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Enacting change: Disability and the arts in Northern Ireland

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Disability Arts (arts created by people with disabilities as a political act), which grew out of the Disability Rights movement in the United States and in England in the 1970s–1980s, is not widely practised or recognized in Northern Ireland. Most arts practice in the region involving people with disabilities is based on an Arts and Disability approach (arts for people with disabilities by non-disabled people). This approach tends to attract criticism from the Disability Arts movement, as it relies on non-disabled facilitators and practitioners, who may not challenge the ownership and power dynamics of the dominant over the marginal group. This suggests that there is need for cultural and attitudinal change. However, history has repeatedly shown that it is neither appropriate nor acceptable to ‘cut and paste’ the British model into the Northern Irish context. Furthermore, the social model of disability embedded in UK legislation has recently been challenged by certain voices from within disability studies. The latter half of this article focuses on the initial stages of a participatory action research study with the theatre company Kids in Control, Belfast, in August 2011. The first in a series of three workshop cycles, this practice research had a focus on developing working relationships with young adults with learning disabilities, and observing the way in which they work individually and as a group using drama. Subsequent research will be used to investigate the development of an independent professional theatre company to be led by the young people themselves, given that this is their preferred outcome. Throughout the research process, some of the following questions will be investigated:

Given that contextually appropriate transformative cultural and attitudinal change needs to take place in Northern Ireland with regard to disability, how exactly should this happen?

What should these changes look like, and what should be the result?

How can models of good practice be developed and disseminated?

Keywords: Disability Arts; Northern Ireland; PAR; arts and disability; disability; power constructs

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Queen’s University

Publication date: May 4, 2012

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  • The Journal of Arts and Communities seeks to provide a critical examination of the practices known as community or participatory arts, encompassing a field of work defined for this purpose as incorporating active creative ollaboration between artists and people in a range of communities.The journal will take a cross-artform and interdisciplinary approach,including work happening in performance, visual arts and media,writing, multimedia and collaboration involving digital technology and associated forms. In part this will create an archive that will document work which can otherwise be ephemeral
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