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National Arts and Disability Awards celebrate artists forging new pathways

Julia Hales and Solomon Kammer. Photos courtesy the artists.

Creative Australia has announced theatre maker Julia Hales and visual artist Solomon Kammer as the recipients of the 2023 National Arts and Disability Awards. 

The awards are celebrated in the lead up to International Day of People with Disability and honour artists who have made an outstanding contribution to Australian arts and culture. 

Creative Australia CEO Adrian Collette AM said, “It’s my immense pleasure to congratulate two remarkable artists, Julia Hales and Solomon Kammer. We celebrate their artistry and their dedication to sharing the voices and stories of people with disability so that our arts can more fully reflect the vibrancy of our culture.” 

Perth-based artist Julia Hales received the $50,000 award for an established artist, recognising her work as a writer, actor and theatre maker.  

Hales’ work, including the critically acclaimed production, “You Know We Belong Together” has resonated with audiences from Perth Festival to Edinburgh. 

Hales said, “Winning this award is very exciting to me because I get to share my work and to keep helping the voices of people with disabilities. This award makes me feel like I can stand up for myself and my practice, and for other artists (and people) with a disability. I want to make a difference in the world by making work that speaks the truth and making it in a way that works for us.” 

Solomon Kammer received the $20,000 award for an early career artist. Kammer’s bold and emotive works, drawn from personal experience of chronic illness, have drawn national and international recognition, from the Archibald Prize to Art Basel Hong Kong.  

On receiving the award, Kammer said, “This award serves as a clarion call to the art industry, urging it to recognise, appreciate, and actively incorporate the unparalleled potency of disabled narratives and expressions.” 

More information about the awards is available on the Creative Australia website. 

Media enquiries

Brianna Roberts, Media Manager, Creative Australia
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Recipient bios

Julia Hales is an actress, writer and creative theatre maker with Down syndrome living in Perth.  

In 2015, she participated in the Australia Council’s Sync Leadership Program. In 2017, she secured project funding for FINDING LOVE, exploring love’s meaning for her and other people with Down syndrome. This project led to the production You Know We Belong Together. Co-commissioned by Perth Festival, Black Swan State Theatre Company and DADAA, it premiered at the Perth Festival in 2018, later remounted by Black Swan in 2019. The production’s success extended globally, with presentations at the London South Bank Centre, the Edinburgh International Festival, and Sydney Opera House in 2022.  

As a passionate advocate and leader in the arts, Julia wants to share as many disabled voices with the world as possible. “I want audiences to hear people with disability and what they want, to really listen to their life experiences.”   

Solomon Kammer (she/they) (b. 1991, Australia) is a Tarndanya/Adelaide-based artist who works predominantly in painting. Kammer draws on her own experiences of chronic illness, medical science and gender biases to expose the prejudices, challenges and abuses faced by many women and gender minorities today. While Kammer’s work is intensely personal, it also speaks to broader experiences of emotional and bodily mistreatment. The bold and confronting compositions Kammer creates speak to underrepresented communities: people living with disability, illness and trauma.  

Kammer is a self-taught artist, with no formal training, tertiary education or mentorship. Kammer has been a finalist for numerous awards including the prestigious Archibald Prize, Ramsay Prize, Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award, Mosman Art Prize and has won the People’s Choice category in multiple prizes.   

Kammer’s works have been included in notable art fairs, such as Art Basel Hong Kong OVR, Asia Now Paris and Sydney Contemporary Australia. Currently represented by Yavuz Gallery, she presented her debut international solo exhibition with the Singapore gallery in October of 2022.  

Kammer’s commitment to disability rights goes beyond her artistic practice. The artist dedicates her time to raising awareness and challenging the stigma surrounding illness. For several years, Kammer served as a champion for endometriosis awareness in collaboration with Endometriosis Australia. She continues to advocate for medical patient rights, safety, and inclusivity by voluntarily conducting formal peer reviews on research manuscripts for the Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing, screening them for bias, prejudice and contributing a perspective of lived experience.  

About the work of Creative Australia with the arts and disability sector 

Creative Australia believes that art is for everyone, and that Australians living with disability have the right to enjoy, benefit from and contribute to the arts and cultural life of Australia. Disability in the arts offers excellence and artistry, unique perspectives and lived experiences, and transformative experiences for audiences and communities.  

Creative Australia supports disability and accessibility in the arts through its delivery of strategic initiatives designed to:  

  • increase access to support  
  • build sector capacity and sustainability  
  • expand opportunities for artists and arts leaders with disability, and   
  • celebrate artistic excellence.  

Creative Australia also produces research which highlights the barriers and disparities which still exist for people with disability across arts practice, employment, leadership, education, training, engagement, and participation.  

Definition of disability 

People with a disability are diverse and are not defined by their disability. There is no single definition or way of capturing such complex and multidimensional experiences. 

Creative Australia embraces the social model of disability, which distinguishes between impairment of the person, and the barriers in society that are disabling. These can include attitudes, discrimination, or the physical environment. This definition includes mental health.  

However, not all people who experience a mental health condition identify with disability.  

The term ‘disability’ can also include people who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing. However, members of the d/Deaf community may not always identify with disability and may identify as part of a cultural and linguistic group with their first language being Auslan (Australian Sign Language) or another sign language.  

Creative Australia recognises the term people with disability is widely used in Australia, including by disability advocates and peak bodies. We also recognise that the term is contested and evolving, with increasing use of self-identifying terms such as disabled, included in advocacy for change. We recognise that some choose to identify with a specific community such as d/Deaf or Autistic and may prefer not to refer to themselves as disabled or as having disability. We will continue to recognise self-identification and engage in dialogue as the terminology evolves.