In advocacy training sessions with disabled people, the conversation often turns to the question “What is advocacy?” I'm always impressed with participants when they say, "Fifty per cent of advocacy is showing up."
Exploring this further, they explain that disabled people need to be seen in audiences and at events. "One way to be seen is putting ourselves in the picture."
These words motivate me and the team at Arts Access Aotearoa because a key purpose of the organisation is advocacy. The current public awareness campaign that Arts Access Aotearoa has undertaken follows this advice. A suite of five posters featuring five artists are appearing in five cities between 6 October and 10 November. These posters very much put disabled artists “in the picture”.
These brave volunteers have put themselves forward to raise the profile of artists with a disability, sensory impaired or lived experience of mental ill-health, along with the creative spaces that support and encourage them.
Each colourful portrait of the artist with or at their work demonstrates talent and achievement. The message on each poster is "I'm an artist", a simple statement that puts the person and their art first.
The posters are being launched at functions in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. By gathering supporters and media together to acknowledge each artist, they also recognise the creative space that’s provided the environment and opportunities for their inclusion and achievements in their chosen art field.
I've had the good fortune to attend the launch events in Wellington and Dunedin to meet the artists, their friends, families and creative spaces staff. I will also be attending the Auckland, Christchurch and Hamilton events.
A nationwide family of people intent on access and inclusion
I'm aware more than ever that we have a nationwide family of people intent on access and inclusion in the arts – and artists who are achieving and thriving, thanks to the creative spaces where they work.
What concerns me, however, is that support for creative spaces (funding and/or other practical help) can be unreliable, inconsistent, and subject to policy changes and decisions.
Moreover, many funding agencies in both local and central government lack an understanding of the true value of these community art spaces. The I'm an Artist Campaign draws attention to creative spaces, which provide essential programmes and support for people who face barriers to participation in the arts. Access to the services they provide enhances the participants’ overall wellness, inspires self-esteem and provides community connection.
It's hard to calculate the cost of not having creative spaces in cities and towns throughout New Zealand. They are often operating under the radar and are under-appreciated.
Time to recognise the value of creative spaces
It's time for local and central government, along with the private sector, to recognise the true purpose and value of creative spaces, and for there to be less mystery and more accessibility to funding based on real value and purpose.
But it's not all “mysterious” and underappreciation. I'm grateful that Arts Access Aotearoa was funded to undertake this campaign via the Ministry of Social Development's Making a Difference Fund.
The Fund’s purpose is to change attitudes and behaviours towards disabled people. Arts Access Aotearoa aims to do that with this campaign. If 50% of advocacy is “showing up”, as disabled advocates for inclusion in the arts tell me, then taking these high-achieving artists to the High Street will help make a difference.
I hope you enjoy seeing the posters of this campaign and reading the stories about each artist and their creative space. If you live in the same region as the profiled creative spaces, you can find their contact details in the Creative Spaces Directory on our website. Please use them or recommend them to people you know. And if you can support your local creative space with fundraising or other community support, please do.