Disability community set to shine in new festival at the Arts Centre

Disability community set to shine in new festival at the Arts Centre
Brendan Rees

A major festival celebrating the disability community is set to engage artists across Australia and New Zealand when it launches for the first time at the Arts Centre this year.

The inaugural Alter State event is being touted as the “most vibrant, hybrid disability arts festival in the southern hemisphere,” according to artistic director Caroline Bowditch, who has been announced as the creative lead for the festival.

“For me the real strength of Alter State is that it is disability-led, which I feel is essential. It really sets us up for what happens next in the creative industries,” she said.

“The festival will present the most incredible work that has always been out there but hasn’t been known about because it hasn’t been on stages like Arts Centre Melbourne.”

The event, which will feature live performances across the Arts Centre’s theatres and spaces, as well as digital content online, will provide a platform for deaf and disabled artists to tell stories and showcase their creative works.

Ms Bowditch, who is also the CEO for Arts Access, a peak body for the arts and disability in Victoria, was behind the successful launch of the Alter State digital event last November.

Best known as a performer, teacher, and speaker, Ms Bowditch spent 16 years in the UK before returning to Australia in 2018.

Last year’s digital program saw Arts Access Victoria host three panel discussions and workshops profiling artists from their digital commissioning program Museum of Us, a museum of anthropology in San Diego, California.

One of the topics discussed was “what the ideal cultural landscape is from a deaf perspective.”

Deaf and disabled artists were also invited to participate in an online forum about creating national access standards in the arts.

The live festival is expected kick off in September 2022 with the Arts Centre working hard with highly regarded artists Carly Findlay, Joshua Pether and Rodney Bell to help bring the event together – with all three having been foundation artists for Alter State since 2019.

Ms Findlay is a Medal of the Order of Australia recipient for her work as a disability advocate and activist, while Mr Bell, who is from New Zealand, is a performing artist, advocator, and provocateur.

Having lived with a disability for 30 years, Mr Bell has a “strong desire to discover a greater sense of mystery by embracing uncertainty with the willingness to seek out new horizons.”

His talent has also seen him win multiple awards including the inaugural FAME Award with Performing Arts Network of New Zealand, The Creative New Zealand – Toi Iho Pūmanawa award.

Mr Pether, an indigenous experimental performance artist, dancer and choreographer of movement, temporary ritual and imagined realties, has performed in festivals and events across the globe including The First Nations Dialogues in New York •

For more information: artscentremelbourne.com.au

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