We are artists who face barriers. Deaf and disabled people contribute a richness and diversity to the arts and cultural sector.
We want to increase cultural participation of Deaf and disabled people by building capacity for arts engagement through innovative models of familiarisation with arts, arts participation, arts making and the use of integrated accessible communications.– Statement by Armature#2 artists.
Some of Adelaide’s Deaf and disabled artists, all participants in Access2Arts 2013/14 Armature program have joined about 200,000 people, from over 112 countries globally to participate a large-scale, participatory art project, INSIDE OUT.
INSIDE OUT offers people from across the globe the opportunity to share their portrait and make a statement for what they stand for, sharing their untold stories and transforming messages of personal identity into works of public art. INSIDE OUT was the brainchild of JR, a semi-anonymous French street artist, began his career as a teenage graffiti artist and describes himself as a described himself as a “photograffeur”. His work combines art and action and deals with commitment, freedom, identity and limits.
During TED2011, after winning the TED Prize, JR made his daring wish: to use art to turn the world inside out. He called for the creation of a global participatory art project with the potential to change the world – INSIDE OUT.
Now in 2014 the participants in the Armture#2 project independently organised an Inside Out Project Group Action to share the spirit of JR’s wish in Adelaide. Armature Artists Joanne Chua, Chelle Destefano, Chris Dyke, Jenny Georgi, Lorcan Hopper, David Paul Jobling, James Kurtze, Ad’m Martin, Kirsty Martinsen, John McMahon, John Willanski and Leon Woods paste-up their portraits to support artists facing barriers. And they are using the SALA festival to face-off with Adelaide.
The Armature Portrait Paste-up opens on Saturday 2 August 2014 at 3pm at Anster Street (lane way off of Waymouth Street, Adelaide) and can be seen until 29 August 2014. Find out more on the Access2Arts EVENTS page or read the first hand experiences of Armature#2 participant, David Paul Jobling.
The Armature#2 project was funded through a grant from Arts SA’s Richard Llewellyn Arts and Disability program.
I believe a majority of people don’t think about art because it doesn’t get promoted or seen as often as it should, compared to sports, for example. I think the same is true about disability and the work of disabled artists!
I wish someone would remind broadcasters and commentators on television, in radio and print that arts are actually ‘social media’ and that they’ve been around much longer than Instagram or Facebook. The same is true of disabled artists. We’re all over the place, yet our work faces the same barriers as we do. It gets overlooked when it needs to be looked at. Can you tell if a painting has been painted by a Deaf person? Do all paintings by disabled artists look the same?
One valuable lesson I brought home from my participation in Access2Arts’ Armature program was how necessary it is to be visible and easy to approach. From August 2013 until July 2014, Armature program artists have been meeting regularly, attending exhibitions, discussing how we create our own work and meeting a terrific range of mentors who have been very generous with their knowledge and skills.
As a very mixed group of disabled artists we’ve been able to talk about how we and view art. I certainly know more now than I did at the start of the program. A common thing we all face are barriers to participating in creative opportunities. We are a feisty group so we’re smashing through that particular barrier by being seen on equal terms. As a group of artists we have taken the opportunity to be part of the global, participatory ‘Inside Out’ project and exhibit our contribution during the South Australian Living Arts Festival, SALA.
The ‘Inside Out’ project brings art out onto the street in an exciting way. We appear in portraits that have been taken in front of the old inner-spring of a mattress. The inner-spring could be interpreted in many ways; I think of it as the armature, the supporting framework a sculptor uses when building a sculpture. The program we have been doing is named after that framework. I like seeing the idea support of Armature (the program) visible in the background in our portraits. It speaks to me.
Visibility for any artist is difficult to get. For visual artists, writers, film makers, designers, performing artists and so on, experiencing disability have the added barriers to this visibility. How are perceived by the general public? How is their work seen? How, where, why and when is it seen? And when it is seen how is it viewed?
Through the Armature exhibition we encourage everyone to look at us face to face on our terms and if you think we look good (which we do) you should see our work!
Find out more about the Armature Portrait Paste-up exhibition on the Events page.
David Jobling is a writer, actor, director and visual artist. He has been a participant in the 2013/14 Armature program, part of the team that have produced the Spoke Word Festival, and is an avid tweeter.
Since I started working in the arts and disability sector almost ten years ago, I’ve kept a secret.
A few people knew, particularly in Brisbane, my former home town, but not many. It wasn’t that I was ashamed or embarrassed by it, (well, maybe a little bit), just that I didn’t want to draw attention to it. My secret was that I am a singer, pianist and song-writer. Sure, I’d kept it on my biography, but I wasn’t actually practicing, it was purely there to give me some credibility. I’m ashamed to admit that, but it’s the truth.
I was busy working with others, many really talented people, I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to be focusing on myself. I didn’t want to be working on my own arts practice in case in doing so I inadvertently took opportunities away from others. I felt that in order to effectively do my job creating opportunities and recognition for artists with disability, I needed to sacrifice my own practice. I know I am not alone in this approach and that many artists working in arts organisations avoid practicing.
I was fortunate to have a manager who recognised the benefits of arts workers and arts administrators nurturing their practice and spent a couple of years directing and singing in an a Capella group in Brisbane which I enjoyed very much. But any thoughts of resurrecting my solo work as a singer/song-writer remained firmly underground, apart from the occasional conversation with close friends about how I really should start writing again. It was somehow OK for me to be directing and contributing to a group, because that was still about other people’s practice, not mine alone. I would get requests to sing from people who knew me, but would usually suggest other artists with disability as alternatives since I saw the potential for others and worried about perceived conflicts of interest for myself. Lack of time and work and family responsibilities were my excuse, but the truth was that I never allowed myself to create enough headspace and never believed I had the right to be an artist. That was something I’d do later, some other time, when I got a new job.
It wasn’t until I moved to Hobart in 2012 that I began to question my reasons for no longer writing or performing. I was beginning to feel fraudulent and frustrated. Fraudulent because here I was, running a national arts and disability organisation advocating for the rights of people with disability to contribute to the arts, yet I wasn’t practicing myself, even though my work gave me countless subjects on which to write. I began to feel inauthentic as a leader. Frustrated because I was beginning to recognise how much I yearned for expression through my art form and that I could never quite say what I needed to say through speaking alone. I was still an artist at heart but not allowing that part of me to surface. I also began to meet artists who were working in arts organisations, yet still continuing to develop their practice. It struck me that those who were managing to do so seemed much calmer and more fulfilled. Conversely, I will never forget the very emotional conversation I had with an artist with disability who was completely devastated because he had been forced to sacrifice his practice in order to run an arts organisation. I was shocked to discover how closely I identified with his grief and disappointment.
So I decided to begin writing. That might sound simple enough, but as any artist will tell you, the critic in your head can be your worst enemy, especially when that critic has been having a party for ten years celebrating how successful they’ve been at convincing you not to write. I managed to silence it by reminding myself that this process was simply about me wanting to convey messages which I felt were worth sharing and that I wasn’t seeking approval from anyone else. That seemed to work. I was on a roll and tentatively began sharing a few of my draft songs with my Facebook friends, which I knew would be a fairly safe space. Nobody un-friended me, so I continued. I ultimately ended up with enough material to fill an album and to create a live show. Most of the songs relate to my experience of disability and my work as an advocate and there are a few love songs and songs about family thrown in for good measure.
I still experience my share of self-doubt. But I am coming to recognise that my music is an important and legitimate opportunity for communicating some of the messages I talk about on a daily basis in a different, and at times more palatable medium to a broader audience. It also offers me an essential outlet through which I can express the often very personal and sometimes difficult emotions, which I experience as a leader with disability. I recently performed my show Fine Line at the Festival of Voices in Hobart and from the feedback I received I am confident that there were audience members whose attitudes and perspectives were reframed. Thanks to the support of the Australia Council’s Arts and Disability Funding Round I will release my album “Changing Minds” later in the year.
This journey is never an easy one for artists who also work in arts organisations, whether or not they are a person with disability. Though I do think that the fact that people with disability have such limited career development, leadership, funding and employment opportunities make the balance more difficult to manage. In the end though, I believe it is always important to be real and authentic in everything we do, particularly as leaders, so I will continue to walk the fine line and hope to encourage others to do the same.
So the secret is out. To be honest, I still experience uncertainty about how to manage my identity as an artist alongside my identity as the CEO of Arts Access Australia, to the point where I have considered sacrificing one of them. But that would be taking the easier path and would ultimately serve nobody.
Emma Bennison is a singer, pianist and song-writer as well as being the CEO of Arts Access Australia. Emma is a passionate advocate for the rights of artists with disability. Emma recently performed in the Festival of Voices in Hobart.
It’s not always easy being an artist. Sometimes it can feel like no matter how hard you try there just aren’t creative opportunities out there. In many cases, artists throw in the towel believing that art-making is for a few very lucky individuals who managed to crack the scene. Before giving up, consider a slightly different approach, search for opportunity. They wait in the least expected locations.
Try something new. Go out of your comfort zone. You never know what can happen! If it doesn’t end up being your thing, that’s fine too!
Recently, John Willanski and I took part in Future Present, a two week residency alongside eight other artists as part of Adhocracy at Vitalstatistix Theatre Company. Adhocracy takes place over the June Queen’s Birthday long weekend, in the Vitalstatistix hall. It is a three-day program which supports the creative development of new and experimental arts projects, by artists all over Australia. The Future Present residency was a project leading up to the three-day weekend allowing artists from varying disciplines the opportunity to collaborate to research a common subject.
John and I are both visual artists. Why would we take part in a residency lead by a theatre company (in fact, it was with two theatre companies)? Well, as the only visual artists within a group of mostly theatre makers, we were able to learn a whole new approach to making art.
The Future Present residency was lead by Sydney-based theatre company, Urban Theatre Projects’ Artistic Director/CEO, Rosie Dennis. It explored climate change and economic transition. We spent the time having conversations with various people who work in primary industry, asking a lot of questions about sustainable practices, the future of industry, and climate change.
The group spent the first week visiting farms – an egg farm, a wind farm, a fish farm, and meeting a couple who live sustainably off a small block of land in Milang. The second week involved taking the information that we had gathered and using it to build content for three separate works presented over the Adhocracy weekend. And we developed a lot of content!
As visual artists it was challenging to be placed on the spot to ‘perform’ in front of others. That being said, we learnt many, many new techniques used by actors and theatre makers for developing content and ideas quickly. Learning these new ways of working made it so easy to get over the fear of the blank page… or canvas! Working creatively with so many other artists meant that we were able to gain feedback and develop ideas really quickly. This is not an opportunity that you always get to experience as a visual artist.
The best part of the residency is that we’ve been able to broaden our artistic network a starting point for ongoing artistic practice. The 10 artists from Future Present now meet weekly at the Vitalstatistix hall to share ideas and develop our own artistic pursuits with advice from our new-found friends. It is quickly becoming an unexpected, long-term collaborative creative process, which would not have come about without taking a chance on a new direction. Who knows where it will lead? What we do know is that it is definitely the start of an exciting process!
Opportunity – it really does wait in unexpected locations.
Meg Wilson is an Adelaide-based artist working with textiles and installation. Her practice responds to classic horror/thriller/mystery genre films, play scripts and novels. She explores transference between mediums, misinterpretation, human behaviour, and the point of view of the outsider. Meg Wilson is a co-director of FELTspace ARI in Adelaide.
John Willanski is an illustrator and multimedia artist. He graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Multimedia, with Honours, from the University of South Australia in 2007. Focusing strongly on concept design and development John has applied his diverse talents to many media and genres.