El Alto

British Council – Mexico

Art and disability: an agent of change in Mexico

Our Arts and Disability programme has accompanied the development of a new movement in Mexico.

A man sitting on the floor with arms extended and papers scattered on the floor.

Just a few words, by the UK Theatre Company, StammerMouth, created by Nye Russell-Thompson. Photos by Liliana Velasquez.

The Arts and Disability programme has accompanied the development of the movement and its cultural agents. 

The pandemic arrived into everyone’s home like an uninvited friend. It settled on the couch for months and, as I write this, it’s still around. There has been a pause in several of our programmes, including Arts and Disability, our flagship project that since 2018 has been supporting British and Mexican disabled artist reach new audiences. For the past four years, the programme has witnessed the development of a growing community and movement, which we’ve supported through:

– International showcasing: giving practitioners access to international platforms/audiences, as well as works. In Mexico we launched Trazando Posibilidades, a festival held in 2019 in Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco. The festival gathered several artists and welcomed delegates from across the Americas, from Argentina, Canada and the UK. In the UK, we continued to work closely with Unlimited, sending delegates from Mexico in 2018 and 2020.

– Capacity building: development of technical skills through a series of workshops.

– Research: developing resources to help the sector improve its accessibility in spaces (through A Puertas Abiertas, a manual on how to create accessible cultural spaces) and through the implementation of Relaxed Performances (Relaxed Performances, an Accessibility Protocol in Spanish).

– New art: providing ongoing support for the co-production of new work in theatre, dance, audio-visual, and new media.

As a result of these collective efforts, the British Council in Mexico has been able, in the past four years, to collaborate with more than 200 artists and 50 organizations and carry out 67 major activities reaching an audience of over 45,000 people.

The arrival of COVID-19 brought limitations to the programme but at the same time allowed us to explore new opportunities. Working with partners, we create a new space for collaboration, creation, and reflection through the Seminar From Inclusion to Interpellation: Scene, Disability and Politics, that explored the need of the arts and culture sectors to work on inclusion in new creative ways, particularly through digital means. Over the course of four months, Cultura UNAM;17, Instituto de Estudios Críticos;Take me somewhere (an advisory committee of artists with disabilities) and the British Council in Mexico brought together institutions from over 12 countries, 50 participants and 18,200 spectators to share our visions for change.

Mariana Gándara, Executive Coordinator of the Ingmar Bergman Extraordinary Chair (cinema and theatre) at Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM) and member of the seminar planning committee, reflects on the experience: “Months ago, at a meeting to plan the seminar, I heard for the first time the use of the term interpellation, as part of the passionate defence of accessibility made by both Benjamin Mayer and Beatriz Miranda from 17, Instituto de Estudios Críticos. Both argued against the current institutional opposition to work towards inclusion. Benjamín and Beatriz, curators of the seminar, were emphatic about the political and ethical needs to use interpellation as the axis of their work. The argument was simple, but powerful: inclusion is an invitation to participate in normality; interpellation the possibility of dismantling it.”

“Normality: Who does it belong to?”, asks Gándara when assessing the impact of the seminar on her understanding of accessibility issues in the cultural sector. “What systems of oppression sustain its practices? Although institutions may be well-intentioned, these conversations have instigated a parallel form of learning, clearly showing the gap between diverse communities and the public policies that control our daily lives.” She concludes that “without asking for permission, interpellation has filtered into daily lives. Where subtitles and Mexican sign language did not previously exist, they are now essential. The advisory board, comprising disabled artists, defines and steers the seminar. It feels like a watershed moment.”

The seminar allowed to identify key new voices in the sector. COVID’s arrival has forced us to revisit standard practises, which means there’s a renewed opportunity to support wider systemic change where these diverse voices find a space.

A woman dancing on stage. A blue, patterned light shines on her from the front, casting her shadow against the back wall.
A man signing and talking to a microphone on stage. An image is projected onto him and the back wall, creating dramatic shadows.

Trazando Posibilidades, seminar held in Guadalajara, Mexico, 2019. Photos by Liliana Velasquez.

Lorena Martinez Mier is Arts Project Manager at British Council in Mexico, and leads on our work in arts and disabilities in the Americas.