Auckland Arts Festival takes lead in accessibility

Auckland Arts Festival awarded the Arts Access Creative New Zealand Arts For All Award 2018 at Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards 2018.

Awards pic website

AAF programme and access coordinator Helen Winskill and AAF chief executive David Inns accepting the award with Creative New Zealand chief executive Stephen Wainwright (credit: Vanessa Rushton Photography) 

Leadership, commitment and engagement with Auckland's various disability communities resulted in a massive 806 per cent increase in ticket sales to Auckland Arts Festival's 2018 accessible events - up from 47 patrons in 2017 to 426 in 2018.

Improving its accessibility for everyone is an issue  artistic director Jonathan Bielski feels passionate about. And so this year, Auckland Arts Festival offered 14 accessible events (a 50 per cent increase from 2017), and put in place dedicated staffing and resources to ensure people with accessibility needs could easily find what they needed.

 The key to the Festival’s accessibility, Jonathan says, was ensuring it was community-led. In the early stages of planning the Accessible Programme, staff talked to key community stakeholders who identified shows that resonated and would translate well. From there, they designed the programme, communications and marketing plan based on ongoing engagement, consultation and advice.

 “It has to come from the community because how else would we know what people need?” Jonathan says. “It seems pretty obvious but when you ask people what they want, they tell you and when you give people the opportunity to go, they go. We’re very proud that the Festival this year was the most accessible and that’s because we took a different approach.”

 It’s this commitment that saw Auckland Arts Festival receive the Arts Access Creative New Zealand Arts For All Award 2018, presented at Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards 2018 in Parliament on Wednesday 1 August.

Of the recipient, the judging panel said: “Strong leadership at Auckland Arts Festival has changed attitudes and showed what’s possible. An exemplary Arts For All Auckland Network member, the 2018 Festival pulled out all the stops to be as accessible as possible – and the impressive increase in ticket sales says it all.”

After consultation, the Festival adapted a number of performances in theatre, comedy, magic, circus, contemporary dance, music and visual arts to improve access. This included six New Zealand Sign Language interpreted performances for Deaf patrons; touch tours and audio described performances for blind and low-vision patrons; and, for the first time, a relaxed performance for people on the Autism spectrum, or with sensory and communication disorders, and  learning difficulties.

Two barriers to access identified by the community were the cost of tickets and difficulty in addressing individual access needs. As a result, the Festival reduced the cost of tickets for its Accessible Programme and brought the ticketing in-house so patrons could be helped on a one-to-one basis.

The Festival’s website also had an access section hightlighted on its homepage and a dedicated Festival contact for queries. Transport assistance was provided and access information about each venue was provided on its website. At the venues, seats were selected to suit patrons: for example, seats with good sight lines to the NZSL interpreters.

One accessible event, held in Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery, was visited by a group of six students with vision impairment to experience From Scratch’s interactive 546 Moons Exhibition.

The audio describer set up the students with headphones for an audio description of all the instruments and the From Scratch rehearsal. Gallery staff guided the students through the exhibition and gave them extra information about the instruments and how they were played.

The students then explored the instruments and played them. When the From Scratch musicians arrived, they introduced themselves to the students, and answered their questions about the different instruments.

Áine Kelly-Costello, who is blind and recently completed postgraduate study at the University of Auckland, attended the touch tour and a music performance by From Scratch. She also attended the audio described performance of the theatre production 1984, and Jack Charles v the Crown, which included a pre- show touch tour.

“It was a pleasure to be able to attend events and immerse myself in the soundscape, monologue or drama, just as we all should be able to, confident that I would fully experience the show and not miss crucial information,” Áine says.

Jonathan is delighted at the progress the Festival has made. “When you listen to people and you respond, and tailor the offering in a way that is going to provide an access point on their terms, not on our terms, then people will come.”

He emphasises the importance of being community-led in a genuine way. “Don’t tell people what you are going to do: ask them what they want, then deliver. If you aren’t prepared to deliver at an institutional level then don’t start the discussion.”

The annual Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards are the key national awards in New Zealand celebrating the achievements of individuals and organisations providing opportunities for people with limited access to engage with the arts as artists and audience members. They also recognise the achievements of an artist with a disability, sensory impairment or lived experience of mental illness.

Auckland Arts Festival was one of seven recipients of Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards 2018. Other recipients were:

  • Beth Hill, programme leader for arts, self-directed learning and living skills at Northland Regional Corrections Facility: Arts Access Corrections Māui Tikitiki a Taranga Award 2018 and  Arts Access Accolade 2018
  • Ōtautahi Creative Spaces, Christchurch - Arts Access Holdsworth Creative Space Award 2018
  • Waitakere Alternative Education Consortium, Target Alternative Education Centre, Creative Collaborative, Auckland: Arts Access Te Auaha Community Partnership Award 2018
  • Jesse Johnstone-Steele, Auckland: Arts Access PAK’nSAVE Artistic Achievement Award 2018
  • Hawkes Bay Regional Prison and St John’s College: Arts Access Corrections Whai Tikanga Award 2018
  • Lynn Freeman, Radio New Zealand, Wellington:  Arts Access Creative New Zealand Media Award 2018

Highly Commended certificates were presented to:

  • Touch Compass, Auckland: Arts Access Holdsworth Creative Space Award 2018
  • Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre, Auckland,: Arts Access Holdsworth Creative Space Award 2018
  • Jade Morgan, Dunedin: Arts Access Corrections Māui Tikitiki a Taranga Award 2018
  • George Massingham, Hawkes Bay: Arts Access Corrections Māui Tikitiki a Taranga Award 2018
  • Write Where You Are, NZ Festival, Rimutaka and Arohata Prisons: Wellington, Arts Access Community Partnership Award 2018
  • Royal New Zealand Ballet, Wellington: Creative New Zealand Arts For All Award 2018
  • Suzanne Cowan, Auckland: Arts Access PAK’nSAVE Artistic Achievement Award 2018
  • Jacob Dombroski, Wellington: Arts Access PAK’nSAVE Artistic Achievement Award 2018
  • Bundy Waitai and Arrin Clark, Northland: Arts Access Corrections Whai Tikanga Awards 2018