The purpose of this study is to provide a set of recommendations informed by disability perspectives on the framing of disability (&) arts and the approach to facilitate its development in Singapore.

Research questions and problem identification

The development of the field of disability (&) arts in Singapore has been slow despite the increasing attention to disability and social inclusion for people with disabilities. This attention has been brought about by relevant milestones for the disability sector such as the signing and ratifying of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2012 and 2013 respectively (MSF, 2016), as well as the launch of the Enabling Masterplan (EM) in 2007 (MSF, 2006). The EM is a five-yearly roadmap for the disability sector that the government drafts through ground consultation. Worthy of note for our discussion is that the first two Enabling Masterplans focused very much on employment, education and access to services (MSF, 2011). There was little or no mention of arts. The discussion of arts and disability was only included in the latest and third edition of the Enabling Masterplan (2017-2021) (MSF, 2016).

The increased national funding to use the arts for community engagement in recent years has led to a growing number of disability-related arts projects. Such projects mostly focused on accessibility and inclusive programming. In the latest Our SG Arts Plan (2018-2022) by the National Arts Council (NAC), brief related mentions came in the form of citing the Arts & Disability forum as part of the community and social outreach agenda together with elderly community engagement. An optimistic progress in this masterplan is a mention of NAC’s commitment to “support programming which is accessible and disability-friendly”, in the form of funding for access arrangements to enable engagement of audiences with disabilities (NAC, 2018).

However, local artists with disabilities have expressed misgivings about the impact and authenticity of these initiatives, questioning whether the values behind these initiatives are in line with those of the participants, as well as criticising a lack of actual disability-led or disability identified arts.

Therefore, the central research question is: What is success or progress of disability (&) arts to local practitioners and how can it be achieved?

There has been an increase in networking platforms and focus groups in the area of disability and arts in recent years such as the aforementioned annual Arts and Disability Conference, Disability Community Network facilitated by the Institute of Policy Studies and Access Arts Hub. These platforms have seen active participation from organisational representatives but less from actually disabled artists particularly the independent artists not associated with any organisations. Hence, this study aims to reach out to this group to gain insights that have been absent from the usual platforms.

Targeted art forms

This study focuses on the area of live performing arts. The targeted art forms include theatre, dance and music. The live element brings about unique aspects of consideration in discussing the inclusion, accessibility and quality of the work. In comparison with other art forms such as visual arts in which the form of the presentation of the work can be largely determined by pre-presentation efforts and can be more consistent, live performing arts is subjected to more variables when presented to the audience such that the resulting form will always vary.

The uniqueness of performing arts is also expressed by Thrower in the dissertation “Re-imagining Disability: Performance Art and the Artists’ Perspectives” in explanation of performance studies scholar Marvin Carlson’s views, that “the ‘consciousness’ surrounding the performer’s body and story is an important, deliberate part of the process of performance art that contextualizes the body, identity, and experiences being presented in a way that frequently resists and challenges dominant perceptions and perspectives.” (Carlson, 1996) (Thrower, 2015). The ability to directly perceive and interact with the artist with disability makes it even more profoundly necessary to consider the facilitation of aspects of the art form, such as the authentic expression of the intended values of the piece and the meaningful inclusion to both the producer and consumer of the work.

Profiles of participants

The primary participants in this study are performing artists with disabilities. The secondary target participants are performing arts practitioners without disabilities who collaborate with artists with disabilities to produce works (referred to as collaborators or collaborating artists from hereon). As this study aimed to collect ground practitioners’ voices and insights, it did not include representatives from the policymaking and management level.

Scope of work

  1. Review of national disability arts strategies and policies in other countries
  2. Gathering and analysis of the insights from local practitioners

This study included a scan of international disability arts strategies and policies of various national arts councils where they exist, or those from major disability organisations. This information can be used to provide recommendations for policy wherever the international good practices are feasible to adapt to the local context.

The primary focus of the study is on the perspectives of practitioners on what progress and success of disability arts mean to them. This involved understanding:

  1. how they identify and define their craft in the spectrum of disability arts;
  2. their motivation to practise their craft in disability arts;
  3. the values that are important to them in defining progress and success;
  4. how they aspire to progress in their craft.

Goals and outcomes

The findings would contribute to the literature on disability arts in Singapore, which is currently limited, especially in the performing arts. The study also documents and conveys the voices of ground practitioners to inform the stakeholders in this sector for policymaking and practice. These include current and aspiring artists with disabilities, collaborating artists, policymakers, arts managers and producers, educators and related organisation representatives.

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