- Date: 19 November 2012
- Artform: Music
- Area: London
Lottery funding enabled blind and partially sighted orchestra Inner Vision to tour seven venues around London in spring 2012, bringing welcome exposure and awareness to disabled artists.
This project was supported using public funding through the Arts Council's Grants for the arts Lottery funding programme. For more information on the programme and details on how to apply visit our funding pages.
The Inner Vision Orchestra is a remarkable group of talented musicians from around the world who are all blind or partially sighted. Their founder and musical director is Indian born but long-time resident of Britain Baluji Shrivastav who has a distinguished career as an Indian classical musician and composer and has performed with Stevie Wonder, the Kaiser Chiefs and Oasis.
Inner Vision Orchestra hail from India, Iran, Japan, Nigeria and Lebanon and they play music ranging from Japanese folk to Western classical, and from soulful gospel and blues to Indian ragas. With the help of National Lottery funding through the Arts Council they toured seven venues around London between 29 April to 15 June 2012.
Inner Vision's CEO Linda Shanson admits that 'this has been the biggest and most complex project undertaken by us so far.' One of the biggest challenges was coordinating a project which involved large numbers of people with visual impairments – not just the musicians but, due to Inner Vision’s intensive effort to connect with blind and disability organisations, a high proportion of visually impaired audience members as well. Braille programmes and volunteer support made these events blind-friendly, and Linda admits that volunteers were 'absolutely essential'. She says: 'They were important in guiding the artists in and outside of the locations, caring for the guide dogs, and for serving refreshments.'
The group were also incredibly diverse, spanning ages (from 25 to 88 years), cultures and languages. 'Two of the group only speak Punjabi,' says Linda. 'The musicians are of various ethnicities from India and Iran, Lebanon to Nigeria, Japan, Eastern Europe and of course the UK. Four guide dogs have also become an integral part of the ensemble. Some of the orchestra and some of the Asian volunteers had to overcome their initial dislike of dogs.' These personal, cultural and musical differences were overcome, Linda recalls, through 'patience, good humour, and the intense desire to make this tour a success'.
Baluji's skills in dealing with the many challenges faced by the diversity of his orchestra should also be acknowledged. 'He had to negotiate different styles of communication and different musical traditions, guiding the ensemble to a sense of its growing confidence and capability', says Linda. 'Where a sighted ensemble could easily read notes and take visual cues, this ensemble relied on memory and listening skills.'
As a result of the press coverage in the first week of June all the remaining events of the tour were sold out (hear an extract from BBC Radio 4's Today programme). The success of the events gave the musicians exposure and, as a result, further work: four members were recruited to join the British Paraorchestra tour who played at the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games, and two were invited to perform at County Hall. But perhaps more importantly, the success of the events gave the performers confidence and validity. Evaluation of the musicians’ feedback forms revealed that the events had increased their confidence and employability and reduced their sense of isolation.
The events also succeeded in changing perceptions and increasing awareness of disability arts. Analysis of the audience feedback forms revealed that while all would like to see more of this kind of work, a staggering 100 per cent could not name a current famous blind performer from the UK. Linda believes that 'the legacy of the tour is that it raised awareness in the public about the potential and existence of all kinds of musicians – not just blind, but from other age groups and cultural backgrounds.'
Linda says that the National Lottery funding through the Arts Council was 'absolutely essential' for both the tour and Baluji’s musical career. 'I cannot stress enough the significance of the Lottery arts funding in the development of Baluji’s musical career. Without it he would have been marginalised due both to his ethnicity and his disability. He does not belong to one of the main sub-groups of the Asian community whose promoters favour artists from their own backgrounds; his musical tradition is not mainstream; and despite his musical and creative ability, his blindness would have made him passive. However with the support of the Arts Council he has been able to create his own projects and organise his own tours and develop the organisational and leadership skills which have helped make him a success.'