Disability & Access Ambassador for Arts & Culture: Year 2 Update
Updated: Jun 25
In my second year as Disability and Access Ambassador for Arts and Culture, I continued to advocate for grass roots opportunities for disabled people as both creative artists and consumers. I consulted industry professionals, charity leaders, educators, politicians, Civil Servants and across all sections of the media. Since July 2021, I've attended 75 meetings, produced 19 reports, given 21 presentations, contributed to 2 Government publications, supported 5 pieces of Academic Research, featured in 24 high-profile media appearances, written 16 blogs, and produced and presented a Podcast. In February 2023, Michael Ball presented me with a Special Recognition Award at the National Lottery’s “Big Night of Musicals” on BBC1 and next month I will be made a Freeman of the City of Southend-on-Sea, like my dear friend and disability champion, Sir David Amess. (Download Full List of DAA Activities)
This year I focused primarily on promoting role models with learning disabilities through a unique musical collaboration with His Majesty’s Band of The Royal Marines. The partnership was initiated by Rt. Hon. Penny Mordaunt MP and is supported by global marketing company, TEAM LEWIS. As I emphasised in my 2022 video for the United Nations (read blog), the best way to showcase the potential of people with disabilities across all aspects of society is to provide high-profile platforms for them to shine. My particular ambassadorship is uniquely placed to achieve this, given its performative nature. As a Disability and Access Ambassador without a disability, I chose to form a new leadership group of 12 adults with learning disabilities, selected from my charitable network. “The Music Man Project Global Ambassadors” quickly became a national phenomenon through their public performances and media appearances both at home and overseas.
Last December, we released a Christmas Single with Royal Marines that eventually reached the top 10 of the iTunes Download Chart. Performances at The Painted Hall in Greenwich, at Portsmouth’s Guildhall and during a fundraising tour of London Railway Stations attracted widespread media interest for accessible Arts and Culture – including an extended feature on BBC1 Breakfast, a live performance on ITV’s Good Morning Britain and two live studio interviews on Sky News. Penny Mordaunt presented the single to the Prime Minister in Downing Street.
After Christmas, the Ambassadors flew to San Diego, courtesy of TEAM LEWIS, where they performed with the Royal Marines on board the iconic aircraft carrier, the USS Midway. The visit was a huge success, confirming the UK's status as a global beacon of accessible Arts and Culture.
In February, the musicians met Jason Manford and Michael Ball at the National Lottery’s “Big Night of Musicals” at the O2 Manchester Arena. They stole the show without even singing a note and enthralled millions of BBC1 primetime viewers. Michael Ball pledged his support of my work during our interview on his Radio 2 show the following morning.
The Ambassadors’ greatest achievement by far, and a milestone for our cause, was their ground-breaking performance in the Mountbatten Festival of Music with the Massed Bands of His Majesty’s Royal Marines at the Royal Albert Hall in front of His Majesty, The King. Singing my song ‘Music is Magic’, their moving performance received three standing ovations from over 15,000 people across three concerts. Witnessing King Charles III rise to his feet to applaud my musicians with learning disabilities was a highlight of my ambassadorship so far and a moment I’ll never forget.
While these exciting adventures are highly effective for raising awareness and building momentum, the barriers to truly inclusive and accessible Arts and Culture across all our institutions and the society they serve sadly remain. Two years talking to Arts providers, combined with 25 years working within Disability Arts revealed general solutions that are equally applicable across the broad Arts and Culture spectrum, from performing arts providers, educators and performance venues to galleries, museums and libraries.
Six Goals for Arts and Culture Inclusion
I recommend the following six goals for a more accessible Arts and Culture industry: I want to see:
1. Opportunities for Creative Artists with Disabilities as well as Disabled Consumers
2. Pathways for Disability Employment and Volunteering
3. Bespoke Online and Human Communication to Assist Access
4. Engagement with Local Disabled Community (children and adults)
5. Disabled Role Models for Future Generations
6. Regular Promotion of Disability Arts and Culture
Providers of accessible Arts and Culture can share their progress and celebrate their disabled artists, creatives, volunteers and employees in an annual dedicated Accessible Arts and Culture Day. An ideal date for the inaugural day would be April 8th 2024, when The Music Man Project Global Ambassadors join 300 musicians with learning disabilities in my original production “Music is Magic” at the Royal Albert Hall. The concert will be accompanied by His Majesty’s Band of the Royal Marines and will play to an estimated audience of 5,000 people - including celebrities, politicians and hopefully more Royalty!
In the meantime, I look forward to helping venues, educators, arts providers, museums, galleries and libraries work towards the Six Goals for Arts and Culture Inclusion in my third year. My ambassadors will continue to lead the way for their community. They will tour the UK with the Royal Marines later this year and they look forward to working with their new best friend, Michael Ball MBE!
I shared my update in person with the Minister for Disability, Tom Pursglove MP in a meeting arranged by our patron, Anna Firth MP. We were joined by Samuel Dean from TEAM LEWIS, Belinda Blank from the Disbaility Unit at the Cabinet Office and our national patron the Rt. Hon. Penny Mordaunt MP.