Ensuring an accessible future for the arts sector

As the changes brought by COVID fade, an upcoming conference aims to ensure we keep the best of the disruption by centring disability.
Ensuring an accessible future for the arts sector Members of Australia's arts and disability community (l-r): Mallika Macleod, Ethan Green, Eugenie Lee, Debra Keenahan. Image supplied.

Anthony Morris

Monday 17 May, 2021

In a post-COVID world, how do we ensure that Australia’s arts and cultural sector is inclusive of arts practitioners and audiences with disability? That’s the question posed at this year’s Arts Activated 2021 conference.

A biennial event produced by Accessible Arts, NSW’s peak arts and disability organisation, Arts Activated 2021 is Australia’s leading forum for increasing access to arts, culture and events for artists and audiences with disability or who are deaf.

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It’s aimed at an audience looking to have conversations about a wide range of subjects, covering everything from disability creative practice to professional development opportunities for arts practitioners with disability to programming and services for audience members with disability.

Accessible Arts Interim CEO Morwenna Collett told ArtsHub, ‘a post-COVID focus feels appropriate for this year.’

This year’s theme is Building Back For Everyone, focusing on what that might mean in relation to arts, culture and disability. ‘It's based around what we need to do as a sector to focus on an inclusive recovery post-COVID, and what that inclusive recovery looks like,’ said Collett.

The conference will be a mix of virtual and live sessions held over three Mondays in August - 9, 16 and 23. The virtual conference sessions will be broadcast live from the conference studio at Western Sydney University’s Parramatta CBD campus, and there will also be four free live sessions presented in partnership with the Vivid Sydney Festival.

‘It's going to be a hybrid event,’ said Collett. ‘People able to come to Western Sydney University can attend the broadcast of the virtual sessions in person, but everything presented will also be available online.’ This will take the event to a truly national audience while making the event more accessible.

A diverse agenda

Featuring 20 sessions and events ranging from panel discussions through to practical and interactive workshops, the conference will also be presenting a number of high profile keynote speakers.

‘In the past we've had around 300 delegates and speakers,’ said Collett. ‘Everyone from independent artists to people working in arts organisations to public servants. We’re really trying to make sure that we've got a diverse range of voices.

‘People with disability are never just people with disability, they come from a range of other life experiences and backgrounds as well.’

Building relationships and connections through networking is an important part of the conference, so the mixed format of this year’s event is designed to provide those important face-to-face connections.

‘With the live elements, whether people will join us at Western Sydney University or come and meet us at the Vivid Sydney events, there will be those physical opportunities to connect.’

A silver lining to COVID

The pandemic has proved to be a mixed blessing as far as improving access to the arts.

‘There were some silver linings around accessibility,’ said Collett. ‘Things like events being available via livestream and on demand, reaching an audience of people who perhaps haven't been able to access that content in other ways.’

This growing use of technology has made it one of the focuses of this year’s conference.

‘There's obviously things that are evolving all the time when it comes to accessible tech and assistive technology, that's an area we're really interested in exploring.’

But as the world moves into a post-COVID phase, it’s important to consolidate those gains. ‘The question is how do we build on those learnings from last year?’ Collett said.

The pandemic has also posed a number of questions about the sustainability of the sector as a whole – and the conference hopes to focus attention so those questions don’t become excuses to ignore the importance of inclusion.

‘In the state of flux and crisis that some arts organisations are in now, how do we not lose sight of access and inclusion when we're all trying just to survive.’

Register now for the Arts Activated 2021 conference.

About the author

Anthony Morris is a freelance film and television writer. He’s been a regular contributor to The Big IssueEmpire MagazineJunkeeBroadsheetThe Wheeler Centre and Forte Magazine, where he’s currently the film editor. Other publications he’s contributed to include ViceThe VineKill Your Darlings (where he was their online film columnist), The Lifted BrowUrban Walkabout and Spook Magazine. He’s the co-author of hit romantic comedy novel The Hot Guy, and he’s also written some short stories he’d rather you didn’t mention.

You can follow him on Twitter @morrbeat and read some of his reviews on the blog It’s Better in the Dark.