Battersea Arts Centre champions disability rights by becoming the world’s first ‘relaxed venue’

By Tom Holmes
February 13 2020, 16.45

Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) continued its commitment to inclusivity by becoming the world’s first relaxed venue, during a celebration last Friday.

Having worked with disability activists and artistic group Touretteshero for three years to become a more inclusive venue, Friday’s launch was a celebration of that commitment.

BAC’s CEO and artistic director Tarek Iskander said: “Battersea Arts Centre has been transformed by this methodology, far beyond what we could have possibly imagined. It has completely altered how we think of ourselves and our relationship to the world.

He added: “This has profound positive implications for the organisation as a whole, and we want to celebrate the progress that we’ve made.

“We’re still making mistakes and learning but we want to share what we’ve learned with others, and give them the opportunity to hold us to account.”

As part of their commitment as a relaxed venue, over 98% of performances in Mr Iskander’s first season as artistic director will be relaxed, and over 90% of all performances going forward, as has been the case since Autumn 2018.

But being a relaxed venue is also a broader commitment to the way the organisation holds itself.

A relaxed venue, or performance, is not necessarily one fixed set of rules, but rather a commitment to a guiding set of principles.

Those principles include reducing barriers for disabled people in all elements of theatre production, ensuring that everyone can have an equal experience and to do so with a minimal amount of fuss.

Put simply, it means considering accessibility for everyone at every stag: in performances, in the way the building operates, and ensuring that everyone involved shares that ideology.

Battersea Arts Centre
INCLUSIVE: BAC artistic director Tarek Iskander and Touretteshero’s Jess Thom
Photo courtesy of Morley von Sternberg.

Mr Iskander, who took over as BAC’s CEO in May, said he was struck by the commitment and passion of everyone involved to make this project work.

He said: “It’s looking at accessibility from a different way. Why spend so much time and energy keeping people out when it’s easier to spend that time and energy making ourselves accessible to everyone?

“So rather than starting from relaxed performances being an option, we wanted to start from every performance being relaxed and working backwards.

He added: “Coming in at the tail end of this, I can see how much work has been put in, so it feels amazing and this is a great moment for us.”

The celebration was three-fold, as it also celebrated the launch of Mr Iskander’s inaugural season – titled Going Global – and also the 10th birthday of Touretteshero.

Touretteshero co-founder Jess Thom said: “By coming on this journey, Battersea Arts Centre sends a bold and exciting message to its staff, artists and audiences that it understands, welcomes and celebrates disability arts and culture in all of its many forms.

“We can’t wait for you to experience the difference!”

Credit: Battersea Arts Centre Triple Celebration, Fri 7 Feb. Photos by Samuel Dore

Related Articles