Liberty Festival

Liberty is the Mayor of London’s flagship programme, showcasing the best of D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent arts since 2003. Presented in a range of high-profile outdoor locations for Londoners, including Trafalgar Square, the Southbank Centre and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. In 2019 Liberty developed into a touring event in partnership with the London Borough of Culture taking D/deaf and disabled arts to local communities in outer boroughs.

For nineteen years, Liberty has showcased some of the most influential world-class disabled artists, including Katherine Araniello, David Toole, Rachel Gadsden, Jess Thom, Simon Mckeown, and award-winning companies such as Graeae, Candoco and Mind the Gap, amongst others. Championing accessibility and an inclusive environment to experience arts across forms, Liberty is a gem in London’s hectic cultural agenda. Bold, visceral and urgent, the festival offers a glimpse into other ways to make and consume art that consider the different needs of many audiences without complying with the exclusive, opaque and often inaccessible standards of the mainstream art scene.

Whilst I cannot speak for previous editions, having been Liberty creative producer since 2020 (right before the pandemic started), the 2022 iteration wants to engage local disabled-led organisations to propagate the excellent work that such companies do with south-London communities. At the same time, the festival proposes discourses of international relevance, with established artists’ commissions, digital activities and experimental formats.

Liberty Festival 2022 will present a free programme of performances for cross-generational audiences, workshops, visual art installations, interactive works, theatre and a symposium. Choosing an inclusive approach to creatively embed access through relaxed performances, audio described visual content, interpreted spoken words and live streamed events. The variety of artists and projects developed reveals the resilience and brilliance of D/deaf, disabled and neurodiverse talents currently operating in the UK.

As Lewisham Borough of Culture focuses its manifesto on Cultural Activism, harnessing the power of arts and culture to bring about change, I’d like to remark on the reasons behind the unique existence of a disability arts scene in the UK. Very few countries can claim to create opportunities for disabled people in the arts; in the UK, this is the fruit of the tireless work of activists, artists, and creatives part of the Disability Arts Movement formed in the late 1970s. The D.A.M. is now a milestone in the history of UK activism, represented by leading figures including Deborah Williams, Mat Fraser, Jo Verrent, David Hevey, Tony Heaton and Maria Oshodi. Its influence led to the passing in 1995 of the DDA, replaced in 2010 with the Equality Act, which banned discrimination against disabled people in connection with employment, provision of goods, facilities and services. Whilst nowadays activism seems to be in many people’s mouths (or Facebook feeds), the work of the D.A.M. accessible through NDACA reminds me to never underestimate the power of creative minds coming together with a shared agenda.

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Linda Rocco
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