Two years ago, Melbourne’s track record in attracting grant applications from disabled artists was mixed and it was clear the application process did not cater for these artists’ access needs. As a result, the city decided to overhaul its annual, triennial and strategic partnership investment programmes to broaden funding opportunities to ensure accessibility for all.
The city had limited knowledge of what would work well and was concerned it might not be able to meet the needs of disabled artists, but it was clear in its ambitions to offer leadership in the area and wished to make its programme more accessible. The city changed its approach over an 18 month period, consulting its own disability specialists alongside the lead disability arts organisations in Australia including Arts Access Australia, the Australia Council and Arts Access Victoria. The process included reviewing guidelines, application forms and processes for all grants programmes, leading to the development of fully accessible online application material. It encouraged applicants to budget for items to meet access needs and to increase audience inclusion. Artists with disabilities observed grant assessment programme meetings and were invited to assess funding applications as part of an expert panel. They also participated in public briefings and conferences on access and equality. Meanwhile all arts investment staff received training and one-on-one meetings with applicants with special needs are offered. Artists who cannot prepare an application are invited to come and pitch ideas to panel members while being offered whatever support they need.
The city also signalled the support of its civic leadership by creating an online captioned and signed promotional video featuring the Councillor responsible for the arts and a similar video by the Lord Mayor encouraging access and equality.
The city’s innovations mean that it is now familiar with making short films to convey policy messages, using captioning and other new ways of including disabled applicants, for instance via Vimeo. The number of disabled grant recipients has increased and all the city’s artists have been encouraged to consider access, primed by the City’s public briefings.