“Here in Aotearoa, we’ve taken some big steps over the past decade to improve accessibility and inclusion in the arts but we need to build on the momentum as we strive to achieve Arts Access Aotearoa’s vision.”

The above paragraph captures the commitment that drives everyone at Arts Access Aotearoa and the people and organisations we work with. It’s also a key theme of Increased investment in access to the arts, the Chair and Executive Director’s reflection on 2023 published in Arts Access Aotearoa’s annual report.

Two exciting stories in this month’s e-newsletter illustrate some of the big steps being taken to increase accessibility in the arts. In Accessing live art at BATS, Chief Executive Officer Jonty Hendry says a key part of BATS' programming strategy is focused on supporting disability-led artmaking.

And Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, its Partnership Manager, talks about the theatre’s recent accessibility project, made possible with funding through the ANZ Staff Foundation. I do hope this vibrant, innovative theatre space is able to continue this important mahi.

Surtitles in real time to braille-reading machines

The other story is about NZ Opera’s development of braille surtitles. In what is thought to be a world-first innovation, the company is delivering an opera’s surtitles in real time to audience members’ braille-reading machines. 

Paul Brown, who is blind and co-founded Audio Described Aotearoa with Nicola Owen, recently attended an Auckland performance of the opera Le Comte Ory. “Braille is my reading medium and to read the surtitles in real time on my braille display was awesome. The surtitles refreshed when the singer got to the next line without me having to do anything. It was magic.”

You can read the story, The “magic” of braille surtitles for live performance

Arts Access Aotearoa presented its annual report at our annual general meeting on 24 May. The point of this report and our annual general meeting is to reflect on the previous year, drawing a line between the organisation’s vision and purpose and its achievements, and reporting on progress over that year.

At Arts Access Aotearoa, our vision is that “All people in Aotearoa can access and participate in the arts” while our purpose is “working in partnership to increase access to the arts for people in Aotearoa who experience barriers to participation”.

Measuring our progress

Always with Arts Access Aotearoa’s vision and purpose in mind, we track our performance and financial goals over the year so we can measure our progress. For example, we recorded 319 accessible services at arts and cultural events in 2023 – a 31.8% increase on the previous year.

Of these 319 services, 105 were New Zealand Sign Language interpreted, 113 were audio described and 29 were relaxed performances.

Over 2023, we know that 103 staff members and trustees from creative spaces around the country took part in eight regional cultural comfortability wānanga, facilitated by Arts Access Aotearoa and delivered by Marilyn and Marty Vreede of Pakohe Whanganui Ltd. We also know that 23 creative spaces offer regular outreach programmes beyond their primary location.

In the same period, we provided advice and support to 149 artists and arts organisations about their Arts in Corrections activities and programmes. We also wrote and promoted 63 stories, blogs and other items about the rehabilitative benefits of Arts in Corrections programmes.

We also gauge public awareness about Arts Access Aotearoa and the impact of its advocacy by tracking visitors to our website, engagement via our social media channels and subscribers to our e-newsletters. In all of these areas, we have seen increases.

Creative New Zealand invests in accessibility

Our report acknowledges Creative New Zealand, our core funder, for continuing to value and invest in accessibility in the arts. In 2023, we continued working with Creative New Zealand, along with Deaf and disabled artists, arts leaders and disability-led organisations, to support the development of its Accessibility Policy – released in April this year and available online.

In 2023, Arts Access Aotearoa was pleased to receive a Regeneration Fund grant from Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage. This funding is enabling us to deliver four projects, all aligned with our vision and aimed at increasing access to and inclusion to the arts. You can read about the projects in our annual report

Also in the report, we highlight the Creative Arts and Cultural Wellbeing Prison Initiative. A three-year partnership between Manatū Taonga and Ara Poutama Aotearoa, It represents an investment of $3 million in 13 innovative, high-quality arts programmes being delivered in 14 prison sites.

This is a game-changer for the strategic delivery of arts programmes in prisons across Aotearoa because it includes comprehensive, first-of-its-kind research.

Finally, my warm thanks to Henrietta Bollinger, who spoke to guests at our he annual general meeting about their life as a writer and disabled community advocate. Henrietta is last year’s recipient of the Whakahoa Kaitoi Whanaketanga Creative New Zealand Artist Fellowship. A poet, playwright, essayist and theatre practitioner, Henrietta is taking this opportunity to explore writing for film and creating a short film script.

Taking big steps to improve accessibility in the arts


Our funders

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