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Placing disability arts centre stage


15% of the world’s population has an impairment, while one billion worldwide have a long-standing health problem or impairment leading to disability. Despite this, disabled people are often invisible within shared cultural spaces and excluded from cultural production and consumption.

Artistic research at Teesside University has sought to elevate and make visible marginalised disabled people and their histories. Using design and technology as a focal point to drive wide engagement, the work of Professor Simon McKeown has brought together creative practice with historical and social research to challenge societal views of normality and difference.

The Research

Over a period of 12 years, McKeown has documented hidden stories of disability through new forms of artistic expression. In works such as All for Claire (2010) and Motion Disabled (2009), video gaming techniques and motion capture technologies are combined to provide insight into motion and disability as well as concepts of power and provenance. These works focus the viewer’s attention on perceptions of normality and difference that exist within contemporary culture.

Projects Cork Ignite (2015) and We Are Still Here (2018) built on these works, but with the focus on how large-scale public events can be harnessed to challenge perceptions of disability and disability arts. While video installation Ghosts (2014), co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW and Channel 4, highlighted the narrative of global impairment in World War 1 – a narrative that has been largely lost in modern commemoration and museum representations. Through historical research into impairment caused by WW1 and the study of imagery and music from the same time, McKeown challenged the singularity of global war commemoration culture which has typically focused on surviving heroes.

REF 2021 TU Research is improving the representation of disability in public and cultural spaces

By preserving hidden histories of disability, researchers at Teesside University have ensured the creativity of those with disabilities is centre stage in the arts and mainstream media. This work has improved the representation of disability in public and cultural spaces, driving positive social change and inclusivity.

The Impact

Directly tackling the lack of disability representation within the arts and mainstream media, , artistic research at Teesside University has firmly placed the creativity of those with disabilities, as well as their histories and stories “centre stage”.

Since 2014, McKeown’s research-led artworks, installations, and interventions have been exhibited internationally in over 20 venues, as well as archived online (BFI Permanent Collection) and screened on national TV networks. Through engagement with a diverse range of venues, McKeown’s work has extended the reach of disability arts and history into mainstream television, city and town centres, and entertainment and culture venues, bringing new audiences to disability arts and heritage.

By preserving hidden histories of disability, this research has ensured continued representation within a range of cultural spaces. The importance of McKeown’s work has been recognised on multiple occasions – All for Claire was selected in 2019 for the BFI’s Disabled Britain on Film permanent collection attesting to its importance in raising the visibility of disabled people, while the commissioning of Ghosts for Channel 4 and the subsequent awards it has received signal the importance of this work in voicing and documenting disability history in new and engaging ways.

‘[Cork Ignite] opened up a whole vista for people in terms of a compelling, unique public artwork, that spoke of inclusivity, spoke of ambition, it spoke of making our public spaces in the city alive and speak back to the public’.

Director of Create, Ireland’s national development agency for collaborative arts

Centre for Culture and Creativity

Connecting researchers and practitioners from across the arts and humanities, the Centre for Culture and Creativity seeks to enrich cultural understanding, increase cultural engagement, enhance public debate, further creative and applied practice, and drive positive social change.

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