News Article

Shape Arts

Shape Arts will be leading a talk for Disability History Month on Thursday 9 December at 2PM in the Arcade at Bush House. You can find out more here.

Who are Shape Arts?


Shape Arts is a disability-led arts organisation working to remove barriers to creative excellence for disabled artists and audiences by providing opportunities, training cultural institutions, and running participatory arts and development programs.


Our founding principle and philosophy is that all disabled people should have the opportunity to participate fully in arts and culture. Our vision is an inspiring and inclusive arts sector, accessible to all. We are working towards this goal by promoting great art and inclusive practices, sharing knowledge and learning, and platforming and supporting disabled people in influential roles across the sector.


What do we do?


Our artistic program has international reach and many dynamic parts. At its core, we deliver: the Shape Open, an annual exhibition of disabled and non-disabled artists; the Adam Reynolds Award, a bursary awarded to a mid-career disabled artist; and Unlimited, the world’s largest commissioning program for disabled artists, co-delivered with Artsadmin. We also run two heritage projects: the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive and the National Disability Rights Movement Archive and Collection.


On a smaller scale, we commission disabled artists to regularly create new work and provide mentorship and one-to-one support on projects of varied scales. Across the sector, we work with our associates to deliver Disability Equality Training and access auditing to ensure that physical and attitudinal barriers are dismantled. 


What is our philosophy?


All our work at Shape is underpinned by the Social Model of Disability. The Social Model holds that a person isn’t ‘disabled’ because of their impairment, health condition, or the ways in which they may differ from what is commonly considered the medical ‘norm.’ Rather, it is the physical and attitudinal barriers in society – prejudice, lack of access adjustments, and systemic exclusion – that disable people.


By placing the emphasis on society and its structures rather than the individual, we acknowledge that the cause of ableism is never a personal ‘difference’ or ‘ability’ but wider ideologies in our culture that lead to discrimination and marginalisation. In asserting this, we are loudly and defiantly demanding that society must change to become more accessible and inclusive.


The Social Model was developed by disabled people to identify and take action against discrimination, and to center equality and human rights. This is in contrast to the traditional Medical Model, which presents disability as an individual, medical ‘problem,’ focuses on what a person can’t do because of their particular physical, neurological, or psychological characteristics, and places responsibility and burden on the disabled individual.


Under the Social Model, disability is framed as a social construct created by barriers which can be changed and eliminated, providing a dynamic and positive model which identifies the causes of exclusion and inequality and proposes a solution.


The Social Model makes a clear distinction between impairment (a condition, illness, or loss/lack of function) and disability (barriers and discrimination). It also demonstrates that people from different impairment groups, far from having separate issues and interests, face common problems – such as lack of access to information and communication, environmental exclusion, and discrimination in employment. It empowers them, along with their allies, to find common solutions to remove these barriers. To this end, we work with creatives who identify variously as disabled, chronically ill, neurodivergent, and D/deaf.


Want to discover more?

Check out their upcoming event at King's.


You can find out more about the Social Model of Disability by watching our film or reading the blog on our website.


To find out more about our program, visit our website, sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram and Twitter.


Our most recent exhibition, 2021’s Shape Open: All Bound Together? is also available to experience online now.




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