Arts & Disability Forum 2017: Shaping Perspectives, Enabling Opportunities
co-organised by the British Council, National Arts Council & Singapore International Foundation.
Date: 20 to 21 April 2017
Venue: Enabling Village
Inclusion, diversity and equality are at the core of the British Council’s cultural relations aims and part of building trust, respect and understanding between the UK and Singapore.
With a strategic programme of research, awareness raising events and projects, our work in the arts will therefore focus on the area of arts and disability and inclusive design with a view to contributing to a dynamic and inclusive cultural scene where disabled artists and patrons are able to access equal opportunities to participate in the arts.
In 2016, we launched the inaugural Arts & Disability Forum with the National Arts Council and Singapore International Foundation. The success of the first forum led to a second sell-out edition at the Enabling Village, from 20 to 21 April, 2017.
The Forum aimed to bring a diverse range of local, regional and international speakers together and explored both inclusive artmaking and access to the arts with the goal to:
1. Contribute to multi-sectorial conversations and focus groups discussions to better support arts in the disability sector.
2. Network and exchange with like-minded individuals and organisations to seed meaningful artistic collaborations in the disability sector.
3. Build participant capability in delivering arts and disability programmes
The UK speakers were Alice Fox, deputy head at the School of Arts, University of Brighton and Glasgow-based Singaporean theatremaker, Ramesh Meyyappan.
An expert on arts education and practice for social inclusivity with a career history of initiating successful collaborative projects. She provided a background structure around a definition of Inclusive Arts which focused on supporting creative opportunities between marginalised people and non-marginalised people and collaborative working, resulting in both quality experience and artistic creation.
Alice made the case for inclusive arts, championing both the social model of disability and the affirmative model of disability.
The social model of disability places responsibility on society/social structures to create disability and is simply a design / structural issue. A person is not disabled if the right structures are created to be inclusive and universal. A simple example would be the case of myopia. Were spectacles not available to a person with myopic issues, the person would be disabled.
The affirmative model sees people as comfortable with their differences/who they are; their disability is part of who they are and they would not want to change.
An acclaimed Glasgow-based Singaporean theatremaker who needs no introduction. The actor and director is a regular feature at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and frequently tours his work internationally to critical acclaim.
Ramesh spoke animatedly about his journey as a deaf performer, beginning from his early days in Singapore as a member of Hi! Theatre, Singapore's first theatre company for the deaf, to his studies in the UK and his eventual practice based out of Glasgow. He talked about the importance of identifying as an artist first, not a deaf artist.
During the Panel Discussion, Ramesh highlighted the developments in the UK that have helped to create a more inclusive arts sector, and the importance of building inclusivity from the beginning of an artistic endeavour. For example, making sign language part of the performance rather than an off-stage surtitle, as that may detract from the actor's performance.
We were also treated to wonderful speakers on both days, such as Myra Tam from Hong Kong, who brought with her a number of inclusive objects like braille stamps.
No forum would be complete without plenty of in-depth discussions from a cross-sectorial perspective. There were breakout sessions in the afternoon of day 1 with exciting panel speakers from Superhero Me, Very Special Theatrics, Redeafination, Ministry of Bellz and many others.
In the afternoon, participants broke into small groups to debate the next steps for Singapore, at the Focus Group Discussions hosted by the Singapore International Foundation.
Most importantly, we heard from so many people who spoke passionately about building a more inclusive Singapore.
On Day 2 of the forum, Alice Fox conducted a workshop on inclusive artmaking.
The workshop was a friendly interactive and creative session aimed at equipping artists interested in collaborating with persons with disabilities, and exploring the effects of changing roles when working with people with disabilities. Participants had the opportunity to share common interests and goals, to plan and be ambitious, and to identify the next steps towards their objectives.