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March NDACA blog

A portrait photograph of Alex Cowan, project archivist of NDACA.

“We adore chaos because we love to produce order.” M.C Escher

Since early this year I’ve spent most of my time working on or thinking about the NDACA catalogue. I’ve been working on the best ways to define and describe artists and their work, studying the high-quality digital images that are our preservation masters and marvelling at the sheer range and quantity of artwork and experiences that need to be described. Some of this cataloguing work is bound by convention; the words and categories and structures that cataloguing standards necessarily impose on my work. Some is limited by the physical ability of NDACA to allow space and weight to each story.

Both concerns lead back the same conclusion: that NDACA will never be a description of a Disability Arts Movement story that is in the past, a closed book, and an artistic project that is finished. Rather, it can only be a guiding signpost on the ongoing journey of the Disability Arts Movement and the artists it encompasses.

Since the start of the project, new artists, new stories and new discoveries continue to surprise the NDACA team. Some are moments, big and small, that we never expected to be able to show. The Ian Stanton collection details a life spent making campaigning music. It contains images of Alan Holdsworth/Johnny Crescendo and Ian performing at a “Piss on Pity” concert fronted by an exceedingly retro and suitably altered Spastics Society collection box and, most entertainingly, a 2nd prize certificate awarded in a holiday camp talent show. Other discoveries provide new insights: posters retrieved from Holton Lee document the defining events of both the UK DAM and its European and International mirror.

Some, like the exquisite ink drawings of Steve Cribb, overwhelm with their range. His archive encompasses political and satirical cartoons, Christmas cards, landscapes, a surrealist chest set and flyers for the innumerable parties he liked to throw. All are building a narrative that helps unite and bring to life many lifetimes and voices by taking art and artefacts from boxes, attics and sometimes forgotten corners to be seen and appreciated by new audiences.

As NDACA has gained critical mass new artists are coming forward and new discoveries being made on an almost weekly basis. When the social media project to build the catalogue’s controlled vocabulary via user suggestion commences later this year I’m hoping that it will unlock treasures as yet unknown. We hope to see the DaDaFest-commissioned board game that can only be won if the player is disabled; to uncover images of defining events like Block Telethon; and, through supporting the next generation of disabled artists, to insure that the story of the Disability Arts Movement is never finished, even if my catalogue has to be. 

You can keep up to date with the progress of NDACA by following the regular blogs on Shape and the NDACA website.

Posted by Joe Turnbull, 29 March 2016

Last modified by Joe Turnbull, 29 March 2016

NDACA: From the past, the future...

Since July 2015 I’ve been working with the artists and organisations whose pledges are going to form much of the NDACA (National Disability Arts Collection & Archive) collection. They’ve put up with my visits and questions and finalised what they think best illustrates the Disability Arts Movement and the personal experience, social and political struggles that informed it, from each of their points of view and as shown within their pledges.

Come 2017, NDACA will boast a wealth of digitally and traditionally preserved artwork, an awesome web interface and a university library wing that will make it “knowledge central” for audiences that want to learn about this moment, this movement or to contribute by writing that history themselves by uploading their own material. NDACA will also help to identify and nurture the new generation of DAM artists: this will not be the end of anything but the continuation of a fascinating movement. 

Just like working in the BBC Community & Disability Programmes Unit in the 1990s the experience for me as archivist has been a dynamic one, introducing me to great artists, great art and great partners. My archiving journey for NDACA has served as a reminder that great art, culture and heritage speaks of individual and collective experiences. And it’s also highlighted DAM artists as often creating at the cutting edge of new techniques, adopting and experimenting with digital technologies well before the mainstream.

Next comes the apparently “dull” part, when all the pledged and digitised works have to be listed and described in catalogue that addresses the required library and archive standards while also providing accessible records for non-academic users and the Google generation of web only researchers. We want an NDACA catalogue that users can help create and enhance, but one where every record can be found and trusted.

An important step will be the creation of a “controlled vocabulary” which will have to limit possible terms of description while insuring that the chosen names, keywords and descriptors are relevant and meaningful to all users. How do people who are part of the Disability Arts Movement or who want to learn more about it describe who they are and what they see or want to find?  NDACA will use the words and terms created by these users wherever possible. 

In 2016 I’ll be driving the NDACA artists and organisations up the wall with fine detail questions for the catalogue record – it will include DAO and it could also include you! Indeed, if you feel you have a work, piece of ephemera or a Disability Arts Movement heritage story that should be told through NDACA, let me know about it. Contact me on 

Please click on this link to find out more about Shape Arts and the NDACA Project



Posted by Colin Hambrook, 16 November 2015

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 16 November 2015


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