A focus on inclusion


It was a concert to remember. On Saturday 27 May, I attended a concert in Wellington and witnessed the results of the 2016 SOUNZ Community Commission, awarded to musician and composer Julian Raphael.

Working with community youth group ACTIVE, Julian composed the song We’re Gonna Get Along. The lyrics were inspired by the ideas expressed by the young people.

Master of inclusion

Julian is a master at including everyone in music and singing. Singing in the round, the ACTIVE singers created an almost tribal setting of celebration and focus in a highly energetic warm-up event before the main work was performed. You can read more about the project.

The audience was charmed, interested and appreciative that here was a group included in a concert in front of a very large audience and singing original music that might otherwise not have had the opportunity to do so.

As young adults, the ACTIVE singers demonstrated great capability and enthusiasm. Clearly, the music-making was meaningful and highly enjoyable. Here is an excerpt from the end of We’re Gonna Get Along (SOUNZ gave me permission to make a sneak clip using my phone camera).

Richard Benge, left, with Te Manawa staffIn another first, I was fortunate to present the inaugural Arts Access Museum Award at MA17, Museums Aotearoa’s national conference held in Palmerston North from 22 to 24 May. Appropriately, the theme of the conference was He Waka Eke Noa – Museums of Inclusion

The award went to Te Manawa, Museum of Arts, Science and History in Palmerston North – and right next door to the conference venue. It recognised the museum’s commitment to being a centre of inclusion.

Inclusion and diversity centre stage

One of the ways it puts inclusion and diversity centre stage is by hosting an art space, NOA Open Studio, in its foyer twice a week. Open to everyone, it attracts between 15 and 20 people to its sessions. They might be children with a parent, senior citizens, disabled people, tourists or local artists. You can read more about this space in Making good things at Te Manawa’s NOA

Andy Lowe with Daniel, a NOA Open Studio participantThis award is a well-deserved recognition for Chief Executive Andy Lowe and his team at Te Manawa, and a positive initiative to inspire other museums and art galleries to make their programmes and places accessible and inclusive.

I was very pleased that many of the delegates signed up to join the Arts For All Network and to receive either or both of our e-newsletters: the monthly Arts Access In Touch (a general round-up of all things to do accessible arts) and the bi-monthly Arts Access in Corrections. You can subscribe  online. 

Speaking of the Arts For All Network, Arts Access Aotearoa presented a panel at the conference with some of our closest colleagues and mentors: accessibility champion Robyn Hunt of AccEase, audio describer Judith Jones of Te Papa; and accessibility advocate Rachel Ingram of Wellington Museum. A warm thanks to my fellow panellists for their commitment to Arts Access Aotearoa’s vision of a country where everyone has easy access to our artistic and cultural life.

Rachel Ingram and Richard Benge at MA17Rachel spoke about her experience of belonging to the Arts For All Wellington Network and what it has meant for accessibility at Wellington Museum. “Before the Arts For All Network hui we had accessibility champions in the museum. Now we have relationships with disabled people and disability organisations, and a culture of accessibility and inclusion.” You can read what Rachel said in her blog, Wellington Museum champions accessibility

Robyn Hunt also wrote a thoughtful blog, providing an overview of the conference from a disability perspective. “Museums of Inclusion is an encouraging and important step on a long, complex and challenging road … How the inclusive and creative energy evident at the conference is focused and developed will be critical to progress. I welcome opportunities to further an inclusion agenda,” Robyn writes in Museums and creating inclusion.

The next big thing on Arts Access Aotearoa’s agenda is the Arts Access Awards 2017, to be held in Parliament on 4 July. I look forward to celebrating the champions of inclusion and access to the arts and culture of this country.

A focus on inclusion


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