artwork so what I hope it will do is encourage those people to go off and find out more about those artists making really valuable contributions to contemporary art.

“We have brought together a high-quality contemporary art exhibition that gives Grundy Art Gallery visitors the opportunity to gain insight into an important period within the history of the disability arts movement, as well as engaging with art that is being made today.

“The exhibition has already received a very positive reception from those visiting the Grundy, however it is my hope that the impacts of this project will continue to be felt long in to the future.”

The collection also includes work from Poppy Nash, who was also a featured artist at Tate Exchange 2018 – Ghosts in the Machine. Her installation on invisible impairment focuses on and encourages people to think about the barriers for someone with an invisible impairment and how we can make accommodations for them.

Holly Whittaker, project manager for Access Fylde Coast, says: “There are so many misperceptions of disabled people and while other movements, such as LGBT, have made huge leaps forward, this has not happened for disabled people.

“What our pioneering project, together with initiatives, such as NDACA will do is raise awareness and we hope to start making big waves in accessibility. We are starting that in the North West of England and we hope this project is the beacon for which the rest of the UK can follow.”

The collection is on exhibition until September 7.

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