A future-focused conversation around disability and inclusion

Featuring keynote speaker S. J. Norman, a First Nations artist of Wiradjuri descent, the full program for Arts Activated 2021 has been revealed and registrations are now open.

‘You always want to include absolutely everyone in a conference program, which is never possible, but we feel like we’ve got a really beautiful cross-section of people across the three days of Arts Activated,’ said Morwenna Collett, Interim CEO of New South Wales’ peak arts and disability organisation, Accessible Arts.

Presented by Accessible Arts and running across two days in August – with a third day of live events co-presented with VIVID Sydney and scheduled for 28 September – Arts Activated 2021 is one of  Australia’s leading arts and disability forums, attracting artists, arts workers and allies from across the country. The first two days of the conference are presented online, ensuring easy access for anyone with an internet connection.

Built around the theme Building Back For Everyone, this year’s conference taps into contemporary concerns around access and inclusion – issues which the pandemic has thrown into stark relief.

Given that the disability sector in Australia is often ‘incredibly white,’ Collett is especially excited to have cross-disciplinary artist and writer S. J. Norman – a non-binary transmasculine person and a diasporic Koori of Wiradjuri descent – as the opening keynote speaker for Arts Activated 2021.

‘So often with conferences and similar events, we tend to focus on international speakers; we always kind of think the grass is greener. And obviously we’ve also got Suzanne Bull [a leading UK arts and disability advocate] who I’m really excited about, but I’m really pleased that we’re celebrating a really important Australian artist, a First Nations artist, in a keynote role this year, so I’m personally really excited about hearing from SJ,’ Collett said.

Embracing solo and ensemble performance, installation, sculpture, text, video and sound, Norman is an award-winning writer and the founder of Knowledge of Wounds, a multi-disciplinary cultural festival and knowledge exchange in New York City for queer First Nations people.

‘We’ve asked him to talk about his work and his artistic practice and journey. Obviously, he’s someone with a lot of intersecting identities and disability is a newer one of those identities for him. So I’m interested in hearing a bit about his work, obviously, but also his journey to identifying in that way and how that’s become a part of his practice and his thinking as an artist,’ said Collett.

Read: Building back better for everyone

Featuring keynote sessions, workshops and a range of conversations, the two virtual days of Arts Activated 2021 promise a range of stimulating topics designed to inspire creative practices and professional development simultaneously.

‘The workshops will explore practical ideas so that people can walk away at the end of the day with tangible ideas to explore,’ Collett told ArtsHub.

‘For example, one of the workshops is exploring cultural safety, which is often talked about from a culturally and linguistically diverse and First Nations perspective, but we’ll be hearing about cultural safety from a disability perspective.’

Facilitated by Caroline Bowditch, CEO of Arts Access Victoria, the workshop will explore what a culturally safe arts sector looks like from a disability perspective, across programming, audiences, creative workers, leadership and arts practice.

‘I’m really pleased that we’re celebrating a really important Australian artist, a First Nations artist, in a keynote role this year.’

Morwenna Collett, Interim CEO, Accessible Arts

‘Another workshop I’m really excited about is our session for artists on how to write an access rider, which is something that we’re really keen to see more of in Australia. If you are an artist with access requirements, just like we have a rider for other things around performing or exhibiting, let’s normalise the idea of having access as a part of the rider as well,’ Collett enthused.

Other sessions at the conference are focused on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, demystifying the Australia Council, developing greater opportunities for artists with disability in the mainstream arts sector, and boosting cultural access at the local and community level.

One of the many threads running throughout the program is a focus on adapting and changing as COVID-awareness reshapes the world around us.

‘Everything is still evolving and moving,’ said Collett, ‘and people are learning throughout this time. We might not get anything right immediately in amongst all the quick pivots that we’re doing, but [this conference] gives us an opportunity to learn from one another.

‘The arts can be competitive at times but I think we’re really lucky in the disability and access space, because so often there is a real openness and willingness to collaborate and share, and we all want everyone to be better at this stuff,’ she continued.

‘We don’t just want to go back to how we were before – we all want to take the learnings that we’ve had around access and inclusion through the pandemic and take that work with us into the future.’

The full program for Arts Activated 2021 is now live and tickets are on sale.

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts