University of Atypical celebrates Arts and Access

The high quality work of disabled and deaf artists and of arts venues working to improve disabled and deaf access has been celebrated and recognised at a ceremony in Belfast.

The University of Atypical, formerly known as the Arts and Disability Forum, hosted a celebration of artists’ talent and venue commitment at the Atypical Gallery in Royal Avenue.

Thirteen of Northern Ireland’s leading disabled artists have received individual Disabled/Deaf Artists Awards (iDA) awards totalling £17,000 to develop their work. The majority of those artists were part of the celebration, with playwright Shannon Yee speaking about her experience of iDA and poet, Alice McCullough performing a poem to illustrate the effect of her iDA award.

As well as focusing on artistic talent, the event also presented Arts and Disability Equality Charter awards to venues that have worked to improve access and facilities for disabled and deaf people in all areas of their work.

Strule Arts Centre was again credited with the Excellence award, having worked closely with Omagh Access Group to enable deaf and disabled people to participate freely in the arts. Gerry Knight spoke about the venue’s hard work.

Enniskillen Castle and the Millennium Forum received Arts & Disability Equality Charter plaques to commemorate reaching Charter status, and the Ardhowen Theatre was presented with a certificate as evidence of its commitment to working towards Charter status.

The awards were presented by the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Deirdre Hargey. The Lord Mayor praised the great work taking place to advance the cause of disability arts in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland.

She added: “I’m delighted to be part of these celebrations, highlighting the fantastic work being done to advance disability arts in Belfast and beyond. It showcases our cultural diversity and highlights the importance of building inclusion within our city. Congratulations to all of the award winners.”

Artists receiving the iDA grants work in a range of disciplines, including visual arts, music, multi-media, poetry, comedy, theatre and dance.

The iDA scheme is managed by the University of Atypical and funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, with funds designed to help artists establish their careers in the arts. Some of the past recipients of iDA have built international reputations with the help of these grants. The big difference between this and other types of funding is that artists are supported right through the process, from the initial idea to project delivery.

University of Atypical CEO Chris Ledger said: “Northern Ireland’s Arts and Disability work is respected and admired not just in the UK and Ireland but on an international level. The University of Atypical is run by disabled people, whose dedication to promoting artistic excellence and working towards cultural equity contributes to the growing reputation of the work carried out here.”

Damian Smyth, Head of Literature, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, commented, “Congratulations to all of today’s award recipients.  The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is delighted to have been able to support both the iDA Awards and the Arts & Disability Equality Charter Awards over the years and we look forward to continuing to work with the University of Atypical to encourage the involvement of disabled and deaf artists in the arts.”

Those present also looked forward to this year’s Bounce Arts Festival Weekender, which this year will run from September 13-16 September, presenting an entertaining and thought-provoking mix of skilled work by disabled and deaf artists from the UK and RoI.

For more information about the work of the University of Atypical, visit: