IHC Foundation arts funding unlocks creativity

The forces of art, music and dance are empowering new participants among people with disabilities, and the IHC Foundation is making an important contribution to that change.

Since 2010 the IHC Foundation has distributed $550,000 to community-based and mainstream arts organisations working with people with disabilities. The money has funded disabled people not just to watch, but to create and participate in an arts sector that has often been reserved for others.

The IHC Foundation recognises that people with disabilities can struggle to express themselves and sees the creative arts as another way for people to communicate. It allows them to participate in the social and cultural life of their communities, and it also lets mainstream audiences appreciate the previously untapped talent of people with disabilities. For six years the Foundation sponsored the Attitude Artistic Achievement Award, but most of its focus is on funding those working with artists and performers.

Chamber Music New Zealand’s accessible concert series has been funded by the IHC Foundation since 2012. Last year, the series won the Arts Access Creative New Zealand Arts for All Award for its “ground-breaking” relaxed performances and workshops.

The series is led by Wellington-based community musician Julian Raphael, who teams up with musicians to deliver the concerts throughout the country. “What can we do that’s the easiest thing for us to all feel connected? Make some music together. So simple,” he says in the video, Connecting Through Music, produced by Arts Access Aotearoa about the concerts.

For the past four years the Christchurch integrated dance group Jolt Dance has received IHC Foundation funding towards its Move tutor training and community dance programme. “Move is New Zealand’s only dance teacher training scheme for people with disabilities,” says Jolt Dance Artistic Director Lyn Cotton. “It has only been possible with the ongoing help of the IHC Foundation, who have supported our vision at Jolt to embed a disabled perspective into all our work and create genuine pathways for leadership for our dancers. Our trainees have skills we don’t possess. The ability to call yourself a dancer and a teacher is empowering and challenges beliefs around the potential of people with disabilities and the beauty of diversity.”

In a further development, the Foundation last year funded a collaboration between Jolt and Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (CSO) musicians to take the multi-sensory show Fish on tour to Wellington and Auckland. Fish, is designed especially for people with profound disabilities. The CSO says the aim was for a disabled person to be able to experience theatre, dance and music with the same immediacy and power as a person without a disability.

Michelle Walsh, CSO Marketing Manager, says people had the opportunity to put their hands on a drum and know what it felt like to touch. “Live music can be spontaneous – it just happens through the nature of it. Our players are able to react and know what’s going to work and what isn’t going to work. Our musicians are very keen to share their love of music.”

Consistent funding over six years has helped the Auckland InterACT Disability Arts Festival to double in size. The festival was first held in 2011 with 2000 people attending, and by 2016 around 450 people were performing or exhibiting to more than 4000 people at the Corban Estate Arts Centre. Last year festival-goers had a choice of 26 different performances – a new act on the main stage every 20 minutes – for the three days of the festival. On offer were seven drop-in art activities and workshops in drumming, dance, clowning and hip-hop group singing.

The driving force of those behind the festival is the inclusion of people with disabilities, particularly those with significant impairments. The festival is seen as a regular part of the year for disability service providers and special educators, says Festival Director Paula Crimmens – 90 percent of those attending have disabilities.

Paula says funding from the IHC Foundation has enabled some good planning and preparation from year to year. “It gives us freedom and it gives us flexibility,” she says. “As time has gone on we have seen the things that work and we have changed the format.”

The event is now held from Wednesday to Friday, rather than over a weekend, to make it easier for special schools and disability providers to attend. “That has been a major change,” she says. “I think we have been able to create an atmosphere of inclusiveness. We want there to be something that people who are profoundly disabled can come to and participate. We want people to have ownership.”

A new open arts studio at Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science and History in Palmerston North (see story, page 10) has been established with support from the IHC Foundation in response to community demand. This grew out of a four-year partnership between the museum and the disability art space Creative Journeys and a ground-breaking ‘Inspired By’ exhibition, in which works by artists with disabilities were hung alongside high-value works in the museum’s collection by such artists as Colin McCahon, Buck Nin and John Bevan Ford. Feedback from artists and visitors led to the opening of NOA, a facilitated open studio that is accessible and supportive of people with disabilities.

Māpura Studios in Auckland was first funded by the Foundation (as the Spark Centre of Creative Development) in 2010 for a powerful project ‘Portrait Speaks’. The project consisted of a six-month pilot programme in portraiture and personal narration for 12 artists of all abilities. This was followed by a public exhibition and seminar presented by the participants about their work and their experiences of working in an inclusive environment. The organisation was funded again in 2015 and 2016 to support its visual art programme and to fund community exhibitions.

Māpura Studios’ Community Development Manager Jenny Hutchings says its inclusive studio encourages a sense of belonging and social connection in a creative community. “IHC Foundation funding helps us provide quality creative art and art therapy programmes, and to professionally present exhibitions in public and community galleries so the diversity and unique ability of the artists can be celebrated. For many non-verbal artists, their art is their voice.”

When it comes to theatre, it was the opportunity to see young people learn the craft of acting that convinced the Foundation to fund two shows staged by the Everybody Cool Lives Here Trust, co-founded by two Wellington-based theatre practitioners, Nic Lane and Rose Kirkup. The first show, Wake Up Tomorrow was a collaboration with Active, an IDEA Services group for young people in Wellington with intellectual disabilities.

Rose says Wake Up Tomorrow was a community show and its focus was on mentorship. But for the second show, No Post on Sunday, the young people were given the opportunity to audition and be paid as actors.

She says three young men from the first show successfully auditioned and went to work full time for six weeks. “It was a huge development,” she says. “This was about creating more professional development opportunities for the guys.” And Rose says this was a vision also shared by the IHC Foundation.

Wake Up Tomorrow was part of the 2015 Circa Theatre programme during the New Zealand Fringe Festival, winning six awards, including Best of Fringe.

Young people with disabilities were again key participants when it came to research by Te Koki New Zealand School of Music. The Foundation funded three action research projects, which involved the young people as researchers alongside Dr Daphne Rickson (Victoria University of Wellington). Daphne says her research is about extracting information from the young people themselves – ensuring they have a voice.

“I love seeing people grow through the music and through the research,” she says. As therapists, they are looking at how music-making can benefit the young people in various ways – “social, emotional and communication are the main ones – and the process of music-making, being able to participate, rather than the musical output, is the most important thing”.

IHC Foundation Chair Sir Roderick Deane and his wife Lady Gillian have been passionate lifelong supporters of the arts and young artists. “I am particularly delighted that we are able to make such a substantial contribution to bringing the thrill of live performance and the experience of creating visual art to people who might otherwise be excluded,” says Sir Roderick.