In the true spirit of "nothing about us without us", Arts Access Aotearoa has been building a network of disabled arts advocates around the country. Who better to advocate for our access to the arts than disabled people ourselves? Access to the arts is as important for us as for anyone else but it can't be achieved for us.
Over the weekend of November 28 and 29, around fifteen disabled arts advocates from around the country gathered for a weekend of advocacy partnership with Arts Access Aotearoa. It was an opportunity for learning, getting to know each other and sharing information and skills. There was a good deal of mixing of impairment types, opportunities to learn about and from each other, and think beyond our own needs - always important, always interesting, and sometimes challenging.
I enjoyed our time together, and in spite of the considerable work achieved, the atmosphere was relaxed. It was a youthful - apart from me - enthusiastic and creative gathering, and I heard nothing negative, although I couldn't be there the whole time. Most of the activities, with the exception of the session on blogging, were quite visually focused.
Our work together has given rise to reflection on the importance of equal access to our arts and culture.
Balm for the soul
In what seems like a long lifetime of fighting disability battles, my own and others, I have valued the sustenance I get from reading, theatre, a variety of music and some of the visual arts, even with limitations on access. They can shake me out of my everyday situation and take me to new and otherwise inaccessible worlds. They can be pure escapism, balm for the soul and the tired spirit. And I can talk and argue about them with others.
But they also challenge my thinking, expand my horizons, help me grow and fuel my optimism. The arts are critical for the survival of humanity. They underpin and develop our moral and spiritual sensibilities. Through them we process our experiences. They help us deal with difficulty, sadness and loss as well as celebration. They can make us happy and enrich our lives. They can tell us hard things in ways we can accept. Through them we can tell our own stories. They are a source of hope - and we all need hope.
"I want more for me and for others"
Increased access is making me realise how much I have missed, and I want more for me and for others.
Importantly, we can all be creators as well as spectators. Our take on the world is as necessary, important and valid as anyone else's, and we have much to say.
As the song says "Yes it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too." In the past there has been less attention to the roses for disabled people. Yet access to language and culture is a human right. While Arts Access Aotearoa has done much to change this, we have to do our bit too. I am looking forward to working with a talented and proactive group as we claim our own space in the arts world.