ENABLING THE DISABLED THROUGH THE ARTS

Published on 26 March 2018

By Melanie Lee


The Arts & Disability International Conference 2018 was held on 22 and 23 March to provide insights into empowering persons with disabilities through the arts. Jointly organised by the National Arts Council and Very Special Arts Singapore, the event brought together over 400 social service professionals, disabled and able-bodied artists, arts patrons and policy makers from Singapore and overseas. The two keynote speakers from this conference, Kate Hood from Australia and Kris Yoshi from Japan, shared their experiences with developing the disability arts scene in their respective countries.

DISABILITY LEADERSHIP IS IMPORTANT

KATE HOOD is the Artistic Director of Raspberry Ripple Productions (Australia). Ten years ago, the actress, writer and director became a wheelchair user and she reinvented herself as a disabled artist. In the process, she set up Raspberry Ripple Productions, which collaborates with disabled and non-disabled performers to create theatrical work.

“I never expected to be leading a disability-led theatre company. But after I attended a leadership course by Jo Verrent of Unlimited, an established organisation for disabled artists in the UK, I felt that this was something I needed to do. The arts can lead to social change by challenging accepted ways of seeing the world. I would like the disabled artists who work with Raspberry Ripple Productions to become artists who could work in a mainstream theatre company or television. I wish for them to be seen just as ‘artists’ and not ‘disabled artists’. As such, I expect nothing but professionalism from them even as we take into account all access needs. I also do workshops that bring able-bodied and disabled artists together. I arrange the chairs in a big circle and put out a provocation to the artists by asking them to share their personal experiences with disability. It’s such a fascinating exercise – everyone in the room usually does have an experience to share and these discussions always lead to creative possibilities.”

CO-CREATION LEADS TO MEANINGFUL DIVERSITY

KRIS YOSHIE is the Director of SLOW LABEL (Japan). In 2010, she was diagnosed with bone cancer and lost function of the lower part of her right leg. She used her prior work experience as a creative producer to establish SLOW LABEL, an organisation which links companies, welfare organisations and artists together to create handmade products and arts-related projects. 

“We like to be free from categories with our projects. For example, we won’t label the able-bodied who are participating in the activities as ‘volunteers’ because then, there would be the assumption that they must take special care to serve and help the disabled. We want everybody to be working together on equal footing so that there can be new points of view from such a creative process. It’s important to get to know everyone for who they are and be a friend at SLOW LABEL. The arts is a great level playing field because you don’t always have to communicate with words. For example, our performing arts project called SLOW MOVEMENT is very inclusive. Many types of people can be involved – those who like to move can be dancers and those who like using their hands can make costumes or props; anyone can join.”

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