by Elizabeth Sweeney
Posted July 18, 2012
The Roadside Memorial (Study), 2009 Montreal, Choreography by Marie-Hélène Bellavance, Dancers depicted are Marie-Hélène Bellavance and Simon-Xavier Lefebvre, Photo: Caroline Hayeur
It’s a tiny, slightly blurry, pixilated video. You can barely make out Catherine Frazee, a Canadian disability arts guru, or
the Sign Language interpreter in the bottom right-hand corner.
The video is of Frazee’s speech “Contributing to Culture,” given in 2005 during the UN International Day of Disabled Persons.
Catherine spoke eloquently about the significance of the cultural and artistic contributions of people with disabilities.
Canadians with disabilities aren’t “just looking for a few wheelchair spots in the audience,” she explained, they want
“recognition of our place not just as consumers of arts and culture, but producers…. We want access with a big ‘A’.”
Frazee addressed one of the biggest barriers artists, especially those with disabilities, face: a lack of access to funding.
Her plea: “We need bursaries, we need grants, we need fellowships … and we need sponsorships that are based on criteria that resonate with our strengths and our priorities.”
I’ve probably seen this 15-minute video close to 100 times over the last seven years. I have shown it across the country to arts organizations and arts professionals, in staff training sessions, and in countless classrooms while guest-lecturing in colleges and universities. For much of that time, it was inconceivable to me that I would see a response to this call to action in my lifetime, let alone be a part of it.
But that was before I joined the Equity Office at the Canada Council for the Arts as its first Disability Arts Officer. Over the last two years, we have developed and started implementing the Expanding the Arts: Deaf and Disability Arts Access and Equality Strategy, which is rooted in the Council’s long-standing commitment to equity in the arts. As part of this strategy, we expanded the eligibility criteria for the Capacity Building Initiative to include Deaf and disability arts organizations.
This initiative provides targeted support to address a critical gap in funding to these arts organizations. It serves to build their administrative capacity and sustainability, and increase their ability to better compete in the Council’s disciplinary programs.
The peer assessment committee for this competition was comprised almost entirely of leading experts and arts professionals in the Deaf arts and disability arts sectors, and included American Sign Language interpretation, a new experience for the committee. The committee reviewed applications from across regions and disciplines, and at the end of the three-day meeting, had awarded approximately $1 million over three years to 17 successful arts organizations.
That night I tearfully re-watched the video. So many people have tirelessly worked towards this accomplishment over the last few decades. I know I can speak on behalf of the Equity Office in saying that we were humbled and honoured to be able to check off one enormous box on a very important to-do list.
To view the video visit the link below.