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Macaranga leaf by Sandra Heuston, will be on exhibition at the launch
Macaranga leaf by Sandra Heuston, will be on exhibition at the launch

Accessible Arts Connecting Communities Program Launch

In October last year local artist, gallery curator and arts worker, Julie Barratt was appointed to the role of Accessible Arts Officer for the New South Wales North Coast.

The three-year position is the first of its kind to be based in a regional area and the program will be overseen by Accessible Arts NSW in Sydney, but based in the Arts Northern Rivers office in Alstonville.

While she spent the second half of 2011 in a part-time capacity, Julie begins the role in earnest this year, with the Connecting Communities Program launch in February and a lot of challenging work to follow.

According to Julie the purpose of the Connecting Communities Program is to 'help artists living with a disability to gain access to mainstream opportunities. Whether that be access to a studio, a performance space or a gallery; or finding out about educational or membership opportunities. It's pretty much anything you can think of that an artist might need or want to do in the course of their career.'

Julie's area of responsibility stretches from Kempsey to Tweed Heads so the role will consist of plenty of travel, but she will also rely heavily upon networks of communication that she is now working to build.

'There's a lot of work already being done in the area, so I will be listening and communicating with people who understand the issues. But I also hope to tap into the more isolated communities and individual artists who are unaware, unconnected or unsupported at the moment,' she says.

'The first thing I did when I arrived was to look at establishing two steering committees whose purpose will be to discuss and advise, and to bridge the gaps between different art forms, different disabilities and different regions within the North Coast,' she says.

'My role is not to provide money, but to help artists to find sources of funding and to build resources and networks that local artists and venues can use.'

'It really involves a two-way attitudinal shift on the part of venues and organisations, but also on the part of the artists. I want to raise awareness and break down the barriers that are preventing artists with disabilities from enjoying and contributing through their art, and encourage greater audience participation through better access to venues.'

'A great example could be educating venues like galleries and theatres about implementing a simple disability action plan that won't necessarily cost a squillion dollars,' she says.

Julie also hopes to look at ways to connect with Indigenous artists with a disability within the region.

'It's an area that really interests me,' she says. 'Over the last 18 months I have been working with a group of Indigenous artists on creating artists books, and when I had the Barratt Galleries I also curated and exhibited the art of several Indigenous artists.'

'The Indigenous population is enormously important to this region and any Accessible Arts program should obviously include them,' she says.

Julie will launch the Accessible Arts Program with a bang on February 11 from 2 to 4pm at the Northern Rivers Community Gallery in Ballina.

She has pulled together a range of artists and performers to deliver a program of entertainment that will showcase what's possible in this area of the arts.

Fourteen visual artists will have their work on exhibition, and there will be live entertainment from local electronic music group Tralala Blip, experimental band The Bridge and the Red Inc Signing Choir who will deliver a totally silent, signed performance.

Guest speakers will be Peter Wood, CEO Arts Northern Rivers and Scott Trevelyan, Alstonvale-based visual artist and Accessible Arts Bundanoon Artist in residence 2008.

There will be an Auslan interpreter for the proceedings.

Light refreshments will be available.

Everyone is welcome.

Click here for more information about Accessible Arts or the Connecting Communities launch.