Project Brighton: Access to the arts for all? We need to do better – says Julian Caddy, managing director of Brighton Fringe
Brighton Fringe is soon upon us and along with it come all the superlatives we’ve come to expect from England’s largest arts festival: the biggest and smallest, the brightest and best, the youngest, oldest and newest. In fact it’s the largest assembly of up-and-coming creatives from all over the city, the country and around the world. All for over 4,500 performances and events at 150 venues and an expected attendance of more than half a million people.
This is a feat that is achieved through the efforts of a massive number of people and organisations. It’s big because it is open access. And open access means universal, in that anyone who wants to take part, can do so. It is a microcosm of society itself.
But beneath the surface lies a deep inequity, that is also endemic in the society that Brighton Fringe embodies: the arts are still not completely accessible, or indeed accessed by large swathes of the population. It is therefore the role of Brighton Fringe to not only reflect society but also to encourage greater participation and involvement from all, no matter the age, culture, sub-culture, ethnicity or disability.
We have endless ambition but limited means to achieve it. Despite this we are the only arts festival, not only to have programmes to help young people but also to offer bursary support to the over 60s to aid participation by offering free registration.
Work both by and for people with particular access needs and visible or invisible disabilities
We have also pioneered the first ever ‘Freedom Season’.
A selection of 16 pieces of work both by and for people with particular access needs and visible or invisible disabilities. It also features a range of events offering signed, audio described, captioned, relaxed, touch tours, all in venues adapted to cater for universal access.
It is the tip of the iceberg in terms of being where we would like to be, but just like much of Brighton Fringe, it’s an unfunded enterprise, but one that we should never either underestimate or ignore.
Over the coming seasons of Brighton Fringe we will continue to focus, direct and encourage inclusion from all sections of the community that we represent. Being open access isn’t enough; we must be inspiring and useful to people who, for whatever reason either are or feel excluded. And we as a society have much to learn from the experience too.
The words “Set Yourself Free” emblazoned on the front cover of the Brighton Fringe brochure should apply to everyone, not just those with who can access it most easily.