03 Aug 2014
“There’s nothing to stop us – festivals, events, big organisations – seamlessly integrating people perceived to be living with a disability,” says Adam Hayward, Artistic Director of the Body Festival, Christchurch’s annual festival of dance and physical theatre.
It’s a philosophy that permeates a partnership project between six organisations that’s received the Arts Access CQ Hotels Wellington Community Partnership Award 2014. Called You Can See Me Everywhere, the project was developed in 2011 to provide artistic opportunities and a voice for disabled people in Christchurch.
For the award judges, the project and its partnerships stood out. “The festival has been committed to being inclusive over many years and is constantly finding new ways to engage everyone.”
Adam Hayward says there was a genuine commitment from all of the partners to ensure people were truly included. “It wasn’t about making a token gesture to be inclusive. We talked, researched and included disabled people throughout the process to ensure open dialogue, trust, shared goals and values.”
The six partners are the Dance and Physical Theatre Trust, IHC New Zealand, Jolt Dance, Christchurch City Council, A Different Light Theatre Trust and the Your Studio Trust. A number of informal partners have also been involved.
The Body Festival is the vehicle for delivering the “You Can See Me Everywhere” project. The main focus of the project in the 2013 festival was an exhibition featuring more than 200 photos in the Christchurch City Council. Forty five disabled people were given digital cameras and invited to take photos that captured what the word “dance” meant to them.
At the exhibition’s opening, the Christchurch City Council held an Arts and Accessibility Forum, where people in the disability sector were invited to share their knowledge, ideas and practices.
The 2013 festival also included performances from integrated dance companies Touch Compass and Jolt Dance.
However, the inclusion of disabled people goes beyond performance, Adam says. “You Can See Me Everywhere provides opportunities for disabled people to get involved in all aspects of event management. Performances are just one of the ways to be involved.”
Opportunities included the design of the festival’s volunteer tee-shirts; interactive rehearsals and workshops including people with significant support needs; participation as front of house; and assistance with technical staff.
Michael Krammer, a performer with Jolt Dance, worked as an assistant filmmaker. It was his first time being involved in filmmaking. “It was interesting,” he says. “I enjoyed getting to see what the technical side of the arts is like.”
Andrew Dever, an actor with A Different Light Theatre Company, says he enjoyed being a part of the festival. As well as performing in a soap opera, Andrew participated in workshops and watched other performances and artwork. “
“I would love to be involved again if I got the chance”, he says.
Andrew’s chance will come again in the 2014 Body Festival, to be held in September. Adam says it will build on previous festivals and continue to seamlessly integrate disabled people into all aspects of the event.
An evaluation of the project showed that it had decreased social isolation, created opportunities and built capacity. The disabled community described it as a model that could be used by other arts organisations and festivals.
Receiving the award brings national attention to the project and its message, Adam says. He hopes the recognition will raise awareness about what’s happening in Christchurch and encourage other festivals and events to adopt its approach.
“We want to promote how easy it is to be genuinely inclusive,” Adam says. “The opportunity to take the You Can See Me Everywhere message to the rest of New Zealand is an exciting one that we would love to undertake.”