We’ve been sent to our room to think

Kimberley Harvey
Kimberley Harvey, Director of Candoco’s Youth Dance Programme and independent disabled artist reflects on the art world during lockdown and how disabled artists voices need to be heard as we emerge from COVID-19

As Kimberley Harvey says in her blog below, we at Candoco have taken ‘lockdown’ as a rare opportunity to pause, reflect and re-connect with what feels essential to the health, happiness and artistic work of each of us at Candoco: the disabled and non-disabled dancers, staff, independent artists and trustees on the Board, all of whom work to make Candoco what it is today.

I have fallen into the web and expertise of these core and intersecting communities and have deeply appreciated our regular connection points at this time – and the opportunity to stop and listen, to all of you. 

This for me is the way forward. To listen and to connect…to ourselves, each other, the world around us and the planet we live on. And to take this learning and energy into radical and collective action.

Kimberley is someone who sits at the intersection of all of these communities and so has been integral to our evolving conversations. As an independent disabled artist, Kimberley has been involved with Candoco throughout its nearly 30 year history. She danced in Candoco’s youth company when she was a teenager and has worn many hats as a teacher, maker, performer, advocate and trustee for Candoco. Recently she became the Director of Candoco’s Youth Dance Programme and so she has been working alongside Jo Royce (Candoco’s Executive Director) and I in many important cross-sector conversations, such as with the DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport) and the newly formed UK Disability Arts Alliance (DAA).

Do read Kimberley’s blog below to hear more about the DAA and how we can all join forces today to champion the work of disabled artists and disability/inclusive arts organisations, to ensure a sustainable future through and after the pandemic. 

By joining the campaign today, we can flood social media with our voices and work and so amplify the voices of D/deaf, neurodivergent and disabled artists and practitioners at a time of crisis for the arts and for disabled people.

It is clear that we are being called to urgently build a new and more just and inclusive world and that what each of us do now, and going forward, will determine the future that all of us will live in.

Charlotte Darbyshire
Artistic Director
Candoco Dance Company

Covid-19 has forced us all to pause, reflect and question in a whole manner of ways. The dance sector has had no choice but to move online with a wealth of content now available at the click of a button. Then, there is all the work that is going on behind the scenes; first of all in an attempt to figure out how we, as a sector (and all that encompasses), can ‘weather the storm’; and now discussions are shifting into how we might come out of this period of lockdown and what does a ‘functioning dance sector’ look like. These conversations are popping up in a whole variety of places and at quite an alarming rate. All of them have a slightly different focus, which further highlights the complexity and variation within the arts sector. But how do we make sure no one gets forgotten or left behind?

During the last three months, in the classic way an independent dance artist does, I have seen myself donning a few different ‘hats’- freelancer, disabled dance artist, performer, advocate, trustee and as a woman to name a few… 

My roles within Candoco have meant that I have had the opportunity to be part of some of these discussions alongside Candoco’s Directors, Jo Royce, (ED) and Charlotte Darbyshire (AD). One of these developing conversations has been with the Disability Arts Alliance. This meeting, initiated by the UK government’s Disability Champion for Arts & Culture, Andrew Miller, was called in response to concerns that the voices of disabled artists were not being included in arts sector conversations in response to Covid-19 and any subsequent forward planning that would take place.  This group brought together a huge number of disabled artists and arts organisations/companies that are disabled-led or driven by inclusive practice. 

The concern that disabled artists are at risk of becoming (even more) invisible when the arts sector reopens was abundantly clear from the beginning of that very first meeting. Additionally, the group heard how this pandemic has led to the fundamental human needs of many disabled people being debated by agencies and ‘gatekeepers’, which then impacts whether or not they receive the essential support they need to lead their lives. I mention this because we have to acknowledge that without this provision it is barely possible to have a daily life, let alone make a living as a practicing artist. 

What’s more, a particular and, I would say, very unwelcome tone has (re)emerged as a result of Covid-19 where we now hear about “the vulnerable” and how “the vulnerable” will need to shield for longer etc. Inevitably, this will include many disabled artists and therefore, many of us risk our practice and our artistic work being omitted from view altogether if there isn’t a sector-wide commitment to equal representation and diversity of artistic voices moving forward. 

Out of these meetings has come #WeShallNotBeRemoved – a movement to campaign for visibility, consideration and ultimately the artistic value of disabled artists and disability-led or inclusive arts organisations as we look to the future.

What has become clear in all the conversations that I’ve been involved in with and for Candoco – whether that be with the Disability Arts Alliance, on calls with WhatNext? and the DCMS (Department of Culture, Media & Sport) or on the panel for Fair Saturday – is that despite the devastating nature of this pandemic, the arts sector (and more specifically, the dance sector) has been granted an unexpected opportunity – an opportunity to initiate change, to dismantle and reshape structures that are out-dated and exclusionary; and to genuinely be responsive to the needs of our changed (and changing) environments. Let’s not waste it!

Kimberley Harvey,
Director of Candoco’s Youth Dance Programme and independent disabled artist.

Note: See Kimberley, Charlotte Darbyshire and Jo Royce speaking about the impact of Covid-19 on the arts sector and its recovery as part of the Fair Saturday Forum here

Related journal entries

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Find more info here.