Today the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad launched Unlimited, the UK’s largest ever disability arts programme. A total project fund of £3m has been made available by the Olympic Lottery Distributor for the creation of new work by disabled and deaf artists, resources and training across the sector for established professionals and young artists and showcases intended to bring new audiences to disability arts.

The funding, which is drawn mainly from the national lottery, with additional support from the Arts Councils of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as the British Council, will be available to disabled and deaf artists across the spectrum of the arts, from theatre and dance to music and visual art.

Half the £3m fund will be directly available to artists in the form of a commissioning fund for new work that will award grants of from £25,000 to £50,000. The first of three grant application windows opened today, with disability access assistants on hand to help as required. Applications will be accepted until 4 January 2010.

The remaining £1.5m will be used to provide support for artists to develop their skills and perform work in the UK and abroad. The emphasis is on widening audiences for disability arts and fostering collaborations within the sector.

Jenny Sealey, MBE, artistic director of Graeae, the UK’s foremost disabled-led theatre company, will be heading up the programme as artistic advisor for Unlimited. At the press launch held this morning at London’s South Bank Centre she spoke about the enormous developments that have taken place in disability arts over the last two decades, stressing however the necessity for continued commitment.

"Before, we knew our creative possibilities but were not brave enough to bring work to the outside world. What we created was for our own community. Slowly we’ve built up the confidence to call ourselves artists. We have been making slow but sure inroads into the whole artistic creative arena using fantastic skills to challenge and change perceptions. In our work now we have the choice to make work for the few or for the masses. 2012 is a world platform: bring it on!"

by Jo Caird