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How Can The Arts Industry Become More Accessible for Audiences & Artists With Morwenna Collett

Peta chats with Morwenna Collett, a disability access advisor in the arts industry.

Together, they explore the challenges of inaccessibility in the arts for both audiences and artists and discuss innovative solutions for creating a more inclusive environment

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Instagram: @petahooke


Episode transcript:


Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to the I Can't Stand Podcast, the podcast answering your questions about what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peta. I have cerebral palsy and I'm your host. This week I have Morwenna Collette. She's a disability access advisor specialising in the arts industry in Australia. So without any further ado, let's get into it.


Morwenna [00:00:39] My name is Morwenna Collett and I'm an arts consultant specialising in diversity, access, equity and inclusion. I'm also a proud disabled woman and a musician, and I'm also a carer of a young person with disability. And I live and work on Gadigal land here in Sydney.


Peta [00:00:58] Thank you so much for being here. It's a pleasure to talk to you. As you say, you cover lots of areas of disability, so I'm sure this is going to be a fantastic conversation. I always like to start my conversations focusing on the person themselves, because I think everybody's story is valid and important. So before you became disabled yourself, what did you think disabled life would be versus what is it like now?


Speaker 2 [00:01:27] I, had disability come into my life when I was quite young. I had a few different things happen, sort of, in my childhood. And then I received a diagnosis of, multiple sclerosis, when I was 18. And honestly thinking back, I think before that time I never really given disability much thought. I think this is sort of 20 odd years ago, and it really wasn't part of, you know, the conversation that we were all having then. And I also can't really remember, knowing many people with visible disability, at least growing up. I remember being quite worried that it was going to have an impact on my career. I was planning to be, a professional musician, and, MS. was doing some weird and wacky things to my fine motor skills, at the time. And I also, weirdly had this kind of unconscious bias, I guess, around disability. I remember not long after being diagnosed, I joined an artist agency that was specifically for people with disability, and I kind of felt a little embarrassed about that initially because I, I just wanted to be a musician, you know, full stop, not a kind of musician with disability. And it took me, a little while to, to really kind of grow into my disabled identity. And yeah, it's it's so amazing now because I fully embrace that part of who I am. It is, you know, part of my everyday. It's part of my work now, and I, I really haven't looked back. And I suppose, part of that journey for me was meeting lots of other incredible disabled people. Some, some people I like to think of as our elders, I guess, in the disability community. And, you know, they were great role models for me to, to realise that life can be amazing and excellent as a disabled person. And it's it's the best.


Peta [00:03:34] It is the best I'd like, no doubt about it. But I don't want to undervalue how much. Well, first of all, disabled people go through a lot of trauma, right? Whether we acquire disabled disability later on in life or we are born with it, it's sort of inherent the trauma that we carry. Whether it's people's attitudes towards us, how our, disability is explained to us as a child. There's lots of things to it. And I'm sure when you're in your early 20s and that's the time that you so ambitious and you're dreaming all these big dreams, how did you manage that change in yourself, and did you change your goals or, expectations for yourself of what your future might look like?


Morwenna [00:04:26] Yeah, absolutely. And you're so right. You know, it. I think for me, it took a long time to really kind of grow into this, this, you know, pride around disability now. And there was a really, you know, a difficult period of transition, realising that the music industry, the place that I wanted to be a part of as a performer, was not really accommodating to people that had access requirements and might have needed to do things differently. And certainly the classical music world, which I was a part of, you know, is very much rooted in this idea of tradition and hierarchy and elite ism and being perfect. And it's not super flexible. So, you know, for a range of different reasons, disability being, being one of them. I sort of shifted. What I, what I was planning to do with my life away from being a performer, to carving out a career in arts administration and arts management, where I work now. I had a period working at what was then called the Australia Council for the Arts, which is the national arts funding and advisory body. They needed someone to lead the development of their disability action plan. And so that was the first time that I sort of started to look into this crossover of, of arts and disability. And also for me, it was the first time I started to identify as disabled, as someone with non-visible disability. I'd kept that hidden previously. And I suppose when I started to do some digging and some research into and some work, and at the Australia Council, I just started to see how dire some of the stats and the numbers were. I think at that point in time, you know, the Australia Council, which is a it's a grants body, it gives out funding to artists around the country. And it was attracting something like 1% of its applications from disabled people. And I thought, my goodness, that is absolutely not okay. You know where I 10% of the population. Why, when you are attracting applications from such a small percentage? And I didn't think that there were less people with disability that were were making odd out there. It just, you know, there wasn't accessible pathways to have a good career as an artist or to apply for funding from from grant bodies. Looking at some of those numbers, I think just really, made me realise that there's a real need to kind of, push this area forward. And I, I started to get to know the work of a lot of artists with disability, and I think that they are making some of the most exciting, groundbreaking, risk taking, experimental, cutting edge work on the planet. And I really just fell in love with the work of artists with disability.


Peta [00:07:26] I've spoken to quite a few people in the community that are artists and are disabled, but I'd love to hear from you that someone that works in the area every day trying to make the industry more accessible. What are the common barriers that you see within the industry?


Morwenna [00:07:44] Well, unfortunately, so many, so many different things. Often I think arts and music organisations, we get really focussed in on just thinking about the audience, you know, and we want bums on seats and we think audience, audience, audience. So sometimes I find that the buck stops here with just the audience side of things. But of course, there's also the artist side of things, and there's the workforce, the people that work in the music industry and all of the other different stakeholders that we have on the audience side of things. You know, one of the major issues that we do have so many, inaccessible, buildings, that are art spaces. And, you know, for me personally as an audience member, we have a lot of standing gates, and, standing is something that I find I can find challenging at times. And we see a huge gap around, good access in backstage and also on stage areas, too. And we know that we've got all these barriers in terms of career pathways. And just a lack of knowledge, I think, from the the people who are booking artists and the programmers, not realising the amazing talent that's out there. The arts is an industry with, a lot of pressure, a lot of overwork and often limited resources. So I think that can mean it can be an industry that isn't always as inclusive or as safe for disabled people and others that it needs to be. So, you know, it's those attitudinal barriers that cause that lack of awareness, lack of education for organisations to be doing better work in this space. Lexus really does start online. So the information that we're putting out to the world through our websites, through our social media postings for, for different events that we run, is really critical to, to include information about the access of your event there, so that people with disability can make informed choices about whether that event is going to work for them or not. Providing information online about what your what your venue or your festival, you know, does or also doesn't have is useful information. Sometimes, particularly venues I find can be quite embarrassed about what they don't have. Because, you know, we often wish we had more. So then sometimes they can just kind of ignore talking about it at all. But I think, putting good information out there is so important. And having a, a point of contact as well. So if I have access questions, about coming along either as a, as an audience member or if I'm an artist and I want to play at your venue, you know, how do I get in touch with to check on the access? It's really important. I think, from the other side, we're starting to see a lot more use of something called Access Riders. Now, where artists are articulating in a document what is it that they need to be able to perform at something? So I think that's really helpful in terms of encouraging us to have a conversation about access needs and just, getting everyone really comfy with talking about the different requirements that we have to be able to do our best work as artists. If you are in an older venue that doesn't have all the accessible features, that you would like, what temporary measures might you be able to put in place for your event? There was a fantastic event, that happened in Melbourne on the weekend. I wasn't wasn't added, unfortunately. I don't know if you were paid it, but, it's called Groove Chains and it's run by TBC access, and I think it's a really interesting example of an event because they purposefully choose, a pub, the corner hotel that doesn't have perfect access, and they do that so that they can show some of those kind of temporary measures and temporary solutions that they can put in place, to make that space accessible. So things like having a trestle table at an accessible height, at the bar, for people, who who may need that. They also have sign language interpreters, for all of the performances. They have captions, they have a quiet and a sensory space. They have, you know, tickets available in accessible formats and lots of information available online. So I think that's a great example of, of an event that, you know, doesn't cost an absolute fortune. But then I've just been really smart at putting some of those access measures in place.


Peta [00:12:28] As a disabled person. There's so many jobs that we always think that we're not capable or would be welcome to do things like all the support systems that enable allowed us to get on stage, whether it be makeup artists, hairdressers, roadies who construct the stage, audio people, all those people that I often think it would be great if disabled people have more opportunity, of course, to be performers. First of all, because I love the representation. But for those of us who like to support it, maybe they in the background. There's a lot of opportunities there that I hope will be more like possible in the future.


Morwenna [00:13:15] Absolutely. And, you just reminded me. Not that internships are always the answer, but there are some really exciting, I think, internships and mentorship programs out there. In the arts at the moment. One I've had the pleasure of working on recently is called Create Ability, run by Create New South Wales and it pairs up, emerging arts workers with really, amazing arts organisations across New South Wales. You're absolutely right. You know, representation is key, but, representation across all of those different elements of the industry is super important.


Peta [00:13:53] I think it's really important. And we can't undervalue the importance of lived experience, particularly in the your sector. I think it's really great, that you, in this area, because you live it every day like me. You're not going to forget that you have a disability any time soon. It's part of life when you go to an event, either by yourself or with loved ones who also have a disability, what do you have to keep in mind?


Morwenna [00:14:21] Mardi Gras is an event that I myself personally have enjoyed for a really long time. I have a five year old now who is neurodiverse, and we were lucky enough to have a really positive experience in taking him to his first Mardi Gras this year. Now, I did a lot of planning to get that to happen for both myself and for him. We booked one particular area that was family friendly, and I don't know if you heard about this in Melbourne, but we have this huge asbestos outbreak here in Sydney earlier in the year and all of, many of our green spaces across the city and that family friendly, accessible area was, closed because that was right before Mardi Gras. And I thought, oh my goodness, are we still going to be able to do this without this area where I know that we're going to have some space to move around and do what we need to do? Mardi Gras is something that an event that attracts 250,000 people, crowds is something that my son finds, very overwhelming. And what we did to prepare for that event was they had an excellent visual story, which was a document with images and descriptions of what to expect going to this event and, kind of step by step what it was going to look like. So we started working with him. Taking him through that visual story might be about two weeks out. And then when we got there, amazingly, they had a quiet space available. Right on kind of Oxford Street in the middle of Mardi Gras. So we had this quiet space tent to be able to retreat to when things got overwhelming. It had, fidget toys and beanbags and soft lighting, all of those good things to to calm and be able to self-regulate. And it was, it was very well staffed by people, too. So we had some excellent staff that came and gave us a heads up. Five minutes before the parade was going to start and they said, you know, we're about to have the big, dykes on Bikes beginning of the parade where all these motorbikes, you know, zoom down the road, it's going to be very noisy. So we could get headphones out to be able to prepare for that. So, it was just, you know, the thought and care that the event organisers had put in in advance to providing the information that we needed to be able to make, the choices, about what was going to work for us. And then on the ground, having really supportive staff, an appropriate area where we could move around and do what we needed to do and an escape from things, was so valuable. Living with Ms.. My access requirements can sort of shift and change and fluctuate depending on what's happening for me at the time. Often I'm someone who needs things in larger print. Because I have, limited, limited eyesight. And also someone that manages pain and fatigue. So things like, good places to rest and to sit at events is really important for me. And I can't believe how many festivals that we planned without adequate and good seating. And also things like shade, to be able to have some protection from, from elements and sun, can be really important for people like me.


Peta [00:17:44] So I know you've, worked and, been part of this industry for a long time. And I'm really interested to hear your perspective on where Australia sits in being accessible and diverse and inclusive in the arts area. How do you think we can improve, and what do you think we can learn from other markets? I'd love. Like for example, we always seem to hear that Scandinavian countries do everything amazingly. Is that the case in in the arts industry?


Morwenna [00:18:15] Yeah. Good question. Actually I haven't, I haven't looked tapes into Scandinavia but a place, a place I do look to very often is the UK. I think in terms of arts and disability. They're absolutely the latest from what I can tell internationally. And I think there's been a few things that have been really critical to the success that they've had. One thing is that they have some really, really good legislation. They have something called the Equalities Act from 2010. This this Equalities Act talks about having non protected characteristic areas, which is sort of fancy words for their diversity areas that they they need everyone to be aware of and to be providing access for. So things like disability but also race, gender. I've even seen that in the US, you know, as well, they've, they also have, quite strong legislation. And the thing that they have in the US is also this fear of getting sued. And I think that's kind of helpful in some ways as well. And particularly when it comes to the arts in the UK. The other thing that's really been helpful to them is their national arts funding body. Arts Council England has insisted on all the arts organisations it funds having an equality, diversity and inclusion plan. So it, it makes sure that all of the companies that have funds have KPIs specifically around how they going to increase all these different elements of diversity. And they they have to report on those. They get measured, you know, they get assessed. And also it, how they've performed on their EDI, KPIs will impact the level of funding they receive. And I think here in Australia, what would be good is if our funding body started to have some higher expectations and demands about diversity and inclusion because many, many arts companies are in receipt of public funding, from funding bodies. So, you know, using carrots and sticks, from funding bodies I think is quite helpful.


Peta [00:20:31] Just from my own experience here in Australia, I found that the Access, Inclusion and Accessibility Report's after the Dot because they feel like they have to be done, not because there's a wanting to improve their services. They write the report, they maybe talk to some disabled people. Then it goes on like a, you know, a metaphorical shelf. And then within a year or two, they refer back to it and think, oh, we actually haven't ticked off many of these KPIs we did have. Do you have any advice for organisations or see the main areas that you think? Stop people from making sure that those plans are actually implemented in business practice?


Morwenna [00:21:20] Yeah, I think it really does come back to a culture of an organisation and, you know, whether they want to change or not. You know something? I wish that we did a better job of here was talking about the kind of business case or the economic argument for being inclusive, again, going to the UK. They have something there called the Purple pound, which is the spending power of the of disabled households across the UK. And last time that was measures that was £274 billion. So we have money to spend on things. We have money to buy tickets to come along to your shows. So I, you know, I wish here that we would start to have more of a conversation around, you know, the business case. You know, it makes good business sense to be accessible and inclusive. I think, the more we talk about and really celebrate, those successes and, and those impact stories, the more other organisations will want to get on the bandwagon and join in to.


Peta [00:22:26] I want to talk to you about the future of, the arts industry in general. As far as accessibility, where do you hope the industry will go to, and are there any exciting innovations that you've seen that really get your fire in your belly going?


Morwenna [00:22:44] I guess my vision for the future is is a world where access inclusion is just business as usual. I want to do myself out of a job because we want this just to be something that all organisations are doing instinctively and intrinsically. And that they are, you know, ambitious and excited about all the possibilities and potential that being diverse and inclusive provides them as as a business. Of course, we want to see more representation, whether that's, you know, on our stages, our walls, our screens, but also as we talked about behind the scenes as well. You know, I want to see, you know, at least 18% of all our arts content that we consume. You know, being, by deaf and disabled artists. And we know to do that, we've got to really do some work around accessible career pathways as well. I suppose I want to just see, attitude shift and, you know, stop organisations thinking of access and inclusion as this extra thing to do in my kind of never ending to do list. I really want this kind of this idea of this business case and the economic impact, you know, to come through more strongly. And of course, you know, I want to see better digital and physical infrastructure for the art sector. You know, to be better designed with everyone in mind. You know, using co-design processes with people with lived experience to, to sort of get us there. And I want to say those funding bodies, you know, being bolder and braver around the requirements that they're putting in place. I was presenting us with some really interesting, innovations and areas to explore in and around disability. We're also seeing some really interesting assistive technology, more adaptive instruments. You know, wearable technology for, you know, deaf community to, to experience music events. So I guess that's one of the reasons I love working in this field is there it's shifting and changing and evolving so quickly all the time. So really excited to see where some of the tech takes us forward in the future as well.


Peta [00:25:01] Thank you for listening to this week's episode. I hope you enjoyed it. As always, you can follow me over on Instagram. My handle is at Peter Hook spelt Peta Hooke. You can send me an email, ask me a question about what it's like to live with a disability. My email address is I can't stand podcast at gmail com. Or you can share the show with a friend to help more people find the podcast, which I would really appreciate. So until next week. Have a good one guys. Bye. I would like to respectfully acknowledge the Wurundjeri people and Bunurong people of the Kulin Nation., of which I record the podcast today. And I pay my respects to both elders, past and present, along with and especially to those in the First Nations communities who are disabled themselves.




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