A world shaped by disabled artists

Next Wave Lead Program Producer Frances Robinson shares her aspirations for an arts sector that moves at the speed of friendship.

It’s International Day of People with Disability!

I recently returned from Indonesia, where I shared some thoughts on a world shaped by disabled artists, at the International Conference on Disability Rights. On my journey through Jakarta, Bandung and Yogyakarta, I met incredible art collectives:
Open Arms
Tab Space
Nali Tari
We Are Epic
and the team behind Jogja Disability Arts biennial

Just to name a few. I witnessed a new level of care and inclusion, equity and justice and deep generosity in the way that these collectives are working. Finding new ways to collaborate and moving beyond words and into the action is definitely what Australian arts organisations could learn from Indonesia.

And that’s what we’re attempting to do at Next Wave.

More interested in artmaking as a process rather than an outcome, Next Wave’s vision invites us to imagine a ‘world shaped by artists’. On International Day of People with Disability, I invite you to imagine with me what a world shaped by disabled artists might look, sound or feel like. Imagining is commonplace for artists, but we often forget what a transformative, radical act it can be to re-imagine worlds.

For me, ‘Moving at the speed of friendship’ provides a way in for d/Deaf and disabled artists and arts workers working on the fringe of a largely ableist arts world.

This is one of the concepts in our Curation as Care framework, which guides Next Wave’s curatorial practice and was co-designed with our Artistic Directorate in 2021.

The framework’s seemingly ‘radical’ ideals hold us to account and reminds us that we don’t operate under a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

Beyond the burnout and impossible labour standards that our creative industry enables, our current operating systems simply do not work for d/Deaf and disabled artists – it’s impossible to go at the speed of the system.

Moving at the speed of friendship offers flexibility and a responsive, relational way of working that encourages people to bring their whole self.

It trusts that going at the speed that is necessary, not the speed that is expected, will benefit the artist, their practice, Next Wave as an organisation and the art sector as a whole.

Here are a few important stats for you:

  • One in 10 artists have disability in Australia.
  • Currently, d/Deaf and disabled Australians are more likely to be making art but are less likely to making money from it.
  • A third of disabled artists experience unemployment compared to a quarter of non-disabled artists.
  • Of those who are employed, they earn 42% less than their non-disabled peers.

So there is work to be done. We need collective, creative and sustainable new ways to fund the arts so that scarcity doesn’t breed competition. And we need real collaboration that is slow and collective.

Next Wave doesn’t have all the answers, and we still have much work to do in the access space, but we do think that moving beyond the fast-paced festival model and into a slower relational and collective model is a step in the right direction. We hope you’ll join us on the journey in 2024.

Frances is a non-disabled producer. whose practice is driven by a commitment to societal equity, particularly for/with d/Deaf and disabled artists and leaders. On IDPWD she wishes to thank and celebrate the d/Deaf and disabled community in Australia who she has been privileged to work and learn alongside as an ally, through their generous, tireless and staunch advocacy and disability pride.

  1. Left to right: Putri (Nali Tari), Antony (We Are Epic), Slamet, Mariska (Ballet ID), Budi (President for Jogja NETPAC Asian Film Festival), Frances Robinson (Next Wave Lead Program Producer) and Levina (British Council Indonesia)