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Guest Blog: Jo Verrent welcomes Tramway's Unlimited Festival

Jo Verrent at Tramay's Unlimited Festival launch

Jo Verrent is a speaker, writer, activist and the senior producer for the UK Unlimited Commissions programme. As we look forward to Tramway's Unlimited Festival opening tomorrow, Jo shares some thoughts on the festival running from 15-25 September…

Tomorrow, Tramway’s Unlimited Festival opens for the first time – an eclectic curation of some of the most interesting, provocative and questioning artists from across the UK sharing work and conversation. Oh and they are all disabled artists – do we need to mention that?

It’s an interesting thought – the work by disabled artists, particularly those from Scotland, is of such quality and range, it’s programmed for its excellence. The barriers to creating work are beginning (after many years) to fall, so does the work still need that label?

Scotland is home to many hugely established disabled artists, many of whom feature in this year’s Unlimited Programme at Tramway. Some were born there, many others chose it as their home for the welcome and support it provided. So why so welcoming? I think as the whole of the UK increased its commitment to diversity, different countries focused on different aspects of that particular ‘D’ word.

Creative Scotland has made some bold decisions, putting money in to people to enable a depth of practice rarely seen world-wide, let alone country wide. Their commitment – at all levels – continued with artform specific research and consultancies that rather than gathering dust on the corner of a shelf, actually turned into deliverable action. Caroline Bowditch’s Agent for Change position at Scottish Dance Theatre broke new ground internationally, thanks to Janet Smith and her ongoing investigation into humanness and fairness.

There is something about Scotland that seems to allow new models to emerge - Birds of Paradise with their two artistic directors Gary Robson and Robert Gale, Buzzcut and their commitment to access, Solar Bear opening up deaf access not just to audiences but to performance too thanks to the BA performance degree in BSL and English available at RCS. And something too that enables the work to be taken right to the heart of so called ‘mainstream’ programming. I say ‘so called’ as in Scotland the boundaries seem more permeable - perhaps a result of geography, history, population density or maybe just the direct, open and warm nature of the country itself?

It’s not just within performance – Project Ability, Artlink Edinburgh and the Lothians and Sense Scotland work across the visual arts too (and other forms). All in unique ways, all with unique people, all with unique results. I think the selection of Cameron Morgan’s Unlimited commission TV Classics Part one, into the Glasgow International was a great illustration of that.

And of course, there is more. Whenever I start a list, there are people and organisations colliding in my head – Lung Ha, Independance, Paragon, Flip, Drake Music Scotland, Janice Parker, Luke Pell, Marc Brew, Claire Cunningham, Ramesh Meyyappan… and still I will have forgotten some excellent examples!

I’m staying in Glasgow for the whole of the festival as I’m really excited by the What? Programme curated by Kim Simpson, contextualizing the work and looking to the future with events to support emerging artists, share practice and question. And seeing Maki Yamazaki’s work in progress – inclusive gaming questioning stereotypes of many kinds.

I recently asked a number of disabled artists if we should still have festivals where we brought the work of disabled artists together.

Liz Carr, actor in BBC’s Silent Witness and creator of Assisted Suicide: The Musical which is showing as part of Unlimited at Tramway spoke for all of us, disabled and not, when she replied: "I don’t know if we’ll always need them but we should always have them."

Tramway's Unlimited Festival

Unlimited Festival runs at Glasgow Tramway 15-25 September.

View the full programme and book tickets on the Tramway website.