Arts for all – The ArtsHubbub looks at making the arts more accessible – ArtsHub

In the seventh episode of The ArtsHubbub we look at how the arts can support all artists regardless of their cultural background or their level of ability. We wanted to hear directly from artists and arts leaders who are working to make our sector more equitable, more diverse. We know there are more voices to hear from and many more issues to unpack; this episode aims to start a conversation for arts organisations rather than being the final word on the matter.

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We start with Jacob Boehme, a multi-disciplinary theatre maker and choreographer of the Narangga and Kaurna Nations. Boehme believes there’s a degree of nervousness in how we approach questions of race and culture in the arts, especially in regards to the demonstrated hesitance audiences and even some presenters display when it comes to engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and performance.

‘I think really what it comes down to a lot is just basic fear. Fear that the presenter is going to get it wrong and from the audience, fear that they’re going to get it wrong, they’re not going to get it. Which rather than jumping in and making mistakes, generally tends to kind of do a whole 180 and turn people into, well, it just turns people into freezing, freezing and not trying at all just because of the, the fear, really,’ Boehme said.

Veronica Pardo – CEO of Multicultural Arts Victoria – gives us a perspective on organisations that are creating change. Pardo believes that systemic change has to start at the top and necessarily comes at the cost of power. She told us: ‘Reputation, income, title, all of these things that represent, you know, how we express power within … the arts and cultural sector, if you’re not prepared to concede these at all, then I really questioned whether your allyship is real.’

Developing good allies is an important part of long-term change. Lena Nahlous, Executive Director of Diversity Arts Australia, thought her organisation needed to go one better. In partnership with The British Council, they created an anti-racism toolkit.

‘Often we operate in systems that we take for granted and the Creative Equity Toolkit reminds us that these systems are often created to exclude many people and only include an elite few. So this toolkit provides resources to empower people of  color and culturally and linguistically diverse people and allies and organisations with the tools they need to make substantive, long term change and get to the root of systemic discrimination in the arts,’ said Nahlous.

DIsability and ACCESS

Disability can come in many forms – some less visible than others. Neurodiversity is also often invisible, but for too long has hindered some people’s equal access and engagement in the arts. For playwright and academic Fleur Kilpatrick, her dyslexia has become an important part of her teaching.

‘So instead of now doing things that are all about me reading massive things, I was like, well, let’s be more creative about this. We do videos, we do podcasts, we do presentations, we do so many different forms of assessment now because of my dyslexia. Because I’m looking out for me, the students get more creative assessments,’ Kilpatrick told us.

Working as the Access Inclusion Coordinator at Melbourne Fringe, appearance activist and writer Carly Findlay has developed practical guidelines to assist independent producers make their work more accessible. Such guidelines include practical aspects, e.g. organising Auslan interpreters and budgeting for accessibility, but she also advocates for the importance of promoting within communities.

‘One of the things that is really important is when you’re doing when you’re doing accessible shows, when you’re creating accessible art, you need to reach those people. And so many people might think that it was a waste of time in … making the shows accessible because no one came, but then they didn’t reach out to those people in the audiences in the communities,’ Findlay said.

We also introduce the new CEO of Access Arts Australia, Matthew Hall, who had only been in the role for three days when we spoke with him. Even at this early stage of the job he emphasised that lived experience was valuable, particularly in his organisation, where identifying with a disability was mandated for senior leadership roles.
Hall told us, ‘I think it’s critically important to be able to bring to the role and to the interaction with other people, lived experience and an empathy and irrespective of what my experience is, which will be no doubt very different to the lived experiences of other people, it still it still enables me to have an understanding.’ 

This episode was supported by the Australia Council’s National Arts and Disability Awards 2020 which recognise the achievements of established and young artists.
Nominations close 1 September.