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All inclusive?

All inclusive?
Photo: © Lucie Ella

Un-Label is committed to bringing the topics of inclusion and accessibility into culture. A talk at this year's Pop Kultur also shed light on this. We spoke with co-talker and Un-Label founder Lisette Reuter about this and asked her where cultural institutions have the most problems when it comes to inclusion. And most importantly, how can Un-Label help change that?
 

INTERVIEW  Boris Messing

 

CCB Magazine:Hello Lisette, you are the founder of Un-Label and were a participant in a talk about inclusion and accessibility at this year's Pop Kultur. Briefly about your background: Who are you and what did you do before Un-Label?

Lisette Reuter:I spent seven years managing international cultural projects to promote young artists. At some point, however, I studied special education and graduate pedagogy. But it was already clear to me during my studies that I didn't want to become a teacher. My roots are different. In 1984, my father founded one of the first amateur theater festivals for people with disabilities in cooperation with the University of Cologne. I grew up with this theater festival and it was in this direction that I ended up.

CCB Magazine:Un-Label deals with the topics of inclusion and accessibility in the cultural sector from various aspects. How and when did it come about? Is there a history to this?

Lisette Reuter:As I said, I did international cultural projects for many years, but they were never accessible to people with disabilities. That motivated me to create productions that are truly diverse and multifaceted. That was the idea and the starting point for Un-Label. In 2013, I produced the first international dance theater production with twenty artists from ten different countries - with and without disabilities - and started my own business. From the beginning, it was important to me to bring together people with different disabilities and from different artistic disciplines. That was quite new. Due to the success of this first production, I followed up on the concept, wanted to scale it internationally, and submitted a Creative Europe project, and that's how the ball started rolling.

When you think about inclusion and cultural participation of people with disabilities, it's first of all a huge mountain to face. It's a cross-sectional task: program, staff, PR, audience, etc. - many don't even know where and how to start

CCB Magazine:What exactly does Un-Label do in the field of inclusion? Can you describe your day-to-day work?

Lisette Reuter:Our services include general awareness training and workshops for front-of-house staff as well as training in accessible communication, PR and public relations, and lectures. We also accompany artistic productions and advise on desired accessibility goals.

CCB Magazine:What is the problem with inclusion and accessibility in the cultural sector? Why is there a need for something like Un-Label? Are people with disabilities not integrated enough into artistic processes?

Lisette Reuter:That's right. Many cultural institutions have a hard time with it because they don't have the knowledge and know-how. When you think about inclusion and cultural participation of people with disabilities, it's a huge mountain to face. It's a cross-sectional task: program, personnel, PR, audience, etc. - Many don't even know where and how to start. The change to more inclusion takes place in small steps. You have to start somewhere. A lot has already happened in the last three years, and more and more cultural institutions and cultural actors are putting the topic of inclusion on their agendas. With its "pik" program for inclusive art practice, even the German Federal Cultural Foundation has dedicated itself to this topic since this year. Nevertheless, policymakers still need to do more, for example, improve framework conditions, adapt funding structures, or provide additional budgets for accessibility. Inclusion and accessibility are human rights and not a nice to have.

CCB Magazine:Do you have figures to back this up? How many artists with disabilities are there anyway?

Lisette Reuter:When we talk about people with disabilities, we are not talking about a small, marginalized group in the population. In Germany, about 13 percent have a severe disability. If you broaden the definition of disability to include people with mental and mild disabilities, the figure is over 19 percent. But the number of unreported cases is much higher. Many of the not-so-obvious disabilities or impairments are not even registered and do not show up in the statistics. The problem is that people with disabilities are a taboo subject. Behind this is the fear that it could affect oneself. Of the 19 percent mentioned, of course only very few take up an artistic profession. Those who do, however, have virtually no chance of being accepted into state institutes or academies. They learn everything on their own initiative. As far as I know, there are only four actors and dancers with a severe disability in Germany who graduated from state drama or dance schools. In addition, there are a few who have graduated from private schools, but even here there are only a handful in total.

Inclusion and accessibility are human rights and not a nice to have

CCB Magazine:Another question, which and how many cultural institutions have you already advised?

Lisette Reuter:From April 2021 until today, 44 cultural institutions have been involved. These included Kampnagel, the German Foreign Office, the Impulse Festival in North Rhine-Westphalia and, in very close cooperation, the Schauspielhaus Düsseldorf, the Theater Dortmund and the Comedia Köln. This can involve the introduction or expansion of barrier-free offerings, diversity-oriented organizational development, or the re-accentuation and design of funding programs that are accessible to people with disabilities. But we also advise individual cultural actors on their inclusive opening process. In addition, of course, there are the artists with whom we work directly in our own artistic activities, who are given a space here to research and develop artistically. They are first movers, so to speak, with the goal of passing on the idea of inclusion to the scene.

CCB Magazine:You are also the artistic director of Un-Label. Can you give an example of your own productions?

Lisette Reuter:Briefly noted, we now not only have productions in the theater-dance-performance area, but also two music ensembles that are mixed-abled. I can give you a concrete example in the context of a large Creative Europe project that we did. We spent two and a half years researching the topic of Aesthetics of Access with over 350 artists, experts and scientists from seven different countries. This resulted in three productions that are still touring internationally. One production is a dance duet with a hearing dancer and a deaf dancer, in which there is a poetic audio description that all audience members can hear. Also integrated as an art form is Visual Vernacular, a kind of mixture of sign language, mime and visual aspects that even people who do not know sign language can understand well. So all people, with and without disabilities, can enjoy the piece. In principle, Aesthetics of Access is about how to incorporate accessibility as an artistic stylistic device and creative impulse in productions from the beginning, so they are not an add-on but an enrichment to the art. In all of our own pieces, this process is now firmly embedded in the production DNA.

CCB Magazine:Another goal of Un-Label is to build a national and international network for cultural professionals in the context of accessibility. To this end, you give workshops, coaching sessions and master classes for cultural professionals and hold symposia. Is there a central point where this network converges? Is it possible to exchange information within the network?

Lisette Reuter:It's like this: We have built up a large network of national and international players and link these players and people with each other. For example, if a cultural institution comes to us and says we need an audio description or we are looking for a deaf artist - we can mediate. We are also involved in many working groups, where we can exchange ideas about projects, etc. And as you said, we regularly do symposia and international masterclasses to try to bring the international arts and culture sector together and move forward in the field of inclusion and accessibility.

To my knowledge, there are only four actors and dancers with a severe disability in Germany who have graduated from state drama or dance schools. In addition, there are a few who have graduated from private schools, but even here there are only a handful in total

CCB Magazine:Another aspect of your work is your political commitment. You work with political actors to shape the framework for inclusion in culture. Do you also have direct contact with politicians from the cultural sector?

Lisette Reuter:Yes, we also try to establish direct contacts with politicians. As part of Neustart Kultur, for example, we launched a project called United Inclusion, which aimed to bring together cultural sponsors and cultural professionals with disabilities. The latter advised the former on how cultural funding programs need to change in order to enable inclusion and accessibility in art and culture.

CCB Magazine:How does Un-Label actually finance itself? And how big is your team?

Lisette Reuter:I am a proposal machine. We receive funds purely on a project basis. We are in no way structurally financed or institutionally funded. I try to keep the store, which has grown extremely, together as much as possible. Our core team is actually very small, but of course we work with many freelancers, also very constantly.

CCB Magazine:Un-Label can be understood as a kind of social enterprise. Will your work no longer be necessary in ten or twenty years, at best, because your demands and visions will have become reality?

Lisette Reuter:From that point of view, yes, in the best case scenario, we wouldn't have to exist. But the mills grind slowly. There is still a long way to go before inclusion becomes a matter of course and the label is no longer needed. I have little hope that I will see that happen in my lifetime.

CCB Magazine:Finally: What enriches you personally about working and meeting with artists with disabilities?

Lisette Reuter:Learning from very different life experiences and perspectives. I am enriched by the insanely creative possibilities that inclusion and accessibility offer for art.


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