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Summary of progress so far: aims, good practice and learning points

April 2, 2018
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(Part 10 of 10 in a series of blog posts evaluating the Unlimited International programme)

At the start of the evaluation, I was tasked to find out: what difference the programme had made; what the strengths and weaknesses of the programme were; and how well the programme had met its aims.

This final section summarises the progress of Unlimited International so far.

What difference has the Unlimited International programme made?

Unlimited International has provided a platform for disabled artists from the UK to develop new work internationally, which as well as raising their profile and providing international exposure has increased their confidence and inspired their work.

The international participants have benefitted similarly, whilst also being exposed to ‘world leading’ techniques and artistic practice enabling them to bring their ideas to fruition in a manner which is considered ‘ground-breaking’ in their locality.

This approach has worked because the international relationships have been strong and enthusiastic, built around the understanding that we all have something to learn from one another and that new challenges can only enhance creative practice.

For the individuals involved, the impacts have thus been substantial.

However it is also hoped that the consequences of newly skilled and newly confident disabled artists from the UK and abroad will raise the profile of disability arts globally.  If audiences are exposed to high quality productions, then demand could grow and ideally a supply of skilled artists and high quality productions will be available to meet this demand.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of Unlimited International?

Good practice identified

  • International collaboration is at the heart of Unlimited International.
    • Unlimited International is in a position to share ‘world leading’ knowledge and expertise with a global audience.
    • UK-based artists and producers have much to learn from other cultures and perspectives.
  • Unlimited International is producing ‘ground-breaking’ work which is disability-led, high in quality, includes blended access, and has enabled disabled people to tell their own stories in their own ways.
    • In this respect, Unlimited International is meeting its original aims.
    • International participants are being exposed to new ideas, methods and practice.
    • Stakeholders are ambitious to continue to develop high quality disability arts practice internationally.
  • Stakeholders tell us that the collaborations are ‘natural’ and have ‘integrity’.
    • As a result of this approach, participants reported learning a lot, growing in confidence, and feeling creatively inspired. Whilst this is useful for all, it could have a greater impact in regions where disability arts is currently considered unusual.
    • As a result of this approach, participants have raised their profiles internationally. It is hoped that this has increased the visibility of individual disabled artists, and disability arts generally.
  • The Unlimited International network is a real strength of the programme.
    • Networks have grown organically and led to further unforeseen opportunities.
  • Overall, the stakeholders have appreciated the open and accommodating and friendly approach taken by Unlimited International in developing and managing this programme.

Learning points identified

  • Unlimited International should maintain their positive approach to relationship management, so emerging issues and concerns can be discussed and addressed.
    • Concerns as outlined earlier should be considered and addressed on a case-by-case basis.
  • When building new international relationships, Unlimited International should:
    • Ensure that knowledge exchange continues to be open and collegiate.
    • Manage the high expectations that others have of the UK.
    • Ensure that they do not hide the weaknesses in the UK’s provision and approach.
    • Continuously evaluate whether the work that they are developing and showcasing remains at the forefront of disability arts practice.
  • The Unlimited International network should be acknowledged, cemented and built upon so that any future work continues to result in more than the sum of its parts.
    • Consider ways to use the network as a support mechanism for current and previous award holders.
    • Consider ways to use the network as a catalyst for more new conversations / relationships / work.
    • Consider ways to use the network as a support mechanism for emerging international contacts.
    • Unlimited International could track these networks, along with both direct and secondary impacts resulting from them.
  • There could be a demand for case study information, particularly if it was presented in a variety of accessible formats. These should be marketed more overtly by Unlimited International, including clear calls to action relating to accessing and sharing the materials.
  • Unlimited International must make decisions about the extent to which they can influence change globally.
    • How they can expand the visibility of disability arts beyond the ‘already converted’.
    • The boundaries of what will be their remit and responsibility.
    • What is practical and achievable given the varied starting points.
  • The importance of building the skills, capacity and confidence of UK participants must not be lost at the expense of recognising the ‘ground-breaking’ impacts abroad.
  • Disabled artists and producers should be encouraged to understand that Unlimited International is by no means the only route into working internationally.

How well has Unlimited International met its aims?

Generating ambition and expectation, within and of disability-led work in the sector:  Participants reported feeling more confident and stimulated as a result of Unlimited International.  A desire to produce and consume high quality disability-led work was reported amongst all types of stakeholders, inspired by the new ideas that they had been exposed to.

Increasing experience, skills and quality of work:  Participants reported learning new skills and good practice around producing high quality productions as a result of Unlimited International.

Increasing the number of high quality disabled producers in arts & culture:  International producer placements have taken place for disabled producers, upskilling individuals.

Generating sustainable relationships and partnerships with venues, festivals and promoters, nationally and internationally:  Participants reported forging strong relationships with international contacts through Unlimited International, and the breadth of these have grown and continue to grow organically.

Developing new perspectives and changing assumptions – from audiences and the public – supporting positive perceptions of disabled people as key contributors to cultural life:  This is happening amongst the stakeholders that took part in the evaluation, but the wider scope of this is unclear.

Changing public perception around disability emphasising the positive contribution that disabled artists and companies creating high quality products led by disabled artists can make:  Perceptions have certainly changed on a small scale in international locales, however there is a feeling amongst some stakeholders that substantial change will demand a lot of work beyond the scope of this programme.

Developing a sustainable legacy for innovative world-class art by disabled artists:  It is hoped that new knowledge and ambition will lead to a pool of experienced disabled artists and interested audiences, and that new networks will sustain this.  However, this is yet to come to fruition.

Concluding remarks

Unlimited International’s work so far appears to have been received positively and demonstrates considerable progress against the original aims of the programme.

Unlimited International now moves into its second phase with some of the R&D projects being developed into full co-commissions with touring potential.  Unlimited International is ambitious, for individuals and for the sector globally.  This is an opportunity for Unlimited to pause for thought, and consider ways to exploit the resources and contacts that they have so that the scope of the final impact satisfies their ambitions.  At this point the concept and approach appear to be sound and the broad individual impacts are clear.  There is no reason to suspect that these will not continue, particularly given Unlimited International’s accommodating working style. However, just now the scope of potential for change to the sector is less clear.  There is time within the programme to take stock and identify more specific indicators of success which can be evaluated in the longer term.

 

Image: Viva Carnival

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