Talking to a talented disabled musician recently, I was struck by her struggle to even book a ticket for a concert without rounds of form filling and phone calls to get into a venue with her carer.
As the chief executive of the Bristol Music Trust, a charity that delivers access to music, I hear stories like this too often. Too often, the onus is on the disabled community to fight its corner where music is concerned and this simply isn’t good enough.
Why should members of the British Paraorchestra, for example, be unable to share their talent across the UK simply because their wheelchairs have prevented them from getting on stage in many venues?
It’s been over a year since an Arts Council commissioned study by disabled musicians’ group Attitude is Everything (AIE) found disabled access among live music venues and festivals was severely lacking.
They found that just one fifth of music venues provided disabled access information classified as good, with one third of venues shockingly having no available access information at all. These findings should be extremely concerning to a sector that likes to think of itself as open-minded and inclusive.
Our trust is leading efforts to make Colston Hall in Bristol the most disability-friendly music venue in the UK for performers and guests.With funding from the government, Arts Council England, trusts, and corporate businesses, we are close to raising £48m towards the redevelopment of Colston Hall into a fully accessible venue with ramps for the audience, ramps for performers on stage and off stage and flexible seating arrangements so everyone can watch a show.
A lack of inclusivity is endemic problem throughout the music industry
Many music and festival venues have committed to improving their record on accessibility since the Arts Council report by joining AIE’s charter of best practice, but there too little emphasis on action.
The groups that we work with are often isolated, so it is all the more important that we push ourselves to do things better. A lack of inclusivity is endemic throughout the music industry and not just for concertgoers and musicians. In 2016, Arts Council England reported (pdf) that just 4% of people working in the arts and museums sector are disabled, more than four times lower than the UK workforce as a whole. The figures for some of the UK’s best known venues are even lower than 4%.
We welcome the government’s recent commitments to ensuring a high-quality arts sector is accessible to all. Matt Hancock, minister for digital, and Penny Mordaunt, minister for disabled people, have both been particularly vocal in their support for greater inclusivity in education and employment. But there is still a long way to go to turn these positive noises into tangible action that will make a difference to the lives of disabled musicians and music lovers.
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