The death of Chris Ledger is a huge blow to all those who champion the rights and needs of the disability sector in Northern Ireland and further afield. In many ways, she led the way with her vision and passion. To say that she will be hugely missed is a massive understatement. As a small tribute to Chris, and to all those who knew and loved her, we have reprinted below the first interview with Chris which appeared in VIEW magazine in 2014. The images of Chris were taken by photographer Kevin Cooper.
When Harry met Chris . . .
By Harry Reid
Late, flustered and embarrassed, I crash through the doors of Belfast’s Dark Horse café-bar and immediately find my state of inner agitation at odds with the calm of the early Aug ust afternoon interior.
In contrast to the breathless disheveled figure I’m cutting, Chris Ledger emanates an aura of calm industry at a corner table where she has set up a mobile office.
Approaching apologetically, my feeble attempts at contrition for my tardiness are waved away with a welcoming smile. I breath a little easier as the warm facial expression reassuringly emphasises the lack of sarcasm as Chris gestures at the papers and phone in front of her and says: “Never worry, while I’ve been waiting I’ve had plenty to do.”
‘All of ADF’s work is rooted in a philosophy that not only rejects, but actively seeks to challenge, the overt and more insidious forms of negative attitudes to disabled people that continue to be so pervasive’
As we start to discuss the work of the Arts and Disability Forum, or ADF, it becomes apparent that the wide-ranging and ambitious activities of the organisation she heads up always leaves Chris with plenty to do. Yet the evident enthusiasm and good humour she displays in the face of what our conversation reveals as a truly ferocious workload are the hallmarks of someone who has definitely found their vocation.
“All of ADF’s work is rooted in a philosophy that not only rejects, but actively seeks to challenge, the overt and more insidious forms of negative attitudes to disabled people that continue to be so pervasive.
“It’s an ethos that I am personally very at home working within, and as it informs everything we do, it ensures that as an organisation we truly fulfil our mission to nurture, encourage and support deaf and disabled artists.”
Such encouragement and support comes in a great many forms including a year-round programme of showcasing deaf and disabled artists’ work in the organisation’s own gallery on Belfast’s Royal Avenue and through exhibitions, shows, performances and tours mounted at venues across the region.
ADF also administers a programme of grants on behalf of the Arts Council.
“Through the grant scheme the ADF has been able to offer a degree of financial support to enable deaf and disabled artists to pursue excellence in any medium of cultural expression they practice, be that producing literature, music, photography, drama, a strand of the digital arts or whatever.”
In addition, ADF has developed relationships with counterpart agencies across Europe and beyond to bring the work of internationally renounced disabled artists to these shores and runs a spectrum of training for local disabled artists with an increasing emphasis on helping equip them to effectively promote their work.
At the time of our encounter the ADF’s Bounce! Festival was uppermost in Chris’s mind. Began in 2012 to mark that year’s Paralympics in London, it has quickly forged a place as an annual fixture in the cultural landscape, with its third edition taking place over the final weekend in August at venues, including Belfast’s Lyric Theatre and the Black Box as well as ADF’s own gallery.
The success of Bounce! has been such that plans are already in place to expand the scope of the festival in 2015 to include a mini Bounce! programme for children.
As September dawns the ADF looks forward to pushing on with its mission to deliver ambitious high quality work.
In the immediate future this desire is exemplified by the organisation staging Liz Crow’s multimedia performance ‘Resistance’ in late October and early November.
Designed to provoke reflection on the Nazi’s grotesque T4 programme, which saw the organised murder of hundreds of thousands of disabled people, and consideration of contemporary everyday echoes of the attitudes that led to this systematic campaign of elimination, this is a show that promises to be as uncompromising as the ADF itself.