Physical distancing has forced many arts and culture events online. For some, it’s made events more accessible.
Story by Sasha Dryden. Photo by Marina Dodis.
Kickstart Disability Arts & Culture is behind KickstART Festival, which ran from 2001 to 2014 to present authentic, non-sentimental expressions of disability experience. In 2020, it was time to shift, and with a Community Response Grant from Vancouver Foundation, the organization was able to launch Still, Life: A Digital Festival, their first online disability arts festival. “The festival came out of the need to adapt our programming due to the pandemic,” says Administrative Director Kait Blake.
Kickstart quickly pivoted its programming to a digital platform. “Diversity, equity, inclusion were themes considered when curating the programming, and all of the artists involved were chosen with that in mind,” explains Blake.
“One of our board members, who lives in Victoria and uses a mobility device, said she’s never felt more connected and able to participate in so many artistic endeavors.”
WATCH Kait Blake’s short interview on art and access >>
The breadth of the programming over the five-day event was ambitious. Deaf Cirque du Soleil performer Maxim Fomitchev led a movement session, Indigenous Women Rise Drum Group guided a drum-circle workshop, and there was also a screening of Salome Chasnoff’s Code of the Freaks, a documentary that reframes the use of disabled characters in the film. Sessions on essential business skills and artistic practice formed the backbone of the festival, with discussions on grant applications, art law, and writing disabled characters.
With more than 270 registrants, the festival was a success by any measure. “The reach of the festival was just amazing! We had people from all over Canada, and even the US, which is really exciting for us. Generally, our reach is the Lower Mainland and BC,” says Blake.
Making Digital Accessible
One silver lining of the pandemic has been expanded access to artistic and cultural events programming for many people with disabilities. “One of our board members, who lives in Victoria and uses a mobility device, said she’s never felt more connected and able to participate in so many artistic endeavours,” Blake shares.
So for now, Kickstart is taking all future events online. “We have to keep in mind that our community is considered vulnerable health-wise. Even as the province opens up, many folks in our community aren’t reintegrating themselves. As a small organization, digital is much more in our capacity, which is another benefit.”
However, the shift to a digital platform isn’t the answer to everyone’s needs. “Digital programming certainly introduced new barriers that you wouldn’t experience with in-person programming,” says Blake. “We’re thinking about how to reach those folks who may not have access to computers and the internet.”
Another barrier Blake has noticed is that many online events do not have American Sign Language interpretation or closed captioning.
To that end, Kickstart Disability hopes for more inclusion from organizations shifting to digital. “How do we continue to engage those parts of the population while still social distancing? Moving forward, I’m hoping other organizations and presenters will keep this in mind.”
Nothing About Us Without Us
Kait Blake also advised on Vancouver Foundation’s CRF grants that supported arts, culture, and community benefit organizations. Blake contributed her inclusive perspective when advising on funding for Vancouver Foundation’s CRF grants. “Vancouver Foundation inviting me was wonderful because this is the first time Kickstart has been invited to participate on a committee. They really relied on my expertise within this.”
She’s firm that people with disabilities should continue to be involved “Nobody should be making those decisions for our community; our community should be making those decisions.” As someone living with intersectional dis-abilities, working with Kickstart has been an eye-opening experience for Blake. “No matter where I go, I’m aware of access. I think we need more people to think that way. I don’t think it’s intentional, it’s just an afterthought.”
She was pleased to see many of the CRF applications were factoring in inaccessibility. “It was very interesting to see the willingness of so many organizations to make that shift and make it as quickly as possible.”