A quarter of a century ago the Disability Discrimination Act came into force and changed lives. In the meantime, Liverpool-based DaDaFest has been breaking ground as a disability and D/deaf arts organisation since 1984, albeit under a different name.
For more than 35 years, DaDaFest has been creating art, challenging attitudes and changing lives. Sounds like a slogan, doesn’t it? Well, it is one, summing up the work that happens throughout the year including artist development programmes, residencies, commissions, community engagement and its impact on disabled people, their families and the wider community. And, every two years, an International Festival of D/deaf and Disability Arts, open and accessible to all.
The 2020 Festival starts on Nov 27 but, as you might expect, it’s going to be different to those that have gone before while still presenting the best new work from D/deaf and disabled artists. Importantly, it remains an arts festival that everyone can enjoy, disabled or, as DaDaFest puts it, not disabled yet.
But first, a quick but important aside. What’s all this ‘D/deaf’ business? It’s simply the difference between people who are born deaf (upper case D), never having heard languages, music, voices, sounds, etc and those who have acquired deafness (lower case d) and, therefore, have knowledge and memory of hearing. As you can imagine, there’s quite a difference.
Under normal circumstances, DaDaFest International would be presenting theatre, comedy, exhibitions, music – everything you’d expect from an arts festival – in venues and public spaces across Liverpool, the biennial Festival always culminating on December 3, which is the International Day of Disabled People. But not this year.
Like all arts organisations, DaDaFest and the commissioned artists have had to think differently as the impact of COVID-19 has changed the landscape of a traditional festival. So, under the theme of Translations, this year’s International Festival is online, will feature all new digital artwork and is completely free. Artists local, national and international have adapted their craft and ‘translated’ it.
The festival opens with a new film by Alexandrina Hemsley, Maelstrom Under Glass, there’s a downloadable board game, Game of Spoons, from Julian Gray, an examination of body and facial scarring from Ngozi Ugochukwu in Scars: Memories of the Skin and, if you remember jumping around to lycra-clad fitness instructors via DVDs, you won’t want to miss Chair Dancing Fitness Take 2, a reinterpretation of body pumping, music blaring fitness regimes for disabled people.
Elsewhere in the festival, Re:Form is a typically challenging, witty response to the impact of being noticing as a disabled person. As the artists put it: “Tammy Reynolds is a midget. Natalia Bedkowska is a cripple. They’re both queer. They’re both tired.”
The festival also has the world’s first Weasel Manifesto, a deaf arts collective, a fascinating exploration of the region’s Yemeni population, podcasts looking at taboo subjects within the disabled community (disabled people actually have sex, you know), a series of Q&As, talks and a lecture to finish things off.
And because it’s all free, DaDaFest is launching a brand new scheme raising funds via donations to create a bursary which will support a disabled artist (or artists) marginalised because of their socio-economic, African, Caribbean, South East Asian or East Asian diaspora background. Any money raised will be matched from DaDaFest’s own funds. You can find out more about it here.
COVID-19 has had a huge effect on us all. But, according to official research, the impact on D/deaf and disabled people has been more strongly felt than in the non-disabled population. It’s not hard to see why, with greater strains on mental health, increased isolation and diverted resources within the health service all having a disproportionate impact on disabled people.
Despite the great moves forward over the past 30 years, there’s still a lot of discrimination, marginalisation and isolation out there. Many young disabled people avoid social media, for example, where trolling and cyber bullying is rife. So, translating all of this into a festival for everyone to enjoy and putting it online (and increasing access) has been no mean feat for artists who may not be used to working in the digital realm and have learned to adapt quickly to what the year has thrown at them.
And if that’s not a demonstration of ability, what is?
By Robert Martin, Acting Marketing Manager, DaDaFest
Main image: Maelstrom Under Glass, Alexandrina Hemsley
DaDaFest International Festival 2020: Translations is on from November 27 until December 3, 2020. For more information, visit: dadafest.co.uk.