Awards scheme helps disabled artists develop their careers

Disabled artists are being urged to take advantage of an all-Ireland awards scheme designed to nurture and develop their artistic talent.

The Arts and Disability Awards Ireland (ADAI) scheme is administered by the Belfast-based Arts and Disability Forum (ADF) and funded by both Arts Councils.

ADF Chief Executive Chris Ledger described it as a competitive scheme that funds work of the highest artistic calibre and is open to disabled people working across the entire artistic spectrum.

“Disabled people can have fruitful and successful career in the arts. The ADAI scheme is not about rewarding people for having a go – we wouldn’t be so patronising. The grants recognise and develop work of extremely high artistic merit.

“The scheme is open to people with all ranges of disabilities including unseen conditions such as diabetes, dyslexia, epilepsy and mental health conditions. We’re particularly interested in targeting artists who don’t necessarily regard themselves as disabled and so aren’t sure if they qualify for an award. If people aren’t sure they are eligible, they are welcome to contact us for advice” she added.

The current exhibition in the ADF Gallery at the Cathedral Quarter Workspaces in Royal Avenue is a ground-breaking new work produced as a result of an ADAI grant. ‘Recovery’ by disabled artist Shannon Yee is a sound installation which enables people to directly experience Shannon’s process of recovery from a rare brain infection.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland and The Arts Council Ireland have combined to offer a total of around £35,000 funding to be made available to disabled artists.  Each individual artist can apply for a grant of up to £5,000 to help develop their work. Through this funding, artists with disabilities have produced work of the highest artistic quality and have won international recognition.

Each application is judged on its merits by experts working in arts and disability and can include funding to buy equipment that help improve the artist’s ability to produce work.

Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive of the Arts Council NI said the awards were important in ensuring that disabled artists have exactly the same opportunities as their non disabled counterparts.

She added: “This is about supporting and promoting exciting and challenging contemporary work that just happens to be produced by disabled artists. The scheme works across all impairment or disability types and is open to all types of artistic activity. We want to ensure that people with talent are given the necessary tools to develop their artistic vision.”

The Arts Council Ireland Director Orlaith McBride said past awards had already helped lots of disabled artists from all disciplines and it was important that people with proven talent and creativity avail of the scheme.

She added: “The Arts and Disability Awards Ireland is a great example of how the two arts councils on this island can work together to further the careers and ambitions of talented disabled artists. This scheme has helped people produce exciting work in visual arts, music, performance art, literature, film and multi-media and will continue to do so.”

Two past ADAI awards recipients, who have benefited greatly from funding are acclaimed Northern Irish singer songwriter and former busker, Pat Dam Smyth and award-winning playwright, Rosaleen McDonagh from Sligo.

Rosaleen, who has cerebral palsy, said: “As a result of my ADAI grant I got to work with Graeae Theatre Company in London, which I really had wanted for a long time – I see it as the door being opened for me. Following this I got the big news that I am being given money to develop a TV drama series. The ADF has been a great support for me over the years.”

Pat Dam Smyth, who has a mental health condition, is just back from a music tour around the island: “The award gave me the space, time and finances to fund my work. It inspired me. Ultimately through this, the veil of depression lifted and now I am moving forward to a positive, productive future. Obviously there are bad days, but the ADAI grant is a reminder of the bigger picture. Art can heal. Art gives confidence. And confidence erodes depression.”

For more information on how to apply for funding, contact the ADF on 02890239450 or .To download an application form go to All information including criteria, FAQs and guidelines is available on the website.