Overview of New Zealand arts and disability
9 September 2016
By Daniela Pavez
Performance artist Rodney Bell and Claire Noble, Community Development Co-ordinator at Arts Access Aotearoa, will present an overview of arts, inclusion and disability in New Zealand at the Arts Activated Conference in Sydney on 20 and 21 September.
Entitled In Aotearoa: Access, Artists and Cultural Diversity, the presentation will highlight successful collaborations and accessibility initiatives from Arts Access Aotearoa’s perspective. Rodney will share his international performance experience and insights into creating his new work, Meremere.
Organised by Accessible Arts, the biennial conference will celebrate the achievements of people with disability as leaders, arts practitioners, audience and advocates. It will also present best practice initiatives from the arts and cultural industries.
“There are awesome success stories of New Zealand disabled artists, integrated arts companies and arts organisations that together, make Aotearoa more inclusive and accessible,” Claire says.
“I’m really looking forward to sharing some examples on this international platform. There is a real sense of a national community here and an openness to work collaboratively, which I’m really proud of.”
Building a bridge to his culture
Rodney Bell (Ngāti Maniapoto) is excited about participating at the conference with Claire. Rodney, who is a wheelchair user, is internationally recognised because of his work in physically integrated dance. He has many stories and experience to share with conference delegates but is also keen to learn from others.
“I am going there with an open heart and open mind,” he says.
Rodney lived in the United States for 12 years. During this time, he worked with respected choreographers and dance companies.
“I always felt I was building a bridge,” Rodney says. “From a cultural perspective, it was great for people to experience my culture. I kind of felt like an ambassador of Māori culture.”
Following his dreams wasn’t always easy and he was homeless in San Francisco for three years after losing his job.
Now back in New Zealand, Rodney’s overseas journey has become the subject of Meremere, an hour-long autobiographical performance premiering at the Tempo Dance Festival in Auckland from 14 to 16 October.
Rodney Bell wants to make the most of his experience to support and encourage others. “After being away for such a long time, I feel I owe a debt to New Zealand. I want to use my knowledge with our local disabled community, and support people to feel empowered. But I also want to learn from other people’s experiences.”
As the key conference in Australia dedicated to arts and disability, Arts Activated 2016 is promoted as a must-attend for those interested in innovative practice and inclusive arts and disability programmes.