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Celebrating accessibility not disability

1 Aug 2014

This content is tagged as All Artforms .

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Stephen Wainwright
Posted by Stephen Wainwright

Chief Executive - Pou Whakahaere

For as long as I can remember the purpose of the Arts Council/Creative New Zealand, as set out in our legislation is to “…support the arts for the benefit of all New Zealanders.”

In achieving this purpose we are invited to consider the core principle of access.  Access is defined as making projects of merit available to communities that would otherwise be available to them.

Many arts organisations have access sitting alongside many other important considerations including the creation of great work, growing audiences, raising revenue and so on. Given this reality, once a year it is fantastic to celebrate the Arts Access Aotearoa Awards at Parliament.

Photo above: Ceramic artist Robert Rapson (right), who has made the trophies for the annual Arts Access Awards for the past four years, received one of his trophy creations for the Arts Access Artistic Achievement Award 2014. Here with the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Christopher Finlayson.

Creating access is an opportunity

The awards are a reminder that the randomness of fate means many New Zealanders have less access to the arts than others. This is actually a big opportunity for savvy arts marketers.

The New Zealand Festival won the Arts Access Creative New Zealand Arts For All Award. The $10 tickets for wheelchair users and their companions to see the Contact Season of Power Plant in the Wellington Botanical Gardens made access easy.  Their website listed all venues’ access points, accessible toilets, hearing loops, wheelchair access and accessible parking as did the festival programme.

This example of mindfulness shows how the arts can lead society when it comes to ‘normalising’ institutional responsiveness to difference. From a content perspective the arts by their very nature often push against the prevalent norms and conventions of the day. This manifests itself in the diversity of those who work in the arts as well as the stories we tell about ourselves through the arts. It wasn’t so long ago that it was illegal to be actively homosexual and the prevailing orthodoxy was often to isolate and separate from mainstream society those who were ‘different’.

It was lovely to see Philip Patston acknowledged as the winner of the inaugural Arts Access Accolade Award.  As well as being a great comedian Philip is a crusader for social change and diversity as the following video illustrates.

Arts as a powerful vehicle for change

The arts can be a powerful vehicle in the achievement of a better world at the individual, national or community level. For example we heard from the Hibiscus and Bays Local Board and the Minister for Corrections that prison arts programmes make a real difference to prisoners recidivism, and to the local community through the improvement of public spaces with art work made by prisoners.

The Awards evening is an uplifting event, expertly facilitated by Richard Benge and  the Arts Access team.  The audience seems to grow every year, which is noteworthy because the more people who hear the messages the better. 

You may have heard the term ‘one in five’ to describe the number of people in the community with an impairment.   That’s now almost one in four.  We all have whanau who are part of the 24% and we all want them to live a life as full and rich a life as they can. Extrapolate this to the whole population and you arrive at more than 1 million New Zealanders.

While mindfulness about this opportunity is an excellent first step, practical guidance always has a place. So check out the second edition of Arts For All  or contact  Arts Access Aotearoa if you want to talk with someone. The Ministry for Culture and Heritage is also looking to see how the ‘companion card’ concept can be widely implemented so that access gets a real boost.

This would be great, for as Philip Patston says “Why talk about disability when you can talk about accessibility? If we’re accessible then disability becomes almost irrelevant.”