Making Festivals Inclusive & Accessible
Morwenna Collett is one of Australia’s leading accessibility specialists and is speaker at this year’s Australian Festival Industry Conference on 31 August. We sat down with her to talk to her about how festivals can work towards being more inclusive and accessible.
Festivals might be slowly becoming more accommodating for patrons with disabilty.
But it can still be a nightmare backstage for performers, says Morwenna Collett, a musician and a senior arts consultant specialising in diversity, access and inclusion.
These can include a lack of an accessible bathroom, gear stored in the way of wheelchair pathways, bad lighting, trip hazards, no ramp up to the stage and limited options of where to perform.
“There are even instances where a band member with disability has a different backstage area to the rest of the band,” says Collett.
She studied flute at the Queensland Conservatorium with plans to join a professional orchestra.
At the end of her first year, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and experience firsthand the challenges facing people with disabiltiy wanting to access university and the classical music sector.
She then switched performance for arts management, with a focus on breaking barriers.
Having previously held leadership roles at Accessible Arts and the Australia Council, Collett is a consultant for festivals, venues and organisations wanting to be more accessible-friendly.
She is presenting a session on inclusivity at the Australian Festival Industry Conference.
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“What I want people to walk away with is that this is everybody’s responsibility,” Collett explains.
“People in the music industry need to be thinking about this and planning, the onus is not on people with disability.”
It’s not just making physical spaces accessible in terms of lifts and wheelchair access, and incorporating these when creating a new site.
Organisers should also help musicians become part of the networking process to find gigs and keep up-to-date with opportunities.
“Make sure your website and social media are accessible, it’s easy and free” she suggests.
“It’s making sure that someone who is Blind or has low vision can read your website using a Screen Reader.”
Collett has a number of interactive online resources and training materials on her website (https://www.morwennacollett.com/).
She is working to introduce a Live Music Accessibility Charter in Australia, working with UK organisation Attitude Is Everything, and holding discussions with state music associations on what it should look like.
The UK introduced an Equalities Act in 2010, which spells out clearly what equality looks like for under-represented groups.
“Australia doesn’t have one of these, so it can be difficult to know what someone means when they say ‘inclusion’.
“I’d love to see one here, but I’m unsure if it’s something on the national legislation agenda at this point of time.”
COVID-19 has shifted the conversation around human rights.
Live-streaming has enabled more disabled and housebound musicians to perform and attend the arts as audience members, and the live sector has been more open to resetting its attitudes .
One of Collett’s regular annual destinations is the UK’s Unlimited Festival which celebrates the work of disabled artists.
“I first went as an intern in 2014, and it was a game-changer. I saw more work by artists with disability in a week than I could see in a whole year in Australia.
“I got to meet the best, most successful and exciting artists with disability, and was exposed to a high quality, exceptional international level of work.
“One of our favourite artists was by Scottish dancer Claire Cunningham whose work Guide Gods explored the relationship between disabiltiy and religion – and how some religions see disability as karma, for having done something bad in their past lives. It was a real eye-opener.”
“I loved how Unlimited provides a platform for disabled artists to also perform at mainstream festivals and have really successful careers.”
Morwenna Collett presents a session The Future of Festivals is Inclusive: Accessibility for Major Festivals at the Australian Festival Industry Conference on Wednesday August 31 between 9:30am and 9:55am. Tickets are on sale now and close 5:00pm, Wed 24 August (AEST). For more information and to book, visit www.australianfestivalconference.com.au