It is an absolute privilege to be here tonight. I’d like to pay my respects to the Ngunnawal people as custodians of this land, to their Elders past and present, and to the vibrancy of the continuing living cultures of First Nations peoples across Australia. I’d like to welcome our distinguished award recipients and congratulate each for their exceptional contribution to Australian art and culture.
I’d particularly like to acknowledge the Honourable Paul Fletcher MP, the Honourable Bill Shorten MP, Minister Suzanne Orr, Elizabeth Lee MLA Australia Council Board members Darren Rudd and Rebecca Weisser and other government colleagues, artists, advocates and friends.
An event such as this is even more special when it is a collaboration I would like to thank our partners who have worked with us to make this event possible: Arts Access Australia: CEO Meaghan Shand and Chair, Belinda Locke, and the National Portrait Gallery. Thank you for partnering with us for these inaugural awards on this International Day for People with Disability.
Last year at Meeting Place my predecessor Tony Grybowski announced Australia Council’s commitment of $750K over three years to support artists with disability. This means that every year, over the next three years we are supporting these two national awards celebrating the achievement of artists with disability. And, we are supporting structured mentorships to support artists with disability to develop their artistic practice through either a practice-based project or career development opportunity. The Australia Council has a long-standing commitment to access and inclusion in the arts.
Whilst this support is embedded across all Australia Council programs and initiatives, in our new vision, strategic priorities and Corporate Plan, in our Disability Action Plan (DAP) and Cultural Engagement Framework (CEF), we know that artists with disability are still under represented. Just 9% of artists overall identify with disability, which is roughly half the proportion of the Australian population reporting disability. We recognise the social barriers and inequities that impact on arts practice and participation, especially for people with disability. They are complex and varied. Yet every Australian should be able to experience the transformative power of art. Every Australian has a right to participate in the cultural life of the nation, no matter where they live, what language they speak, their life stage or circumstance.
Artists with disability create powerful work.
Impactful work that benefits us all.
Works that change us.
Works that give us the opportunity to exchange, to learn, to evolve.
Debra Keenahan, 2019 recipient of the Arts and Disability Mentorship explained ‘My dwarfism does not disable me. What disables me is people’s attitudes to the dwarfism.’
That’s why we need art, especially now.
Because creativity connects us.
It tells our collective and individual stories, inspires cultural understanding and exchange. And if artists can’t do this, then who on earth can?
It is such a great honour to be here tonight – to celebrate these artists that tell their individual stories, powerful and evocative stories, influential work that they have realised, we have two awards to present tonight – so I should get on with it! Tonight, it will be my great pleasure to introduce each of the award recipients.
Adrian Collette AM