Media Release – Good news for the arts? Not if you have a disability…

15 March 2013



On Wednesday, federal Arts Minister Simon Crean released Creative Australia, the nation’s new cultural policy, setting out a progressive vision for investment in the arts to increase access to arts and culture for all Australians…except if you are one of the four million Australians with a disability.

In a statement that has angered and shocked members of the arts and disability community, the policy references a desire to “encourage a culture of tolerance and inclusion of people with a disability”.

40 years after the establishment of the first arts access organisation in Australia, how have we suddenly found ourselves relegated back to the 1960’s, where people with a disability must be treated with tolerance, rather than celebrated for the quality of their creative products, lauded for their significant accomplishments and sought after as important cultural collaborators?

If you google the meaning of ‘tolerance’, these are the first two definitions returned:
1. The ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behaviour that one does not necessarily agree with
2. The capacity to endure continued subjection to something
Is this how the arts sector sees the community of people with a disability? As something or someone who’s existence or behaviour is to be endured rather than welcomed and embraced?

Our work with the arts sector shows this not to be the case, however, the federal government’s choice of this terminology in our national cultural policy provides insight into the question most frequently asked by the arts and disability community.

Where is the funding to fully implement the National Arts and Disability Strategy (NADS)? This strategy, adopted in 2009 with the full support of the arts and disability sector, purportedly seeks to address the low participation rates of people with a disability in the arts by removing the significant and systemic barriers to their engagement. NADS gets a mention in Creative Australia but no specific funding allocation.

In the almost $200 million of new funding allocated under Creative Australia to improve access to the arts for all Australians, it appears nothing could be found to specifically support the aspirations of the most underrepresented group in our nation – people with a disability.

People with a disability, like all Australians, have the capacity for creativity, innovation, courage and entrepreneurship. Artists with a disability and their companies are working in the arts, producing accomplished new work and touring nationally and internationally. Their work is critically reviewed and attracting new and significant audiences.

Artists with a disability are some of our most exciting cultural innovators, telling original and compelling Australian stories that reveal our identity through an exploration of dynamic themes of citizenship, otherness, beauty and invisibility. Artists such as blind photographer Andrew Follows, whose mesmerising images are revealed to him only through the lens of his camera; theatre maker and set designer Gaelle Mellis, whose ground breaking work in aesthetic access has transformed creative processes; the unique Deaf Arts Network, whose poetic fusion of sign language, music and dance has captivated audiences in their thousands, and the incomparable Back to Back Theatre, one of Australia’s most innovative and internationally renowned theatre companies.

These artists do not beg for tolerance, but run screaming into the fray, demanding an engagement that challenges provokes, enthrals…and ultimately transforms us all.

But these outstanding successes in the past decade have been in spite of the overwhelming barriers faced by these artists: studios with no ramps, workshops with no sign language interpreters, doors to employment closed and the perennial problem of no money for access.

Without money to fund improved access to the arts and to provide appropriate professional support for artists and artsworkers with a disability, full equality will not be achieved.

The National Arts and Disability Strategy (NADS), for the first time, made the barriers faced by artists, artsworkers and audiences with a disability everyone’s business.

For the first time, it appeared that a collective effort would begin to address the serious and systemic barriers that keep Australians with a disability relegated to the fringes of the arts. The arts and disability sector waited with great anticipation to hear how this substantial and transformative work would be funded. It appears we have waited for naught.

One’s values are revealed by where one spends one’s money. This policy, through its choice of language when referencing disability and its failure to make implementation of the National Arts and Disability Strategy a funding priority, reveals a great deal about the government’s values regarding the participation of people with a disability in the arts.

Yet is this not the same government that recently introduced the most ambitious program of reforms to the disability system in a generation – the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and the National Disability Strategy (NDS)?

These reforms have helped shift the rhetoric of disability in Australia from one of, dare we say, ‘tolerance’, to one of dignity, self-determination and equality, where the social and economic contribution of people with a disability is valued and where their participation in community life enriches us all.

What might people with a disability have expected from Australia’s new cultural policy?

There is no money for them. No cause for celebration – only a request for a culture of tolerance.

The arts and disability sector is all out of tolerance, demanding instead that government offers us the right and the means to achieve full cultural participation for people with a disability, free from barriers and acknowledgement of artists with a disability in our cultural policy as a national asset to be cultivated and celebrated.

The original Creative Australia document can be downloaded  here: Creative Australia (PDF 5mb) (Please note that the version available from the Creative Australia website has since been modified, to remove the word tolerance in reference to people with a disability.)

Veronica Pardo
Executive Director, Arts Access Victoria

Arts Access Victoria is the state’s leading arts and disability organisation, dedicated to increasing cultural participation of people with a disability as artists, arts workers and audiences.

Arts Access Victoria supports the views of national peak body Arts Access Australia. Their press release can be found at:


Direct 0412848645

2 Responses to “Media Release – Good news for the arts? Not if you have a disability…”

  1. [...]  If you would like more information, please refer to my letter released late last week:  GOOD NEWS FOR THE ARTS? NOT IF YOU HAVE A DISABILITY… [...]

  2. Margaret Cook says:

    I am to be tolerated well excuse me from being around.
    Simon Crean has really done a good job of putting his foot in mouth.
    I have been advocating in mental health for 18 years and as consultant in planning and policy and other issues.
    This is just a backward step when our bureaucrats speak publicly in discriminating and patronizing language. We have spent decades trying to break down the barriers between disability and community acceptance. I have worked with children with id rather say different ability’s. Contributing to society in more ways than anyone could imagine.
    Let us get back on track and take no notice of this glitch and get on with it. ART IS FOR EVERYONE !!!!

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