For collaborating artists and organisations
It is important for collaborators to be clear on the intention of the collaboration before embarking on it. Some want to work with disabled artists to advance a social cause through the art work while others may be looking at exploring alternative artistic aesthetics and creative elements through the disability lens and form. The intention has to be communicated and aligned with all participants involved in order for them to make an informed choice. Regardless of the purpose, collaborators must be prepared to arrange for access provisions to facilitate the full participation of the engaged artists. It is a good practice to include access costs as part of the project’s planned budget and not as an afterthought, i.e. finding sponsors or volunteers to cover such costs at a later stage.
Collaborators should respect the preferences and needs of disabled artists and at the same time subject disabled artists to the same expectations and rigour of professional ethics as any other. Whether instructors, mentors or directors, it is essential for them to constantly reflect on whether they may be overcompensating. A few interviewed disabled artists also highlighted the fact that disabled people are not “saints by default”, contrary to popular misconceptions, and it is sometimes easy for them to become self-entitled and use their disability as an excuse for falling short of expectations.
Collaborators have to be aware of the power dynamics in the working relationship and constantly reflect on and exercise the balance between providing leadership and encouraging autonomy. One of the collaborating artists expressed the following regarding the qualities of a mentor:
“[Disabled artists need] someone who is more experienced, more knowledgeable, more privileged and says I don’t mind failing with you. No one wants to fail in life, especially disabled artists because they are already being seen to be a failure. They will never want to fail.”
For events and programme producers and organisers
Similarly, for event and programme producers and organisers, there is a need to respect and provide access requirements for disabled artists and audiences. It is recommended for organisers to start practising vigilance in the language and messaging used in marketing and branding. It is useful to be familiar with respectful language preferred by the disability community. Consulting artists on their preference and positioning on how they want to market themselves and their works helps to align the vision and purpose of the event. It is also important to track media coverage to ensure public information about the event aligns with the branding direction and contains disability-appropriate language and factual accuracy, and do not further perpetuate misconceptions about the disability community. Lastly, organisers can be innovative and not be afraid to steer away from the charity model in their branding, despite it being viewed as a safe selling point.
The importance of representation has been emphasised by both the literature review and interview findings. Key disability and arts organisations such as NAC and Very Special Arts (Singapore) can consider having a disability panel or committee comprising disabled artists within their organisations. Similarly, a disability workgroup can be set up for event-specific projects.
Better support can be provided for interest groups to develop and grow in terms of venue, recruitment and showcasing platforms, together with the development of long-term leadership and mentorship programmes.
A regular national annual disability (&) arts festival led by disabled artists and experienced collaborators and allies can boost the recognition and development of performing arts by disabled artists. If the pool of leading artists is small, the scale of such a project can start small but it should start on the right footing. The media is an important instrument for change. There can be dedicated resources on national media platforms to showcase disability-led events.
Taking reference from overseas practices, it would be useful to have a mini masterplan dedicated to disability (&) arts as part of the SG Arts Plan instead of subsuming it under community outreach as in the current plan. Funding and support can be rendered to practitioners and researchers, including disabled artists, to develop a national arts access guide as practised in England and New Zealand. In addition, a diversity and access related rating for arts programmes and productions can be developed in consultation and involvement of disabled artists. This rating can then be included as part of the grant and funding criteria. Lastly, diversity and access related awards can be included as part of national arts awards such as Life Theatre Awards to bring recognition to access-related roles in the arts.
Grants and Funding
While the amount of grants and funding given is important, how they are given is also equally important for funding bodies to reflect on, strategise and implement. Grantors and funding bodies might want to ensure information are on accessible platforms and in accessible language. It is a good practice to provide multiple formats and representations of information such as visual infographics, easy-read versions and sign language. Other accessible measures include allowing application submissions in multiple formats to cater to applicants’ preferred mode of communication, expression and conveying of their strengths. Funders can consider alternative evaluation criteria. For example, instead of focusing only on the end product and quantitative outcomes, they can also consider the qualitative potential of the artists and their works. In addition, dedicated funding for access costs would be a positive step towards accessibility in the arts. Considering that disability arts is a relatively new field in Singapore, funding bodies can consider a longer-term funding structure to allow for the potential of the artists and their works to develop.
There is little local literature in this area and more research will benefit the development and growth of the sector. Future research work can explore a more robust framing of works in this area in the form of a multidimensional spectrum. As more companies and groups are starting to give inclusive and disability arts a go in recent years, be it a one-time initiative or an intended long-term endeavour, it is important to document the processes of and lessons learnt from each case. Case study documentation of recent disability arts initiatives and productions would be beneficial in sharing good practices in the local context. Such can be practitioner-led research which would bring an authentic dimension to the output. Funding bodies can explore rendering resources to support companies to allocate manpower for such research-based documentation roles since manpower is lean in most arts organisations and projects. Lastly, future research can look at expanding research depth by focusing on each disability group and each art form.