The Monthly interviews Damien Coyle from the University of Atypical about the impact of Covid on the work of the organisation- Part 2

Part one of this interview is here

You really were doing a lot more work?

We were doing about 50 per cent more work on top of what we would normally do. We started from a position where we thought we were very good in terms of dealing with access, participation and inclusion, but we realised pretty quickly that we had a lot of work to do. In a situation where there was no face to face options, where people were housebound, we really had to look at the work we were doing and how we could make it better.

We have done three rounds of funding support for d/Deaf, Disabled and Neurodiverse artists, we have run the general individual funding stream, and we have administered two Paul Hamlyn Foundation programmes for UnLtd. That is a lot of work on top of running festivals and the general support that we offer.

With regards funders, did they understand your requests for additional support?

For the funding programmes we would build in things like ISL and BSL as part of the administration costs. There were other elements of the support we provided where we just had to find money from our own resources.

For other things we still have to have discussions with funding bodies regarding accessibility. I think the Premium Fund from the Arts Council could be looked at. The process associated with those funds is quite difficult. We think we need to have a faster turnaround time for funding applications perhaps split over a number of rounds, maybe 6 rounds, throughout the year.

There are also problems with looking at expenditure and being funded retrospectively. There are also funding programmes which we think need to be looked at that might not be working in the way they were intended.

Where to now?

The first thing I have to say is that stability would be good. I think the whole sector has been operating in a state of flux and that is a very difficult situation to be in. WE need to be working towards a considered, consistent and stable arts and culture infrastructure..

I think we will also be campaigning for additional funding and I think there is an argument for that given how substantial the cuts have been over the last decade. I am doing some research on where we could find the funding for our sector.

And your organisation, where to now for the University of Atypical?

We also want to look at our own corporate strategy which was written for a completely different period of time. We have looked at what we have to do as an organisation and what changes we have to make to facilitate the widest possible support for the people we support.

There is a big question around people’s mental health and well-being in the sector as a whole and then beyond that to our staff and our clients. There have been some terrible stories regarding the arts and suicide and so we have to address mental health as a key priority. I heard some statistic that the highest level of suicide during the pandemic was people who worked or were connected to the arts sector

We also have the various applications which we have to complete to maintain our funding and that always keeps us busy at this time of year. And there is the planning of the Bounce Festival 2022 which will be the festival’s 10th anniversary.

What about the long term future?

To put things in context, we are involved in two European projects which began well before the pandemic started and are close to being finished. They have been vital to our development as an organisation because we learned a lot from the processes that European organisations used and how they approached issues that we faced as well.

Now we look like we are going to be involved in three new European projects, because of the way arrangements were made in the post Brexit environment, organisations in Northern Ireland can still apply to be part of European projects, can even take the lead in projects across Europe.

What are your European projects?

One of our projects which is being managed with our partners in Croatia, is looking at the development of commercial products produced by d/Deaf, Disabled and Neurodiverse craftspeople.

The second is in conjunction with colleagues in Italy where we are looking at developing tools and resources which aim to deal with bullying and body shaming which d/Deaf, Disabled and Neurodiverse people experience on a daily basis, particularly within the education sector.

The final project is looking into the difficulties for d/Deaf, Disabled and Neurodiverse people regarding international travel, and that is an important project being designed and lead by a local artist.

Any other key developments?

We are developing our website so that it is far more accessible and will have many new features available when it is completed.

Finally, we are looking at the physical infrastructure of buildings and we have redesigned the old Equality Charter which we now call The Equality of Access Standards Initiative, and that is based on a continuous improvement process.

There are ten participating organisations, and this will involve an audit process as part of that project. We will train our staff and volunteers to conduct audits and hopefully we will be able to work with those participant organisations to produce development plans to make their physical infrastructure, programmes  and processes more accessible for people with disabilities.

Overall our goal is to continue to support d/Deaf, Disabled and Neurodiverse artists, building audiences, looking at creating financial opportunities, generating income, and to continue to lobby for equality, access , and inclusion.

If you would like to find out more about the University of Atypical for Arts and Disability – see the link below

artist forms link
New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.