How do you know when it’s time to move on?

A recent Disability Arts Residency gave AAV's CEO the reassurance that the sector will be in good hands when she steps down from her role.
move on. Image is a small branch of yellowing leaves in the sunlight.

In August 2023, I co-facilitated the Evolve Disability Arts Residency with David Doyle, CEO of DADAA (Disability in the Arts, Disadvantage in the Arts, Australia). We spent a week with nine Deaf and Disabled Future Leaders. We discussed the future of disability arts in Australia. What was there to look forward to? What challenges were coming? And how would they create a flourishing future for disability arts in Australia?

That was when I knew I had made the right decision to move on. Their talent and exceptional leadership skills showed me that the future of Arts Access Victoria (AAV) is bright. It is time for AAV next Deaf and/or Disabled CEO. Just as AAV supported me, AAV will support the next.

It’s been a thrilling six years at AAV. As CEO I have had the honour and privilege to represent and advocate for Deaf and Disabled artists and arts workers. I’ve taken people’s stories and wisdom with me wherever I’ve been. This has led to new conversations, incredible opportunities and major achievements for AAV.

During my tenure, I was on an advisory panel for the development of the new National Cultural Policy. I was appointed to the Creative Australia (previously the Australia Council for the Arts) Board and I advocated for access funding at Creative Victoria.

There has been rapid change to the Australian arts and disability landscape. I am so proud of everything we have achieved during my time at AAV. None of this would have been possible without the support of everyone at AAV, the artists we work with and the sector.

We advocated for and won ringfenced funding streams for Deaf and Disabled artists at local, state and federal levels. We supported organisations and governments to make funding processes more accessible. We developed and delivered accessible devolved funding programs. The funding programs we have led received a record number of applications. And created life-changing impacts.

We worked together during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep our community together. We kept our studios open and created new ways for Deaf and Disabled people to stay connected. We developed the Museum of Us with Victoria Together to commission 50 Deaf and Disabled artists during the pandemic. All of our work went hybrid, and remains so, to make sure no one is left behind.

We brokered 10-year partnerships with Arts Centre Melbourne (ACM) and Melbourne Fringe.

In partnership with ACM we brought you the Alter State Festival, a celebration of disability, creativity and culture. Alter State was on the mainstages of the Arts Centre Melbourne and screens across Australia and New Zealand.

Alter State Festival blew our audience projections out of the water. It was proof, if it was ever needed, that audiences want more work by Deaf and Disabled artists. We ensured the festival was hybrid. The majority of the programming was delivered online and in person. Alter State Festival won a Green Room Award for Contribution to Sector and Community.

None of this would have been possible without the many people who have worked with me to make all these important moments happen.

Thank you to the AAV Board, Deputy CEO/General Manager Nikki Zerella, the AAV staff, and all the colleagues across our valued partnerships and the sector. I feel incredibly lucky to have worked with you all.

And, finally, to the artists, arts workers and creatives who put their heart into this work every day. Thank you! For allowing me to be your spokesperson and trusting me with your stories.

It’s been a fabulous journey at Arts Access Victoria. I will cherish my time as the CEO and Artistic Director.

Nic Vogelpoel, AAV’s Chair, says: ‘AAV, celebrating our 50th anniversary in 2024, has matured, expanded and exploded over the past six years under Caroline’s leadership. We are excited to build the next generation of disability leadership. We are eager to welcome a successor to keep advocating for industry change and championing all Deaf and Disabled artists. It’s a daring and ambitious program to realise, supported by an exceptional team of industry leaders. We look forward to meeting you!’

If you think you could be the next CEO at AAV, check out the CEO Recruitment Pack here.

Caroline Bowditch is the CEO/Artistic Director of Arts Access Victoria (AAV). Caroline enjoyed an acclaimed career in the UK for over 16 years as a performance maker and industry leader. She developed strong partnerships with state and national arts organisations. Caroline’s strong advocacy has resulted in significant reform of funding programs for Deaf and Disabled artists. She oversaw the development of a new Strategic Plan at Arts Access Victoria. She led AAV through a successful transition to hybrid delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. Caroline was recently appointed to the Creative Australia Board. Caroline is an independent consultant on access and the arts. She lectures on accessible arts education and professional arts practice. Caroline will finish up at Arts Access Victoria in June 2024.