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Sydney Festival Launches Australia’s First Disability Programming Initiative

BY Caitlin Eames | 03-Dec-2018
The Disability Programming Initiative is the first of its kind, aiming to address low industry-wide representation of artists with disability or who are Deaf. Artists with disability are invited to submit pitches for inclusion in Sydney Festival’s 2020 program.
Sydney Festival Launches Australia’s First Disability Programming Initiative
Today, on International Day of People with Disability, Sydney Festival launches Australia’s first Disability Programming Initiative to increase the number of artists with disability creating work for festivals. The initiative, in partnership with Accessible Arts, introduces a pitching process that is accessible and inclusive, with support available at each stage of the application. Successful applicants are offered an unprecedented opportunity to be part of Australia’s largest summer annual arts festival.

Artists can submit their pitch, via multiple formats including a printed document, audio, video, or in person by 31 March 2019. These pitches will then be individually reviewed and considered by Festival Director, Wesley Enoch and his programming team, based on the quality of work, balance of projects, budgets and distribution.

Sydney Festival has a long history of inclusion and accessibility, providing an ongoing program that aims to remove obstacles and encourage participation from all Sydneysiders and visitors to Sydney. The focus of previous programs has been to expand audience access to Sydney Festival shows, however the Disability Programming Initiative has the exclusive intention of increasing representation of artists with disability or who are Deaf in Sydney Festival’s program.

Sydney Festival’s Access and Inclusion Advisory Panel has highlighted the complexity of issues regarding programming of artists with disability, such as lack of funding, inaccessible venues, inaccessible application processes and misconceptions about quality of work. With this in mind, Sydney Festival, in collaboration with Accessible Arts, now provides artists with clear information online about how to pitch as well as offering support and guidance for all artists who want to submit work through this program.

Recently, Sydney Festival has featured artists with disability including Dan Daw (Beast, 2018), Heather Lawson and Michelle Stevens (Imagined Touch, 2017) and Ethan Hugh (Kaleidoscope, 2017) and through this initiative will be able to increase representation and opportunities for artists living with disability.

Wesley Enoch, Festival Director, Sydney Festival says: “Sydney Festival takes seriously our role to unite our city and create memorable moments we are all excited by. We have a long history of inclusion and accessibility for audiences and via this new initiative we will be focusing on giving artists with disabilities a platform for their diverse range of work to be included in the annual Sydney Festival program.”

Kerry Comerford, CEO, Accessible Arts, says: “Alongside the numerous accessible performances for audiences, it is equally important that what Sydney Festival presents in their annual program reflects the society in which we live, which means including artists with disability or who are Deaf in their programming. Programming more work by, and providing artistic opportunities for artists with disability recognises the under-representation and employment of people with disability in the arts in Australia.”

Riana Head-Toussaint, Chair of the Sydney Festival Access and Inclusion Advisory Panel says “This targeted initiative by Sydney Festival is an acknowledgement of the fact that artists with disability experience particular disadvantage when attempting to secure artistic opportunities in Australia, and that space needs to be carved out in an effort to change this. It is a real commitment to seeing the diversity of Australian life accurately reflected through arts and culture, and I have no doubt it will lead to some phenomenal projects by systematically undervalued artists finally reaching broader audiences! I hope it encourages other festivals and arts and cultural institutions to reflect on their own programs and what further positive action they could be taking.”

For further pitching information and how to submit artists can go to www.sydneyfestival.org.au/access-submissions

For images of Kerry Comerford and Wesley Enoch, see here - https://sydfe.st/disabilityprogimages