by Cat Sheridan, Senior Producer at Unlimited
Great word, ‘associate’, isn’t it? It can mean all sorts of things to all sorts of people. Not quite friend, not quite colleague. If we take the word more literally, which my neurodivergent brain loves to do, it’s the idea of connecting one thing and another in someone’s mind. Which is almost a perfect fit with our role here. Because from Unlimited’s point of view, our job is to help make those connections between opportunities and disabled-led work. We were invited, along with The Cocoa Butter Club, Kakilang (formerly Chinese Arts Now) and Tara Theatre, to bring different lenses to the showcase. To pop in and out during the process and provide prompts and questions, if not always answers.
As Unlimited’s Senior Producer, it’s my role to strategically develop our programmes of work in the UK and internationally. To seek out partnerships or allies. But I also have a specific focus on driving our CONNECT strand of work, connecting cultural decision makers with disabled artists. It’s my goal to make sure when a programmer or presenter is thinking about what to book in a season of extraordinary work, they think of intersectional, original and ambitious disabled-led work. That they associate those things as synonymous. The Horizon showcase – any showcase for that matter – is by design a platform for extraordinary work. But Horizon seeks to support visionary work of all scales and sizes that challenges, provokes, entertains and translates across borders. This then, has been a mutually beneficial fit.
I’ve been on this associate journey since March 2022 and in that time, I’ve had the privilege of reading showcase applications, feeding into discussions, voting on panels and advising on care and support. I’ve shown up when I’m having a fizzy day, loud day, zero executive functioning day, and been openly invited to bring it all and sit firmly in my values. What’s been nourishing is the genuine space to input beyond my ‘disabled person’ box, and to read applications from a whole range of artists that we at Unlimited may not have had contact with before.
That’s not to say that the process has been easy. There have been difficult decisions to be made, space held for uncomfortable conversations, and ongoing real challenges around presenting work with care in the less than accessible context of Edinburgh’s festivals. But through it all, the tension has been around the desire to support more artists, offer meaningful opportunities, and to truly set artists up for success.
Wonderfully, by the end of the process, the selected group of artists for this year’s showcase includes more than the 22.7% of disabled-led work I was hoping for. 22.7% is the current percentage of working age disabled people in the UK, so it works as a good base line for representation. That’s not even mentioning the great cohort of Horizon Nova artists who will be up with the showcase this year – a third of whom are disabled artists.
I can’t even claim any credit for this. The work spoke for itself, which is exactly as it should be. Don’t believe me? Come and see for yourself and let’s see if we can’t build those associations.