About the project

We are a team of Deaf and disabled and non-disabled researchers, artists, performers, writers, arts managers and theatre makers. Our research project is called Disability and the Performing Arts in Australia: Beyond the Social Model. It is funded by the Australia Research Council and is part of a long-running collaboration between Arts Access Victoria, and the Universities of Melbourne and Sydney.

Our project draws on the lived experiences of a diverse group of artists and academics, those who identify and those who don’t. We celebrate the expertise and creativity of disability artists.

Our inclusive arts workshops are our method:

  • They are disability-led and facilitated by a diverse group of artists.
  • They are based in local communities from all over the nation.
  • They bring together every part of the project – mapping current practices, exploring aesthetic innovations, and celebrating individual experiences.

See some of our publications:

Austin, Sarah, et al. “The last avant garde?.” The Routledge handbook of disability arts, culture, and media. Routledge, 2018. 251-262.

Little, Madeleine, Sarah Austin, and Eddie Paterson. “Hold on: Australian innovations in access aesthetics.” Australasian Drama Studies 76 (2020): 241-269.

Hadley, Bree, Eddie Paterson, and Madeleine Little. “Quick Trust and Slow Time.” The International Journal of Disability and Social Justice 2.1 (2022): 74-94.

See our new project: The Evolution of Disability Arts in Australia

  • To explore the process of artistic experimentation with Deaf/disabled artists and showcase Deaf and disability arts within contemporary arts and disability practice in Australia.
  • To co-design accessible strategies for collaboration and making art, for use by future artists, the disability community and cultural policymakers by inviting contributions and provocations from the artists ourselves.
  • To increase critical recognition, employment and funding opportunities for Deaf and disabled artists.

Our title The Last Avant Garde is provoked by British artist and Turner Prize nominee Yinka Shonibare who positioned Disability Arts as the last remaining avant-garde movement (Bragg 2007).

We are interested in this provocation because many forms of arts and disability are also marked by a willingness to reject, shift or subvert traditional ideas and aesthetic forms in favour of:

  • New ways of making and thinking about art as inclusive, collaborative, co-designed, or disability-only.
  • New regimes of ‘beauty’ and ‘ability’.
  • New aesthetic techniques – that might draw on ideas of access, inclusion and the diversity of lived-experience – that serve to challenge makers and audiences.

Our findings reflect our majority position as being disabled people researching Deaf and disabled artists. We are reporting from inside of the lived experience.

  • We are ready to perform our art and art making process.
  • We are at the forefront of collaborative, accessible and inclusive ways of making and thinking about arts practice.
  • To establish a creative level playing field, we acknowledge that our local communities of artists across Australia require access to educational and work opportunities, to funding bodies and application processes, to support and events where we can enhance our skills.
  • This site is a snapshot. Deaf and disabled performing artists across Australia are developing inclusive and aesthetic styles of expressing and creating across difference. We insist our expertise, knowledge and skills influence our shared cultural futures. Our employment figures are parlous – only about 50% of Deaf and disabled people are employed, and of those just over 60% live on or below the poverty line. Our future must be different from our present;
  • We call for quotas in the arts industry. In the UK, it is now mandatory that every arts organisation which accepts public funding must have a certain percentage of that funding across the activities of those organisations spent on Deaf and disabled people. We believe this model should be adopted in Australia. Each public institution must prove they are using resources fairly and equitably across the diversity spectrum;
  • We call for all Australian universities and colleges to adopt quotas for arts courses for Deaf and disabled people. Getting into arts education is a struggle for many disabled and Deaf people, due to lack of access, lack of being invited and welcomed, lack of accessible testing and grading measures and so on. We call on the Australian education system to accept quotas for entry for both staff and students;
  • Deaf and disabled performing artists are calling for more opportunities to work with non-disabled performing artists. Deaf and disabled artists feel sidelined as ‘Special’ – we need to recognise expertise in arts as expertise in arts;
  • Access to artistic practice will change artistic practice. We sum this up as: Slow Time Quick Trust. The workshop environments show that Deaf and disabled artists work together when we have time to drop our defences, drop whatever ableist fears we have about our own bodies and minds in space, and trust each other. We know that this process is powerful and would be useful to the broader arts industry
  • Deaf and disabled artists struggle with feeling and being powerful. We found that not as many Deaf and disabled arts leaders we know of were prepared to acknowledge leadership, or step into workshop facilitator roles. This indicates to us that confidence about ourselves as leaders is still lacking, despite a few decades of ‘leadership’ courses specifically for disabled people. We would like to see leadership as such worked and developed very practically with interested Deaf and disabled creatives. The reality is there are plenty of leadership courses, but few actual leadership opportunities

I’m a disability arts expert with long history of national and international experience. I’m an events producer, practice-led researcher, workshop coordinator, writer and producer, speaker and broadcaster, performance maker and lifelong artist/researcher.

It was momentous, planning and staffing eight national inclusive performance workshops. We trialled Quick Trust and Slow Time on each other. I especially commend Eddie Paterson for happily doing probably upwards of 60 meetings now, for never being scared to talk (and listen to me rant) about hard stuff. Eddie, Sarah Austin and Madeleine Little brought magical sorting powers to every tricky moment and made me laugh myself back to my senses.

Thanks to my core research crew and to Caroline Bowditch and our glorious partners at Arts Access Victoria. Huge thanks to Veronica Pardo, for conceiving of this project and ongoing inspiration. Additional thanks to our dear colleagues Professor Gerard Goggin, Associate Professor Bree Hadley, Dr Lachlan Macdowall and all the members of our Steering Group.

I’m an academic, poet and writer who’s been with the project from the beginning. I’m drawn to radical artists and artworks that shake norms and conventions. My contributions were to co-draft the proposal, get the team together and fan the flames. Being a core LAG researcher (or Kath Duncan’s Secretary!) I communicated with at least 500 people across academia, disability arts, arts orgs, the media and crews, editors, assistance technologists, venues, caterers, travel agents, access specialists and more. I’m been privileged to be an Invited Guest in powerful disability-led spaces. Watching our dream of involving Australian artists via play and experimentation, as opposed to surveys or interviews, are highlights of my life.

For me, disability arts is redefining live performance in Australia. My friends and colleagues are revolutionaries. And I’m proud to play my part as an ally in this avant garde.

My journey with arts and disability started in 2008 when I became Artistic Director/CEO of St Martins Youth Arts Centre, Victoria’s largest youth arts company. This is where I discovered inclusive theatre practice, and I haven’t looked back! In 2014, I worked with University of Melbourne and Arts Access Victoria on the pilot study Beyond Access; the Creative Case for Inclusive Arts, which seeded this project. I want to be part of the change within the arts industry and research and tertiary sectors that sees disability leadership, access and inclusion so embedded in creative practice and teaching pedagogy that the change we seek shapes the future of Australian arts practice.

I am a performer, writer, director, advocate and accessible theatremaker. I have worked as an Indelabilityarts ensemble member since 2015, and have performed with Restless Dance Theatre for Festival 2018 in Intimate Space, among other credits. I believe that Deaf and disabled artists should not just sit in community-based arts organisations or remain as participants of art-as-therapy initiatives, but should be given the opportunity to really develop their practice and infiltrate the professional, mainstream sector. Our stages and canvases should be representative of the culture in which we live.

Caroline Bowditch

Gerard Goggin

Veronica Pardo

Bree Hadley

Gaelle Mellis

Katie Ellis

Lachlan MacDowall

Fiona Cook

Donna McDonald

Suzanne Whiteman

Angel Leggas

Qambar Ali Akhteyari


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