Unlimited (arts initiative)

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Unlimited is a commissioning programme that celebrates the work of deaf and disabled artists, originally conceived for by Arts Council England for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.[1] Since its inception, the programme represents a multi-million pound investment which to date has commissioned more than 70 pieces of work across theatre, dance, visual art, music, literature, film, poetry and performance art. Several Unlimited-commissioned pieces have gone on to have a global reach, such as Sue Austin's Creating the Spectacle, which has reportedly been seen by more than 150 million people worldwide.[2] Others have won critical and industry acclaim within their field, such as Touretteshero's Backstage in Biscuit Land, which earned the company the 2014 Total Theatre Award for Best Emerging Company.[3] Unlimited is currently delivered in partnership between Shape Arts and Artsadmin with senior producer Jo Verrent.[4]


In 2012 the programme was funded by the Olympic Lottery Distributor, and was delivered in partnership between London 2012, Arts Council England, Creative Scotland, Arts Council of Wales, Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the British Council. It was the first time the UK's four arts councils had collaborated with the British Council to commission new work. The British Council supported "five UK international collaborations with artists from seven countries which premiered in: Birmingham, Cambridge, Liverpool, Newcastle and Weymouth prior to a major showcase during the Paralympics"[5] London-based disability-led arts organisation, Shape was contracted to support the 29 commissioned artists through the programme. This programme culminated at the inaugural Unlimited Festival at London's Southbank Centre in September 2012.[6]

The Unlimited programme (2014–16) "offers commissions to disabled artists to develop, produce and show ambitious and high quality work, with mentoring support. The programme includes biennial festivals at Southbank Centre (2014 and 2016) and the opportunity for artists to showcase their work across the country through partnerships with venues and organisations."[7] Unlimited is currently delivered in partnership by Shape and Artsadmin, with funding from Arts Council England, Creative Scotland, Arts Council of Wales and Spirit of 2012. Key partners include British Council, DaDaFest, Southbank Centre, and Tramway. Since 2012, Disability Arts Online has been the official media partner for the festival, tasked with documenting the work produced in the form of journalism.

Arts Council England have announced £1.8 million funding for a continuation of the Unlimited programme including festivals in 2018 and 2020.[8][9]


The primary purpose of the Unlimited programme is to commission new work by disabled artists and get it seen by as wide an audience as possible. Funding for commissions has so far come in three tranches. The first (Unlimited) which ran from 2010-2012, was a commissioning pot for work around the London 2012 Paralympics, with work being shown around the UK and at the first Unlimited Festival at Southbank Centre. The second (Unlimited II) covered the years 2013-2016 with work presented at various venues across the UK, culminating at the Unlimited Festivals in 2014 and 2016, again at Southbank Centre and for 2016, also at Glasgow's Tramway. The third (Unlimited III) will cover the period 2017-2020, which will include a greater focus on international collaborations and will encompass works which will be shown at Unlimited Festivals in 2018 and 2020.

Unlimited (2010-12)[edit]

The works commissioned with the original tranche of funding were:

  • Paul Cummins - The English Flower Garden: Six "pop-up" gardens in places of historical significance across the UK, featuring Cummins's trademark ceramic flowers.[10]
  • Bobby Baker - Mad Gyms and Kitchens: A theatre show about mental wellbeing and wellness. It went on a 32-date tour and received 4 stars from Lyn Gardner in the Guardian.[11][12]
  • Candoco - Candoco Unlimited: A double bill of integrated contemporary dance featuring work by choreographers Claire Cunningham and Marc Brew, with 12 dancers in total. The Express called it 'mouthwatering'.[13]
  • Dean Rodney - Dean Rodney Singers: Online collaboration between autistic artist Dean Rodney and 72 band members made up of musicians, singers and dancers from seven countries across the world, resulting in 23 songs.[14]
  • Graeae and Strange Fruit - The Garden: Theatre piece performed by four performers on the end of four-metre high sway poles. It was remounted in 2016.[15]
  • Simon Allen - Resonance at the Still Point of Change: A multimedia installation work featuring natural and electronic sounds and multiple screens.[16]
  • Tin Bath Theatre Company - Bee Detective: Family theatre show exploring the life and work cycle of bees.[17]
  • Helen Petts - Throw Them Up and Let Them Sing: Film installation with sonic backdrop which follows the story of Kurt Schwitters the Dada artist who fled Nazi Germany to the Lake District. It was selected by Huffington Post as one of the 21 Cultural Olympiad events not to miss this summer.[18][19]
  • Lawnmowers - Boomba Down the Tyne: Large scale performance which combines the spirit of the Blaydon Races and Boi Bumba, both popular North Eastern stories from England and Brazil respectively, made in collaboration between The Lawnmowers Independent Theatre Company and Opaxoro, a Brazilian learning-disabled-led dance company.[20]
  • Fittings - The Ugly Spirit: Backstage play by Russell Barr combining improvisation and text, performed at DaDaFest 2012.[21]
  • Laurence Clark - Inspired: Stand up comedy show taking a critical look at the way disabled people are viewed as 'inspirational' and revealing how it can be patronising.[22]
  • Rachel Gadsden - Unlimited Global Alchemy: Collaboration between Gadsden and the Bambanani artist-activist Group from South Africa featuring a series of sketches and portraits exploring chronic health issues. For the event in the UK a performance was developed in response to these works.[23][24]
  • Diverse City - Breathe: A series of performances across Dorset by Brazilian dance troupe Diverse City.[25]
  • Sue Austin - Creating the Spectacle: A series of live art and video works which sees Austin perform in an underwater wheelchair. The commission received significant attention online, with the videos garnering more than a million of views on YouTube.[26]
  • DASH Arts - M21 From the Medieval to the 21st Century: Produced by DASH (Disability Arts in Shropshire) in collaboration with the Live Art Development Agency, M21 was a programme of Live Art interventions by some of the UK’s leading disabled artists in Much Wenlock, the birthplace of the modern Olympic Games.[27]
  • David Toole and Lucy Hind - The Impending Storm: Contemporary dance collaboration between British dancers Toole and Hind, British musician Dom Coyote, South African singer Sandile Gontsana and Remix, South Africa's only professional integrated dance company. The Independent described it a "a bold new production...[a] perfect storm".[28]
  • Jez Colborne - Irresistible - Call of the Sirens: Combination of music, theatre and film featuring 18 performers, devised and composed by learning-disabled artist Colborne.[29]
  • Simon McKeown - Motion Disabled Unlimited: Large scale installation of a disabled body, which is produced by motion capture of British paralympian athletes, it stands 11 metres high. It was exhibited in Oxford's South park as part of the Olympics Torch Relay celebrations.[30]
  • Stumble danceCircus - Box of Frogs: Circus show exploring bipolar, which features film projections and music.[31]
  • Joel Simon - MACROPOLIS: Stop-motion animated short film about two disabled squeeky toys. It was shot outside in the real world, rather than in controlled conditions. MACROPOLIS won the Irish Television and Film Award for Best Animation in 2013 and was nominated for Best Short Film at the Seattle International Film Festival 2013.[32][33]
  • Maurice Orr - The Screaming Silence of the Wind: Visual arts exhibition featuring landscape paintings that can be touched, and are made using fish scales.[34][35]
  • Sinead O'Donnell - CAUTION: Series of performance art pieces which explore notions of identity and difference. It saw O'Donnell travelling as far as Japan, Peru, Iraq, Iran and Canada to collaborate with five of her favourite artists from around the world: Mariel Carranza, Poshya Kakil, Paul Couillard, Shiro Masuyama and Sylvette Babin.[36] Individual pieces were broadcast online, before culminating in exhibitions at Dublin's Golden Thread Gallery and Southbank Centre. The Telegraph listed CAUTION in its top ten of things to see in the London 2012 Festival.[37]
  • Caroline Bowditch - Leaving Limbo Landing: Contemporary dance piece incorporating aerial acrobatics with an all female cast. It explores different stories of why people choose to settle in different locations, referencing Bowditch's switch from Australia to the UK. Broadway Baby awarded the show 4 stars.[38][39]
  • Claire Cunningham - Ménage à Trois: Solo contemporary dance performance where Cunningham explores her relationship with her crutches. It was awarded 5 stars by the Herald and 4 stars by the Times.[40][41]
  • Janice Parker - Private Dancer: Contemporary dance piece which takes place in and around a specially designed and purpose built ‘house’, a realistically scaled luminous installation, containing 5 different rooms. Each room contains a disabled dancer who performs to an audience of one. It was awarded 5 stars in the Herald who praised its "compelling artistry".[42]
  • Marc Brew - Fusional Fragments: Contemporary dance piece choreographed by Brew. It was a collaboration with percussionist, Dame Evelyn Glennie, composer Philip Sheppard and five dancers. It was awarded 5 stars by The Stage and 4 stars by Reviews Hub.[43][44][45]
  • Ramesh Meyyappan - Skewered Snails: Physical theatre production exploring parental abuse. Disability Arts Online described it as "a really polished piece of theatre, that worked brilliantly".[46]
  • Chris Tally Evans - Turning Points: A short film exploring moments which changed people's lives for the better. It features interviews with six individuals including actor Roger Moore, who describes his experience of visiting a speech therapist.[47]
  • Kaite O'Reilly - In Water I'm Weightless: Experimental theatre piece with "no plot, narrative or characterisation to speak of" (The Guardian), which incorporates access elements into the aesthetics of the play such as British Sign Language. It was awarded 4 stars by the Guardian and the Arts Desk labelled it "almost worthy of Shakespeare".[48][49]

Unlimited II (2013-2016)[edit]

In October 2013, Arts Council England announced £1.5 million worth of funding for a second tranche of Unlimited, which would now be delivered by a partnership between Shape Arts and Artsadmin.[50] Unlimited II encompassed two commissioning rounds. The first round culminated in works being performed at the Unlimited 2014 festival, the second at the Unlimited 2016 festival.

2014 commissions[edit]

  • Katherine Araniello - The Dinner Party Revisited: Satirical performance art piece set in a surreal dinner party setting, with Araniello playing the host live, and also appearing as multiple other characters via video. Mik Scarlet in The Huffington Post said: "The Dinner Party Revisited is a rare thing, art that changes the world for the better while making the heart and soul sing."[51] Everything Theatre awarded it 4 stars.[52]
  • Vital Xposure - Let Me Stay: One-woman show featuring VItal Xposure's Artistic Director Julie McNamara which explores her mother's journey through dementia and the impact on those around her. Mik Scarlett in the Huffington Post called it "a challenging show but a joyous one."[53]
  • Jo Bannon - Exposure: Performance art piece which explores the way we look and are looked at; referencing Bannon's albinism, which means she has limited vision but often stands out. It is performed to one audience member at a time.[54]
  • Diverse City - Touched: Aerial circus show performed by Diverse City's youth company, Remix Gold, it features an integrated ensemble of people aged 18–25, some of whom have learning disabilities, others who have physical impairments, some are non-disabled.[55]
  • Chisato Minamimura - Ring the Changes+: Interactive dance piece by choreographer Minamimura, digital artist Nick Rothwell and Body>Data>Space. The sounds of the dancers in the piece are captured and translated into visuals using interactive digital technology.[56]
  • Ian Johnston and Gary Gardiner - Dancer: Contemporary dance duet between learning-disabled Johnston and non-disabled Gardiner, which explores who is allowed to be professional dancer, challenging notions of accepted dance vocabulary.[57]
  • Fittings Multimedia, Kraxy Kat and the Royal Exchange Theatre - Edmund the Learned Pig: Visual children's theatre piece which combines mime, dance, song, Commedia dell’ Arte, puppetry and sign language. Alfred Hickling in the Guardian awarded it four stars.[58][59]
  • Bird of Paradise and Random Accomplice - Wendy Hoose: Comedy theatre piece incorporating access features including British Sign Language interpretation, audio description and captioning into the aesthetic of the production. Mark Fisher in the Guardian described it as an "outrageously funny comedy...rude, ribald and hilariously off-colour," awarding it 4 stars.[60]
  • Owen Lowery - Otherwise Unchanged: Debut poetry collection by Lowery, which was published by Carcanet in 2012. Unlimited supported Lowery to go on a national reading tour of the collection.[61][62]
  • Touretteshero - Backstage in Biscuit Land: Theatre piece which explores the creative potential of the tics which result from Thom's Tourette's syndrome. Unlimited provided R&D funding for the show, which eventually went to Edinburgh Fringe, where it was reviewed by the Guardian, attaining 4 stars and by The Independent..[63][64] The show had continued success going on a national and international tour throughout 2015 and 2016.[65] Eventually, the show got adapted for a one-off TV appearance on BBC's Live from Television Centre, entitled Broadcast from Biscuit Land.[66]
  • Juan DelGado - The Flickering Darkness (Revisited): Multi-screen film installation which explores ideas about urban territory, displacement and economy. It was filmed at the Corabastos market in Bogotá, and follows the journey that produce takes from its arrival to its consumption in a variety of dishes at eating establishments across the social spectrum.[67]
  • Lea Cummings - Cosmic Fields of Endless Possibilities: Solo art exhibition featuring abstract paintings on paper, characterised by bright colours and patterns.[68]
  • Bekki Perriman - The Doorways Project: The initial R&D was a series of photographs of doorways that Perriman had either slept in or spent time whilst she was sleeping rough. They are accompanied by text telling a story something that transpired whilst Perriman was there, often revealing the brutality experienced by homeless people.[69] The work was developed into a sound piece for the 2016 showcase (see below).

2016 commissions[edit]

  • Assisted Suicide: The Musical – Liz Carr: Billed as 'Ted talk with show tunes' this is a glitzy musical delivered by anti-assisted suicide campaigner Liz Carr.[70][71] The show had a mixed reception, with The Stage awarding it 3 stars, whilst A Younger Theatre called it "original and stimulating" and Exeunt described it as "a sensitive showstopper...rewarding, provocative and enthralling".[72][73][74]
  • Cherophobia – Noëmi Lakmaier: A durational 48-hour live performance which saw Lakmaier attached to more than 20,000 helium balloons and lift off from the ground, in Shoreditch Church, the performance was also livestreamed to venues across the world. Cherophobia refers to a fear of happiness, and the work is explores notions of 'othering'.[75][76]
  • Cosy – Kaite O’Reilly: Family drama by award-winning playwright O'Reilly which explores dying and end-of-life scenarios via an all-female mixed cast of disabled and non-disabled characters across five generations.[77][78]
  • Demonstrating the World – Aaron Williamson: Performance art piece which features specially made 'absurdist furniture'. The performance features a number of hand-signs and references YouTube 'how to' videos.[79][80]
  • The Doorways Project – Bekki Perriman: A further development of Perriman's original R&D. It takes the form of a roving site-specific sound installation, which features audio stories of people who have experienced homelessness. The pieces are found in doorways, round the back of shops and in other places you might expect to find a homeless person, in order to capture an 'accidental audience'.[81]
  • Grandad and the Machine – Jack Dean: A 'fairy tale for grown ups' set in a dystopian steampunk universe, in which a giant mechanical leviathan is wreaking havoc. The Reviews Hub awarded five stars, whilst Exeunt said it "highlights the impressive poetic, musical and narrative skills of Dean, who is undoubtedly a performer with an exciting career ahead of him."[82][83]
  • Him – Sheila Hill, England (Theatre)
  • TV Classics Part 1 – Cameron Morgan: Solo art exhibition which features paintings representing each decade from the birth of television. Each painting has wallpaper, and a television set displaying a popular programme from the corresponding decade.[84] As well as showing at the Unlimited Festivals, the exhibition also featured at Glasgow International Festival, with prints from the show featuring as adverts on local subway stations.[85]
  • The Way You Look (At Me) Tonight – Claire Cunningham: Contemporary dance duet between Cunningham and her mentor Jess Curtis, which examines ways of looking and how we are looked at. It is a deconstructed dance piece, in that the performers talk directly to the audience, moving freely amongst them, whilst explaining their movements. The Times called it "smart and sensitive" and awarded it 4 stars.[86]

Unlimited III (2017-2020)[edit]

In May 2016 Arts Council England announced £1.8 million of new funding for Shape and Artsadmin to continue the delivery of the programme from 2017 to 2020, with three commissioning periods during that time.[87]

2017 Commissions[edit]

On 27 March 2017, Unlimited announced 24 new commissions worth £945,000. For the first time, the commissions were broken down into four strands, Main awards, Research and Development awards, Emerging awards, International Collaboration (R&D) awards. The commissions will be developed over the coming months and years, with a selection of the R&D awards given further funding and support to be developed into full pieces.

Main Commissions:

  • VELOCITY – The British Paraorchestra (Music)
  • Transitions – Owen Lowery (Literature)
  • Jumble Soul – Jackie Hagan (Theatre)
  • We Are Fucked – Jo Bannon (Theatre)
  • We sat on a mat and had a chat and made maps! – Kai Syng Tan (Visual Arts)
  • Vogue: The Unlimited House of Krip – Fittings Multimedia Arts (Combined Arts)

Research & Development Awards:

  • Bubble and Butch – Rinkoo Barpaga (Combined Arts)
  • River Runs Through – Omeima Mudawi Rowlings (Visual Arts)
  • Breathing Sculptures – Anna Berry (Visual Arts)
  • HERTZ – Juilet Robson (Combined Arts)
  • Jeremiah – Jack Dean (Theatre)
  • A Crash Course in Cloudspotting (the subversive act of horizontality) – Raquel Meseguer (Combined Arts)
  • The Importance of Being Described… Earnestly? – Chloë Clarke (Phillips) (Theatre)

Emerging Artists:

  • One way or another – Aby Watson (Dance)
  • My Dirty Secret – Kristina Veasey (Visual Arts)
  • My Life in London – Thompson Hall & Ian Wornast (Visual Arts)
  • Pull Up – Delson Weekes (Combined Arts)
  • Reflective Moves – Helen Hall (Dance)

International Collaborations (R&Ds):

  • Alegria Samba School – VIVA Carnival and Embaixadores da Alegria (Combined Arts)
  • Somebody’s Watching Me – Billy Read and Ariel Ching-Wai (Dance)
  • It was Paradise – Rachel Gadsden and Ali Saied (Visual Arts)
  • The Voice of the Unicorn – Richard Butchins and Atelier Corners & Kazuyo Morita (Visual Arts)
  • The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues – Kaite O’Reilly and Peter Sau (Theatre)
  • Antardrishti – Inner Vision – Baluji Shrivastav OBE and Shri Ramana Maharishi Academy (Music)[88]

Unlimited Festivals[edit]

The Unlimited Festivals are biennial events, the first of which was held in 2012 to coincide with the Paralympic Games. Unlimited Festival 2012 was held at London's Southbank Centre from 30 August - 9 September 2012.[89] The Unlimited Festival attracted live audiences of 20,000 people at ticketed and free events and engaged with an estimated 11,000 people through digital media.[5] In 2013, when the Unlimited commissioning programme was taken on by Shape and Artsadmin, the relationship between the commissioning body and the festival changed; Southbank Centre would take responsibility for the festival, whilst Shape and Artsadmin would administer the commissioning programme. The festival would continue to act as a showcase event for the work commissioned by the programme, but other work by disabled artists would also feature alongside the Unlimited-commissioned work. The Southbank Centre hosted the second Unlimited Festival from 2–9 September 2014. Unlimited 2016 marked the first time that the festival went to a venue other than Southbank Centre. The festival took place at the Southbank Centre from 6–11 September, before Tramway in Glasgow hosted their own version of the festival from 15–25 September.[90][91] Arts Council England has committed funding for future festivals in 2018 and 2020.[8]

Unlimited Impact[edit]

Unlimited Impact focuses on developing and inspiring the next generation of young disabled people passionate about making change through the arts; extending Unlimited’s reach by supporting venues across the country to successfully programme ambitious and high quality work by disabled artists; and deepening discussion and debate around work by disabled artists.

Unlimited Impact projects include:

  • Your Slogan Here: a competition creating T-shirts with slogans by young disabled people.
  • No Strings Attached: working with Farnham Maltings to ensure disabled young people felt able and supported to apply – resulting in 3 of the 7 awards being made to young disabled artists[92]
  • How to be Creative with Words: delivered with DaDaFest, a Creative Writing project enabling young disabled people to express themselves through poetry.[93]
  • The Ideas Amplifier: Supprting Touretteshero to run The Ideas Amplifier at Roundhouse, giving six young creative people with Tourettes syndrome the opportunity to think about the changes they’d like to see in their life and imagine creative ways to make them happen.[94]
  • Auditing Brighton Dome and Festival in relation to programming and marketing and supporting an increase in accessible performances and associated research.
  • Access audit and investment in improvements at Summerhall, Edinburgh

Unlimited International[edit]

Announced in 2016, Unlimited International is a 3-year programme that exists primarily to fund international collaborations between disabled artists/companies from England and those from around the world, enabling a global exchange of practice.

The first collaborations announced were:

  • Pallant House Gallery is working with Atelier Corners from Japan to exhibit the visual art work of three of their group: Koji Nishioka , Makoto Ohkawa and Yasuyuki Ueno across the summer and autumn 2016
  • Drake Music will work with Brazilian rapper Billy Saga, arranging performances and workshops throughout England in September 2016
  • Watershed will work with Unlimited and ANAT in Australia to profile an event focusing on UNFIXED – a process exploring disability, technology and art.

Further international collaborations were announced as part of 2017 commissions announcement (see above).


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External links[edit]

Unlimited (commissioning programme) website