InterACT Disability Arts Festival supports leadership
4 November 2014
By Andrea Moxham
Sarah Houbolt, project manager of Auckland's fourth InterACT Disability Arts Festival in October, says it’s “absolutely crucial” to have disabled people in leadership positions.
"As a person with a disability, it took me a little longer than it should have to build the confidence and capacity to go for leadership positions,” she says.
“I was lucky to have worked at TAPAC as its development manager for a year, and participate in not-for-profit management training in Japan. These two recent experiences built my confidence to take the InterACT contract.
“I loved being part of this diverse festival and being able to bring a lived experience of disability to influence interactions, processes and outcomes.”
Sarah, the inaugural recipient of Arts Access Aotearoa’s Artistic Achievement Award in 2012, is a performing artist, community arts worker and social researcher. She is also partially sighted.
"I worked alongside festival director Paula Crimmens,” Sarah says. “My job was about creating templates, managing and communicating with artists and the venue, making logistical decisions, delegating tasks, troubleshooting and managing volunteers.
"With the limitations of my eye sight, I was worried there might be more challenges than there were. Luckily I was supported by a great team.
Communicating via radio transmitters
“I found I could do my job fine. The normal process of using radio transmitters at the festival to communicate to my team without having to make eye contact eradicated all of my fears.
"I am passionate about facilitating a range of creative opportunities for a variety of people with a disability. Anyone who wanted to participate in the festival could. Everyone had fun, and the team was supportive and inclusive – much like a family.”
Claire Noble, Community Development Co-ordinator of Arts Access Aotearoa, attended the Friday night gala event.
"There was great energy and it was a lot of fun with excellent performances," Claire says. "The Mutes from Mars band performed the grand finale and brought the house down."
When Sarah first visited the venue, Corban Estate Arts Centre, she immediately realised there was a barrier for herself and others with visual impairment: unmarked steps. She approached its Director, Martin Sutcliffe, and asked if the edges of the steps could be painted in a high-contrast colour paint to make it safer.
"They heard me and they did it,” Sarah says. “It was great to advocate for myself as well as for my community. I was really relieved, very happy and super-proud of the painting of the steps. It may seem small but for me, it’s a giant symbol of ‘Yes! You are welcome here’.
"Access is more than just ramps and lifts for people using wheelchairs. It’s also about access to information in a variety of ways for people with cognitive diversity, learning difficulties, and hearing and sight impairments.”
Sarah performed in the first InterACT Disability Arts Festival in 2011. “I performed aerial silks and blindfolded acrobatics with my circus partner. It was a good experience and I really appreciated getting paid.
"I’m really proud that I was at the first festival as a performer, and that I could come back and manage the festival in 2014.”
Returning to the festival
More than 900 people a day attend the three-day festival. "It’s a testament to Paula Crimmens and the InterActing Theatre team that people keep coming back, engaging with it and filling different roles."
Sarah received a lot of positive feedback from volunteers who were comfortable, confident and had fun in their roles because of good communication and briefings.
“I loved the volunteer management side of things,” she says. “InterACT Festival is an awesome opportunity for volunteers and artists alike. I’m thinking that next year, I’d like to perform my own show at InterACT and get more arts management experience.”