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Artist, Maurice Orr, tells of life-changing encounter with the Arts

Thursday 22nd August 2019 at 10am 0 Comments Visual Arts

Maurice Orr Image: Maurice Orr

Ballymoney-based painter Maurice Orr is an internationally-recognised artist whose paintings are exhibited and included in public and private collections around the world. He is also disabled, with an ‘invisible’ physical impairment, following illness and life-changing surgery. Today Thursday 22 August, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland published a new piece of research into the benefits of funding awards for deaf and disabled artists like Maurice who claims this award for him was life-changing.

In the case study Maurice shares his experiences in a candid interview with author Una Lynch (Sonrisa Solutions) and talks about the benefits of the Individual Disabled/Deaf Artists funding awards (iDA) managed by the University of Atypical. He discusses how his disability affects his day-to-day  life, the support he has received through the iDA Awards in building his career as an artist, and the transformative impact this support has had on improving his sense of health and wellbeing.

In 1994, following surgery, a heavy cocktail of medication and living with constant pain, Maurice could not return to work as a civil servant. All of this left him in a state of emotional anguish, with a lost sense of purpose in life and contemplating suicide.  A life-changing encounter with the arts came in 2002, in the form of an art bursary from the University of Atypical (formerly the Arts & Disability Forum), which he applied for under duress from his wife Jane, and which he now credits as having activated the artistic career that turned his life around. 

He said, “The University of Atypical has been so good to me. I wouldn’t have this career without them, and I try to encourage other people, ‘for goodness sake! Go and talk to people, get out there and do it’.”
The iDA Awards support disabled and deaf artists, writers, performers and musicians with grants of up-to £5,000 towards developing artistic careers. They offer the opportunity to gain new creative experiences through travel and access to professional mentoring.

Maurice identifies these elements as being at the crux of the scheme’s success. He interpreted the iDA award as a sign of other people’s confidence and belief in him, and found it to be hugely empowering. He was able to travel to Canada to develop his landscape painting then went on to become one of only 29 artists with disabilities to be commissioned by the 2012 Olympiad and Paralympic Games -  a highly successful career as a professional artist had begun. The iDA Award had marked the beginning of a major life enhancing experience for him.   Maurice said, “It gave me a second chance I never thought that I’d have”.

Graeme Stevenson, Researcher,  Arts Council of Northern Ireland said,

“Maurice hopes that by sharing his story he will encourage other aspiring disabled and deaf artists to take that first step and contact the University of Atypical and apply for an iDA Award and he’s a great ambassador.

“Funding the University of Atypical and the iDA Awards are two key ways in which the Arts Council is making a clear statement about its determination to improve access to, and participation in, the arts for people with a disability, and about its commitment to fulfilling the statutory obligations in compliance with Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act (1998) and Section 49A of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. These are priorities of the Arts Council’s five year strategy for the development of the arts in Northern Ireland, 2019-2024.

“In fact the Arts Council is very keen to learn more about how people with disabilities feel about the arts. I’d like to encourage as many people as possible to check our draft Disability Action Plan which is currently out for public consultation and tell us what they think.”

The iDA Awards support disabled and deaf artists, writers, performers and musicians with grants of up-to £5,000 towards developing artistic careers. They offer the opportunity to gain new creative experiences through travel and access to professional mentoring.

To find out more about this case study, commissioned by the Arts Council and authored by Dr Una Lynch from Sonrisa Solutions ltd, plus the range of approaches that are currently being taken to promote positive attitudes and encourage greater participation in arts and culture by people with disabilities in Northern Ireland, visit the Arts Council website, www.artscouncil-ni.org

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