8 March 2013

It’s a great boost for Arts Access Aotearoa to be able to play a part in the Ministry of Social Development's Think Differently Campaign.  Recently, we received funding from its Make a Difference Fund to do just that – make a difference. How? Here’s the plan.

Pippa Sanderson and Richard Benge, Arts Access Aotearoa, with Jan Eagleton and Philip Patston, Diversityworks Trust Starting on Saturday 23 March, we will conduct five workshops for disabled people who are passionate about the arts and want to learn about advocating for improved access to the arts in Auckland. We would like to develop groups like this all over New Zealand ... but let’s see how Auckland goes first.

The workshops will be for up to 20 participants. They will hear from influential, informed speakers and will go on behind-the-scenes tours of Auckland’s arts and cultural organisations and venues.

Arts Access Aotearoa’s purpose is to advocate for all people in New Zealand to have access to the arts. We do this by supporting people who experience barriers to participation in the arts, as both creators and audience members. To promote, support and encourage increased accessibility to the arts is in our DNA.

A quick look at the online Free Dictionary explains the meaning of “to advocate”:

vb to support or recommend publicly; plead for or speak in favour of
1. a person who upholds or defends a cause; supporter
2. a person who intercedes on behalf of another

Since 1995, Arts Access Aotearoa has spoken up for people and communities who have faced barriers to participation and inclusion in artistic and cultural expression. We do this because some people and communities are overlooked, under-represented or prohibited from artistic expression. Attitudes and a lack of understanding or awareness from people who take their own access for granted can present a major barrier.

Working alongside the people for whom we advocate

Arts Access Aotearoa works best when we work alongside the people for whom we advocate. The motivation behind this new arts advocates group in Auckland is to inspire new people to come forward – people willing to think differently and apply new ways to overcome the barriers and challenges that disabled people or marginalised communities face.

Meg Nicoll, Auckland Art Gallery, and Richard BengeThis group will be made up of people of different ages and abilities. I hope they will learn news ways to “uphold and defend a cause”; or “support or recommend publicly”. It’s far better to open doors to opportunities where people can expand into their own potential and take the directions they know are necessary for themselves and their community. The task will be how to think and act differently as we design a better future.

As part of this programme, it’s important for the group to experience how Auckland already provides access to arts and culture.

Auckland copped some stick recently. In a report complied by Professor Michael Enright for the Government and Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development, a number of points were made that cast a negative perspective on the city. It said that Auckland lacked good entertainment and cultural facilities. Mayor Len Brown was questioned about this on TV3’s Firstline programme on Monday 4 March. I watched the interview and was pleased that the Mayor countered the criticism by reminding viewers that a completely renovated venue and a new venue had opened in Auckland and that there was a long-term plan for other improvements. He specifically mentioned Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki and Q Theatre.

Providing accessible experiences

The arts flourish in Auckland Art Gallery and Q Theatre, both on Queen Street and two of Auckland’s most accessible buildings. Their physical design is excellent but the staff work beyond building code compliance to provide accessible experiences such as audio described tours of the art for blind visitors and train staff in disability awareness.

Think Differently CampaignIt makes sense that the first workshop for the arts advocates group will be held at Auckland Art Gallery. It’s essential that we promote Auckland’s accessible cultural venues and organisations, and I expect the group will use these two venues as examples to encourage other organisations to improve their access to the arts in other parts of the city.

I’m looking forward to doing some blog posts with the group so you can hear about their progress over the next few months.

If you have any comments or questions relating to this column please contact me on richard.benge@artsaccess.org.nz



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