Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Partnering to improve 
arts opportunities for the deaf   


Deaf artist, Rachel Coppage has been based in a studio at Corban Estate Arts Centre (CEAC) for more than a year.  Early in 2013, Rachel met with staff at CEAC to initiate a working relationship around engaging with the Deaf community, particularly as many of them live in West Auckland.   Many Deaf receive their education at the Kelston School for the Deaf, their families move to West Auckland to be close to the school, and naturally as adults many choose to remain in the area.

Having a highly developed visual sense, the Deaf are naturally attuned to visual arts.  However they do not necessarily feel comfortable coming to view art in a gallery.  CEAC and the Deaf Arts Network NZ, coordinated by Rachel Coppage, have begun to work on a joint initiative to make CEAC more welcoming, easeful and engaging for members of the Deaf community to visit; what Rachel refers to as ‘cultural bridging’.  The initiative’s key strategy is to focus on a series of events throughout the year, such as providing interpreters at exhibition openings and arts events, and take some steps to reduce some of the barriers experienced by the Deaf.  So far we have trialled this approach at CEAC’s Open Studio weekend in late March 2013.  While we arranged for a Deaf interpreter, and created an area where Rachel could organise information and host Deaf and hearing visitors, we weren’t prepared for Deaf visitors who wanted to watch a film showing or a theatre performance that were part of the weekend programme.  So it’s a learning process for us all!  Fortunately none of these issues are insurmountable and future events can be better structured to incorporate our learnings.  

Several members of the Deaf community also attended an exhibition opening here.  Witnessing two Deaf children animatedly communicating with one another about some of the artworks in a gallery, was extraordinarily moving, visibly demonstrating the goal we are seeking, to see the art displayed become a catalyst to interaction.   It also showed us that there is work to do building the conversation to include the hearing community who are not literate in sign language.     

Spurred on by these two events, more opportunities are planned.  Next, there will be a tour of the site designed for the Deaf community, the guide focusing on the history of the Corban Family Winery, to give context and more awareness of the site’s heritage and significance.  In addition further exhibition openings, where the Deaf community are invited 30 minutes earlier to preview the exhibition ahead of the general public.  As you can imagine, our next task is to apply for funding to adequately support our plans to better engage with the Deaf community.  And from there, an Arts Festival designed for the Deaf community.  Why not?

Martin Sutcliffe,
Director, Corban Estate Arts Centre.

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