Tuesday 17 July 2018

The National Lottery: Impacting the arts

Arts & Disability Ireland (ADI) has provided incredible opportunities artists with disabilities around Ireland

Born in south Roscommon, Padraig Naughton has had a visual impairment all of his life. However, his disability has never stopped him in his pursuit of his goals. Known as a remarkable textile artist, making art by touch using materials like clay and charcoal, Padraig works as Director of Arts & Disability Ireland (ADI).

For those who are unfamiliar, ADI’s vision is of an Ireland where people with disabilities can fully experience and contribute to Ireland’s artistic and cultural life, and be an integral part of it. ADI is funded by The Arts Council who receive National Lottery Good Cause Funding.

“I joined ADI in 2005,” says Padraig. “We work to champion the creativity of artists with disabilities  and to promote inclusive experiences for audiences with disabilities.

We are a small organisation with four staff based in Dublin.

“For me, creating local, national and international opportunities for disabled artists is really important. I find working in this position really exciting.”


ADI’s work spreads to a variety of art forms including dance, film, literature, music, theatre, traditional arts and visual arts. Their work encompasses a broad range of activities in arts development, audience development, access services, training, information provision and programming. ADI is also a resource for arts facilitators, galleries, venues, local authority arts offices, arts organisations and national cultural institutions which seek to include and engage people with disabilities in the arts at all levels.

You don’t have to spend very long in Padraig’s company to realise he has a genuine love of art. It’s a passion he would like to share with as many people as possible.

“I have always loved handling clay. I love the feel of it. I started pottery and ceramic classes for an hour and a half a week from about the age of seven or eight. And my interest in art continued through secondary school and the Leaving Cert.

“In 1989 I went on to study Craft Design Ceramics at the National College of Art and Design. I got contact lenses when I was studying there and in a discussion with my ophthalmologist I realised that I didn’t see in a bifocal way. That means that what I see is slightly flatter and lacks to most other people’s sight. I have always enjoyed experimenting with light and shade in drawing. When I started to experiment with charcoal that opened up the possibility of creating depth using light and shade.

“At the time when I was going through school there were very specific career paths for visually impaired and blind people in particular. The common career prospects were in areas like physiotherapy, telephony, piano tuning and basket making – they were tried and tested career paths.

“As a teenager my rebellious me to be myself. It allowed me ot to be visually impaired. Art enabled me to step outside the visually impaired world and the chosen career paths. That’s really what drove me. There was also an individuality to art that I liked. Every piece of art is different and every mark you make is different. And at that point I liked being different.”

In his work with ADI, Padraig encounters many young people. He says he takes great pride in encouraging young disabled people to explore their artistic side.

 When I was creating my art I got quite active within my local scene in Co Roscommon. And from there I became part of what was going on in Co Dublin and even further afield I found myself part of what was happening internationally. It was fantastic for me.

“But to create that mobility in the arts for people with disabilities can be quite difficult. I feel that providing local, national and international opportunities for artists with disabilities is really vital.

“As a young artist I had some good opportunities but I had some bad opportunities as well. What inspires me today is creating access to the arts for young people.

The chance to shape and implement a vision for these artists has been very important to me.

“When I started my work with ADI, I was keen to see that artists with disabilities got equal opportunities.

For example I didn’t want them to just get exhibition opportunities during August or to just be part of group shows. I wanted their work to be recognised for what it was.

“And last year we worked with 20 artists to create new works of art.”

Padraig is eager to point out that ADI does not have a singular focus on artists with disabilities. They also concentrate on improving facilities and catering for disabled audiences.


“Ten years ago very little had been done in Ireland in the area of arts and disability from the audience’s perspective. Everything had been focused on the artist at that point. I felt we also had to focus on what the audiences with disabilities needed. That’s what started our audio description project with the Abbey Theatre and the Dublin Theatre Festival in 2006. Last year we worked with 19 different partnerships across 12 local authorities and we did 36 captioned and audio described performances across Ireland.

“I think we make a huge contribution to the arts and that we also contribute massively to the creation of high quality arts.”

It is difficult to disagree with Padraig on that statement. The considerable impact to the lives of disabled people in all areas of the country is clear to see. Of course, it is important to note that ADI’s work could not be carried out without a solid foundation of funding.

When you look back over the last 28 years the National Lottery has raised over €4.5 billion for good causes. This fund has been allocated to worthwhile projects in the areas of Youth, Sport, Recreation and Amenities, Health & Welfare, Arts, Culture & National Heritage and the Irish Language.

“About 75 per cent of our funding comes from the Arts Council which the National Lottery contributes to. The funding we receive is absolutely central to what we do. It’s critical to us. I think the National Lottery has been hugely important in contributing to good causes.”


“This funding we receive has had a big impact on the lives of people with disabilities by allowing them to not only participate in the arts but also allowing them to become creators within the arts. It has given them a visibility within the arts that 10 years ago I could never have imagined would have happened. Over the last number of years we have achieved high profile visibility for people with disabilities within the arts and that is great. We are very much part of what is a big arts scene. For me personally, to have been involved in some of the biggest commissioned projects in the area of arts and disability has been really exciting.”

And as for the future of ADI?

“My hope for the future is that the arts will become more and more available for people with disabilities,” he says.

“In ten years time I would hope that things like audio description, for those who are blind or visually impaired, and captioning, for the deaf and hard of hearing, will have become common place in the arts. I think that would be really great.

“Part of me would hope that in the long term future there would be no need for ADI. That would mean that the arts had become fully accessible, that our practices had become embedded and that the arts scene as a whole could just get on with it themselves.”

In the meantime Padraig will continue his valuable work to ensure every person in Ireland with a disability has an opportunity to experience and partake in the arts.

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