Caroline Bowditch

on ‘inclusion’ & ’empathy’

Caroline Bowditch joins Sam to discuss ‘inclusion’ and how ’empathy’ shows up within this. Caroline is an internationally renowned performer, choreographer, teacher and maker, and is currently CEO of Arts Access Victoria in Australia. Caroline is a disabled woman who believes passionately in creating spaces where people feel they can truly be themselves. In this episode she shares her thoughts around how we can approach ‘inclusion’, including the word itself.

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Show Notes

Find out all about Caroline by following these links:

Arts Access Victoria – their advocacy page includes links to some of Caroline’s latest work: www.artsaccess.com.au/creating-change/advocacy/

Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube

Further information related to this episode:

Stella Young on dancing like everyone’s watching – article

Information on the Social Model of Disability:

Guest Info

A photo of Caroline Bowditch, a white person with short dark hair. She is wearing a light red/orange jacket over a v-neck top and is smiling at the camera.

Caroline Bowditch

Caroline Bowditch is best known as a performer, maker, teacher, speaker and mosquito buzzing in the ears of the arts industry in the UK and further afield. After 16 years living and working in the UK, Caroline returned to Australia in July 2018 to take up the role as Chief Executive Officer at Arts Access Victoria. Caroline is a regular consultant on access and inclusion internationally, and has also led international residencies in Sweden, Italy, Switzerland and Germany. She is regularly invited to mentor local, national and international artists at all levels of their artistic development. With the support of the Australia Council for the Arts, Caroline took part in the prestigious CEO Leadership course at Harvard Business School in 2019-2020.

Transcript

Sam McCormick:

Hi, everyone. I’m Sam McCormick, and welcome to Curious e-Motion. This series, we’re exploring values, and our remaining episodes are focusing on ‘inclusion’. This is obviously a complex topic, so we wanted to explore it with a number of people. And it’s my absolute pleasure to have the wonderful performer, maker, teacher, and generally brilliant person, Caroline Bowditch join me to do this today.

Caroline is originally from Australia, and after 16 years in the UK, she moved back there in 2018, to take up her current position as CEO of Arts Access Victoria, a disability-led arts organisation in Melbourne, that is working to redress the invisibility of deaf and disabled people in arts and culture. Caroline is a disabled woman, whose artistic practice is highly regarded around the world. She choreographs, performs, is a wonderful teacher, and she’s a mentor for artists at all stages of their development.

I met Caroline around 10 years ago now, when she was working as the agent for change for Scottish dance theatre. I was a student at the Scottish School of Contemporary Dance in Dundee at the time, and was fortunate to be part of Caroline’s work in a variety of ways.

These experiences were some of my first working with disabled people, and it sparked a passion and curiosity in me, to reimagine what dance can be for the individual and society. Looking back, this was a catalyst for much of what my career involves now, as disability is a strong focus within my own practice. And so, I have a lot of gratitude for what Caroline taught me.

I did a little jump for joy when she said she’d be happy to come on the podcast. Alongside inclusion, we also discuss how empathy shows up within this, and what it means for equity within arts and culture. Caroline has an infectious energy and passion for ensuring all people in her presence feel that they belong and can be themselves. It’s quite an incredible thing. And this chat left me with some important reflections, and things I want to explore further in my own practice, and for Curious Motion. So, I think you’re going to love it.

Okay, enough from me. Here’s Caroline.

Hi, Caroline!

Caroline Bowditch:

Hi, Sam!

Sam:

It’s so lovely to see you. Thank you so much for being here.

Caroline:

It’s a pleasure. Thanks for inviting me. I feel honoured to be one of your line-up.

Sam:

Ah, that’s very kind! So we’re going to have a little chat about inclusion and empathy today. And I know that inclusion has been, and is, a big part of your professional background, your artistic practice, and I’ve always loved your approach to inclusion in the arts. And obviously, it’s a big part of your job now, anyway, isn’t it? So yeah, can’t wait to hear more about it.

So, can you tell us a little bit about your artistic background and practice, in terms of inclusion, and just generally what you get up to?

Caroline:

Sure. So, I moved back to Australia two-and-a-half years ago, to take up the role as CEO at an arts and disability organisation in Melbourne, called Arts Access of Victoria. But prior to that, I was living in the UK for 16 years, and was working as a performance artist, and a choreographer, and a teacher, and a general stirrer of mischief in the dance world in the UK.

Sam:

[laughter] I love that.

Caroline:

And of course, you and I met when I was at Scottish Dance Theatre as their Dance Agent for Change, which I did for four years. And I learned so much in that process, and yeah, it taught me a lot. But I think for me– so the work that I make, most recently, or the work that I made just before I left the UK, I was making work for young audiences, because I realised that, after doing 18 months of research, I discovered that the bodies that young audiences were being presented with were very non-diverse. They were very white, standy-uppy 20-somethings. [laughter] There wasn’t a great deal of diversity in what we are presenting, and it really made me think about, if I was the young, disabled person that I was once, how are we changing the thought for young, disabled people in audiences, that they belong on stages, if that’s not what they’re seeing? And there’s that classic line, isn’t there, about you have to see it, to be it? Like, you have to be presented– the power of possibility is very strong. And if you can see it, then it makes you think, “Well, maybe that can be me. Maybe I can do that.”

Sam:

Yeah.

Caroline:

So the role-modelling stuff has always been really important to me, and the disability leadership. And that’s also a crucial part of my job now.

Sam:

Amazing. Yeah. I remember from you, I think you might have said this to me once, and it’s also– I had a little read-up about Arts Access Victoria and stuff, and I remember a comment, or there’s something on the website that says about, for disabled people, just being in the space is a political act. Is that right?

Caroline:

Yeah.

Sam:

Yeah. Obviously, I’m not a disabled person, so I can’t understand that in the same way. But I think I see where you’re coming from, and I wondered if you could expand on that just a little bit for us.

Caroline:

Yeah. I think, for me, especially in Australia– the scene in Australia is very different to the scene in the UK. The UK is much more evolved than it is here in Australia. And there is a real– when I started my job, I was full of imposter syndrome, and part of that was about, I kept turning up to places and feeling like I was unexpected, that I am not what a CEO looks like. So there was this kind of– and I think that’s the case in dance. If you have a non-traditional dance body, as I don’t, you’re quite unexpected. And actually, just being there causes a recalibration of that space. People have to think– they can’t just accept what they’re used to, what they expect dance to be. All of a sudden, they have to kind of go, “Oh, okay. I’ve got to recalibrate my brain. I need to bring a different lens to this somehow. I need to view this differently.” And so, by being there, you cause people to ask questions.

And I think it was actually one of Stella Young’s quotes, actually, that said, “I dance as a political act.” And she was talking about nightclubbing. To just be out, because there’s that classic line that so many disabled people have heard before, where people just come up to them and say– or it’s me, or it’s whoever, and just say, “Oh, it’s so good to see you out!” And it’s just like, “What do you expect me to be, tucked up in my bed at 8:30 at night?” So there’s something interesting about– but yeah, I think the presence of non-traditional dance bodies, or disabled bodies in art causes a disturbance, because it’s not what’s expected. We’re not expected in those spaces. We’re not. So there’s a disruption that comes, and that disruption can either be met with curiosity, but it can also be met with frustration or anger sometimes. It can be met with pity. And then, sometimes, it can just be met with kind of an excitement, because it’s a new opportunity to be in creative space with bodies that we don’t encounter all the time.

Sam:

Yeah. And in terms of empathy, so I was really interested to see if we could– obviously, they link very– they intertwine, don’t they, I think? I mean, when I’ve been talking to guests about all of the value themes that we’ve been looking at, they’re all linked. [laughter] You can’t really separate them. But I just thought it would be really interesting to hear from you about how empathy plays out in that.

Caroline:

Well, I think it makes us suspend our assumptions, and just be with it, be with the people in the space. That’s what empathy is, right? Empathy is about just being, and it’s about being present, and it’s about being open, and it’s about deeply listening. A colleague of mine in Singapore talked about, when she works with diverse bodies, she needs to spend time learning the language of that body. And this thought about, it’s not about imposition. Empathy isn’t about imposition. It is about being with. And it is valuing everyone in that space. And I think, one of the things that I’m constantly trying to do is ensure that everyone feels valued and valuable in a space, and that people can really, genuinely be their authentic selves, and be completely accepted for whatever they bring. Yeah.

Sam:

Oh, I love that. And so, how do you go about that, Caroline? Like, I’m similar. I really want to be providing places where people really can be themselves. But then, sometimes, people are being themselves, and it’s quite– it can create a discord with other people. Do you know what I mean?

Caroline:

Yeah.

Sam:

And I have to remind myself. I have to go, “Okay, hang on. You’re committed to supporting each person, whoever they are.” And no, we’re not going to support anything that’s harmful. But at the same time, it’s something that I really – I wouldn’t say struggle with – but it’s always in my mind, is the people that maybe don’t have the same values as me, I’m still trying to make a space where they feel valued. And I wonder if empathy has something to do with that as well, that kind of curiosity about difference, and how we can be really true to those inclusive spaces, and it not become– we’ve all got bias. And yeah, and it be a really true, inclusive space, in an ideal world I’m talking. [laughter]

Caroline:

Yeah. I mean, I think there is something about how our space is held. And you are good at this, Sam, because I’ve seen you do it. I’ve witnessed you holding space for people. And I think a new concept that’s been introduced to me recently, is this thought about calling things out, or calling things in. So really thinking about calling out, if someone is saying something that someone feels upsets them, or offends them, or whatever. Rather than kind of saying, “You’re a horrible person. You shouldn’t think like that.” To call someone in, we say, “I’m really struggling with that thing that you just said. And I’m wondering where it’s come from.” So we call it in, and we have a conversation about it. Rather than, “I find this offensive. I’m going.”

So there’s an element of bravery to that, and there is a sense of making an agreement at the beginning of an interaction, that we will do that, that we will show up, and we will bring that bravery to that conversation, and we will be respectful enough to each other that we will do that. Because that, for me, is what it also comes back to. It’s about mutual respect, and yeah, really respecting different worldviews on things. And we might end up in a situation where we agree to disagree, but there is something about being able to say, or yeah, feeling confident and held enough to be able to say, “I find it really difficult when you speak like that” or “I don’t feel comfortable.” And it so comes back to how do we create those safe spaces, where people can be? Because to be your authentic self, you need a safe space to do that.

Sam:

Totally. And that is, I would say, very hard to come by in a lot of life things. Like, to have the psychological safety place where you feel really, really that you can be who you are, I don’t know where that exists, other than certain people, like you. [laughter] That I would know. But generally, in the world, that’s really tough, I think. And I’m talking from a very privileged place. And I find it hard, and then I just think, if you add on other intersections of things happening, it’s a challenge.

Caroline:

Yeah. And sometimes it makes me wonder about whether, because I have experienced discrimination, or exclusion, or some of those things, whereas other people haven’t, I don’t know whether that makes it harder or easier to have empathy. [laughter]

Sam:

Yeah.

Caroline:

I think the fact that I’m part of a perceived minority group, even though we know disability is the largest minority group of all of them, but I don’t know. I think there’s a shared understanding there, there can be a shared understanding or a– I often think about, if I’m in a space where I’m with lots of people who I don’t know or, yeah, that it doesn’t necessarily feel like a culturally safe space to me as a disabled person, I will go, I will gravitate towards other people who physically appear to be part of a minority group.

And I read something that talks about, it’s a bit like the gathering of the unicorns. Like, if it’s somebody else who might, for example, have a culturally diverse background and we hang out together, it’s like we’re the unicorns in amongst all the other horses, like, because as– there’s a kind of somehow a shared experience, even though they’re probably very different. But chances are, we’ve both experienced exclusion of some sort.

[music]

Sam:

So in terms of, within arts and culture, as a sort of sector or – I don’t know what you want to call it, because I always find ‘sector’ feels a bit official. [laughter] But it’s not just about professionals. It’s about people’s lives, isn’t it, arts and culture? It’s part of all of our lives in various different ways. And I wondered, again from looking at your role now, I know a big part– or I understand that a big part of it is around creating equity within arts and culture, giving autonomy to difference, and different people, and providing new experiences, and doing exactly what you’ve just been talking about. So, I wondered again where empathy comes into that. How do you think empathy can support the creation of equity within arts and culture? Big question. [laughter]

Caroline:

Yeah, but I think, actually, it’s– I’ve been doing lots of training within the sector, so lots of people within the arts industry recently. And it’s really interesting when you hold the space in a way that people haven’t experienced before, because– and by doing really simple things, Sam, like asking, or giving people permission to exist in the space in the way that works for them. So if you need to stand up and move around, or you need to lie on the floor, or you need to turn your camera off in we’re on Zoom, or you need to go and make a cup of tea, or powder your nose, or do whatever you need, you have permission to do that.

Sam:

Wow, yeah.

Caroline:

That’s not a big thing, right?

Sam:

No, no!

Caroline:

It’s just saying, “Please get what you need.”

Sam;

Yeah.

Caroline:

Being able to ask people, “What do you need for this to be the best experience that it can be?” And again, they’re not hard questions, but they are rare.

Sam:

So true. I think we’re taught– I was just thinking there, we’re taught to sort of– well, I can only talk from my experience, and it’s very a British one. [laughter] Different in other places, but definitely a British one, of that sit still, do what you’re told, ask to—

Caroline:

Be quiet.

Sam:

Be quiet, totally. Oh my god, be quiet, ugh. Be small, if you’re a woman, particularly. So stay down, do say what you mean, but don’t do it too much. And also, there’s a sort of– I’ve noticed, as I’ve grown older, that I have this ingrained thing in me, where I need to ask for permission, which is odd. Like, I don’t need to ask for permission half the time. I’m not in a space where I need that whatsoever. I absolutely can do whatever I like. And I know that, consciously, but subconsciously, there’s this asking for permission, I think because our society is putting these parameters around exactly that. If you’re in a meeting, in a very traditional sense, there’s this sort of underlying kind of, “This person’s in control. You must follow them. Do what they want.” And it’s all about that. It’s not about you. And if you turn that on its head, and it becomes about everyone, oh, it’s just amazing. And like you say, it’s simple things.

Caroline:

It’s not hard.

Sam:

No.

Caroline:

It’s not hard. And the arts conditions us the whole time. If you think about the ways that audiences engage with the arts, like there’s all those– all the rules are in place about, you come in, you sit in the dark, you watch, you’re quiet, you don’t wriggle, don’t eat noisy sweets. If you do, people will look at you so there’s all of this– there’s layers and layers and layers of conditioning that goes on just to be an audience member, let alone to then be a performer or a student, or. Yeah. The joy of the fourth wall within a kind of performance setting where– anything can happen behind the fourth wall. And it’s like, what happens if you take that away and actually connect with the audience, which has always been my commitment in this? I don’t want to perform for millions of people, but I want every person in that room to be seen and feel like they were important and I’m really glad that they were there. Because I don’t think we’re made to feel very important. And if you can really see people and really deeply listen to what people are saying and just make people feel a little bit important and really super valuable, for a tiny about of time, it just can make such a difference. And it’s not hard.

Sam:

So true. Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s really important to say that it’s not hard sometimes because I think if you’re trying to create new spaces and you’ve not had experience in it before, your intentions are really in a good place, but you can go down a rabbit hole and think, “Oh, this is going to be impossible.” And all the barriers just come up immediately when actually, like you’re saying, it’s the small steps that you can just communicate at the start of something or, like you say, the way you hold the space.

Caroline:

We’ve been having some really interesting conversations about the word “inclusion” recently because essentially the opposite of inclusion is exclusion. And so the thought that we can teach inclusively 20% of our time suggests that, 80% of our time, we’re excluding people consciously. Whether we’re doing it consciously or unconsciously, we’re doing it. Right? If we’re saying, “I teach 4 inclusive classes a week,” but I teach 16 classes in a week—

Sam:

Wow.

Caroline:

–we’re kind of going, “For those 4, I’m going to think about other people. I’m going to think about everyone in the room. And I’m going to do something magical and special. For the rest of them, I’m just going to teach.”

Sam:

Oh my goodness.

Caroline:

So there’s something about– I don’t know how to teach exclusively. I just don’t because I never have. And I’ve never been in a situation where that’s been possible. So going back to this thing about, “It’s not hard,” access isn’t hard. It’s a choice. It’s a choice. You choose where you put money in a budget, so what happens if you choose access before you choose everything else? It’s a choice. Access is a choice. Inclusion is a choice, but why is it a choice? It’s not a choice for me, so why should it be for anyone else? That’s a very selfish thing, but I think we’ve been talking more about the word “inclusion” and thinking– because, actually, the word “inclusion” doesn’t feel inclusive. What it can feel like is that someone has somehow shoved a wedge in a hole– or somehow the system or kind of the circle, as it were, has been broken in order for me to be able to slot in. And that’s not inclusion. That’s problematic.

Sam:

Totally.

Caroline:

So we’ve started talking about accessible arts practices. And we’ve started to think about the multiple routes that can then come in if something’s accessible because access isn’t just about disability. Access is also about financial access and about regional access and about all sorts of access, class access, whatever it might be. There’s multi levels to it. So yeah, it’s the whole inclusion thing. And I get it, and I know why it’s there. And it’s kind of shorthand again. Isn’t it? And in a way, it’s an othering. It’s kind of like, “Don’t bother coming to those ones because we’ve got a special one for you.” And it’s like, what happens if you don’t to– I don’t want to go to a special one. I want to dance, or I want to do whatever. I don’t want to have to go to something that’s you’re doing specific things so that it’s inclusive to me.

Sam:

Yeah. I totally see where you’re coming from on that. That is so interesting about turning it on its head and thinking about exclusion because something– I have a bit of a bugbear about the word “inclusion” used in– it’s banded about. I can only talk from my experience in the dance world and in teaching. And obviously, I do teach inclusive classes. It’s kind of a huge part of my job, but this is not about a separate thing that is only for these types of people. It is about anything that everybody can access, but the tricky thing is breaking down in how other people perceive the word “inclusion” because, again, we have exactly what you’ve said, these things in place where it’s used to other people or set something apart from the ‘normal’, ugh, whatever that is, but it’s just so interesting to think very consciously about what that messaging is if you’re saying, “Yes, my classes are inclusive,” or whatever when I’m doing this bit, but what about this bit? And that’s something I think has been in the back of my mind with my work because not all of my– some of my work is very focused on disability, and a lot of it isn’t, but that doesn’t mean my practice is different. It’s the same. It’s just there’s different people in the room. But then I think, “Well, how do I communicate that in the stuff that’s not– how do I get that across to the average person on the street?” And I think that’s these sorts of conversations that are really, really important and bring to the forefront some of the problems around language and how we’re communicating these things and not thinking them through very well, potentially.

Caroline:

Because I think also there’s something problematic about, how do you attract people that might have a nontraditional dance body? And inclusion can be a hook as well. And people can come with specific expectations about, “If I go to an inclusive class, chances are I will be welcomed there. The welcome will be different.” And but I think one of the things also that I talk about regularly is, actually, every class, every class is inclusive because we aren’t clones. Every class is full of diversity. We are not the same people. You don’t go to a class and teach 20 Sams. You just don’t.

Sam:

No.

Caroline:

You teach 20 individuals in a class who are all going to bring their strengths, their weaknesses, their foibles, their fears. All of those things are going to come into the room with them, unbeknownst to you. And the fact that they happen to be standing on two feet allows us to think that they’re going to be fine. I can teach because their body looks a bit like my body. And it’s like, actually, that doesn’t work.

Sam:

No. No. So “access,” the word “access,” I’m really interested in this now. Because again, I sometimes find myself writing, “Accessible and inclusive.” And I’m not quite sure– I write it, and then I’m like, “What do I mean by that?” And then think, “I think I mean that I’m trying to communicate there’s not the barriers up in various ways,” just like you were saying about what the word “accessible” really helps to communicate that. Doesn’t it? So yeah. So are you, in your work at the moment, really focusing on the word “accessible” more than “inclusion” now, or is it–?

Caroline:

Yeah. No. Well, we have to talk about inclusion because it’s still the word that gets associated with disability in the arts.

Sam:

I know. Yeah.

Caroline:

But I’ve started to use a new definition, which has been helpful. So my friend and colleague, Fiona Chumi, who I work with, one day said to me, “The opposite of ‘disability’ is not ‘ability.’ The opposite of ‘disability’ is ‘access.'” And we all have the power to either increase or decrease someone’s experience with disability because if we think about the social model of disability, which acknowledges that the barriers are the thing that create disability, essentially, and disability is a social construct, then yeah, we all have the potential to increase or decrease disability. We won’t change impairment. We won’t change the impairment that a body might have, but we can change the impact of disability and how disabled someone feels in an environment.

Sam:

Yes. Oh, just want to spread that message everywhere because I think it’s something that a lot of people maybe if they haven’t met many disabled people or don’t know many disabled people or think they don’t know – you never know – they might feel very separate from it and just go, “Oh, it’s nothing to do with me,” when, actually, it is because, absolutely, as you were saying with the social model, it is those constructs around us that are creating the disability.

Caroline:

And the example that I give always is, depending on where I am in the world, I can be more or less disabled, but nothing about my physicality changes. So if I go to America or I’m in the UK or in some parts of Australia, yes, I’m disabled, but it’s kind of manageable. But then if I go to developing countries, like to India or to China – well, China’s very developed, but – or countries in Africa, I can be very disabled because the kind of setup and environment and attitudes and all those things are very different. And so I am much more disabled, but nothing about my physicality changes. So in those situations, I can be more or less disabled by the environment because nothing about my physicality changes.

Yeah. It’s been a really interesting thing of kind of working with lots of different organisations and individuals. Yeah. Talking to people about– disability has an open admission policy. Anyone’s welcome at any time. And the older we get, the more likely disability is to come to us. And we know that most people acquire their disability, aren’t born with it, but we think that disability happens to other people. And yeah, it’s one thing that have a intersect with all the other intersections. So when organisations start talking about, “So this year we’re going to work in the BME kind of area. So we’re going to work–” or, “We’re going to work with people of colour,” or, “We’re going to work with the LGBT,” it’s like, well, disability sits in all of those groups. So you’re always going to have your eye and kind of your focus also on disability because it’s not a separate group. It’s covers every one of them.

Sam:

Yeah. These are not checkboxes. They are people, complex beings with all sorts of different things going on. And yeah, it’s a really important reminder.

[music]

Sam:

So coming onto the past year, we won’t go into it too much because we’ve all had enough, but I’m really interested in how digital working, being online, people starting, including myself, doing things online that we would never, ever– I can honestly say I would never have thought that I would be, for example, teaching online. And I was forced into it. Totally fine. Up for it. Let’s go. It’s terrifying, but I did it.

But I’m really, really, interested to hear from you about how that has increased access for some Deaf and Disabled people and has opened up the world for some people because I think it’s an absolutely important message. And at the moment, I’m feeling a little bit worried that lots of people are trying to revert back to what they had before. That scares me more than anything at the moment because I think we have made some important learnings here that we need to keep exploring.

And when I listen to your conversation that you did a little while ago with Dance Base and you were talking about this, I just thought, “Oh yes, this is a really important message.” So yeah, could you talk about a little bit around that for us?

Caroline:

Sure. So I think opening the digital space has been amazing for so many people, but I think there’s been a frustration within the disability community that this is something that they’ve wanted forever, but until the whole world needed it, it wasn’t going to happen. But it’s happened, which is great. And so for lots of people, it’s allowed them to go to festivals in a way that works for them. And because if going to a– kind of travelling might not be possible for some people, but to be able to access a festival online has been amazing. And people can take rest breaks when they need to and not have to traipse back to a tent that might have blown away or been flooded or whatever. Be able to get to an accessible toilet whenever they need one. So for lots of people, that’s been amazing. It’s really opened up.

And we know from some statistics that have come out that, for lots of– well, for 80% of the disability community, digital is the way that they want to continue to engage with the arts, but what we also know is that in all the opening and all of that– yeah, in all the expanse, there also is complete and true digital inequity. So there’s the other end of the spectrum, which is people who haven’t had access to equipment or haven’t had those skills, haven’t had a stable internet connection, maybe are living somewhere where someone else has to facilitate getting them online, and so that’s not an autonomous thing that they’re able to do. So it very much becomes about who’s going to facilitate that. Yeah, so there was really two very clear ends of the spectrum.

But I feel like lots of the artists that we are working with are feeling like they can connect with people more regionally. So it’s not about coming to Melbourne, or going to London. It’s not about that kind of central place any more, but anyone can meet online and have a conversation, and that’s amazing. So it kind of is global, the global expanse, I think, has also been huge from that perspective. Yeah, but I think people having ownership over their has been really important. And that’s also been tricky, because people have let people into their homes in a way that they may never have.

Sam:

Yeah, so I suppose there still is lots to work on, isn’t there, and lots of layers to it?

Caroline:

Yeah. There’s still work to do, about how to actually make platforms accessible, because yeah, I mean Zoom has been evolving throughout the time, to make things more accessible, in that they didn’t have captions in the beginning and now they do, all those sorts of things. The chat function is still not accessible to anyone who uses a screen reader. We discovered that. So being able to shut that off in some meetings, and just kind of, “That’s not happening, because it’s not accessible to everybody.”

So it’s been a massive learning curve, and I think the thing, really– because we too are feeling that, because we have opened up again, and there is this urgency to get back to normal, how we were before. And it’s like, “But the world was broken for so many in the community before this.” Became much more accessible during COVID, and we don’t want to go back, and we can’t go back, actually.

People need to be still functioning hybrid models. We’ve still got staff that are working from home, because that’s their chosen thing, and that’s where they want to stay. So yeah, a colleague of mine coined the phrase “Don’t ditch the digital”. That’s the big message in the returning, is don’t ditch the digital, stay in hybrid modes, keep connecting with people online.

Arts Centre Melbourne, which is a big– it’s a big thing in Melbourne anyway. It’s the spire. It’s one of the things that people associate with Melbourne. But they really clearly talk about how much their audience expanded through the digital online stuff that they were doing. And interestingly, it wasn’t the young, groovy people. It was actually the older kind of generations that were engaging online, which was really interesting. But for them, they had some astronomical expanse in their audience numbers, which is really interesting. And it’s like, “Do you really want to lose all them?” They’re going to continue to do things digitally. It’s not them saying that. But yeah, I think for lots of people it’s like, “Think about the audiences that you’ve gained over the last 12 months. Do you really want to lose them?”

Sam:

Yeah, because digital working is offering everybody opportunities as well. And I think that’s a really important message when we’re making things more inclusive, accessible. That benefits everyone. You might if you feel very separate from, say, the disability community, you think it has nothing to do with you, actually, if we open it up in a variety of ways, that’s still going to benefit you because you also then have that choice. And I always think that it’s so important because, again, it can be– well, in my experience, I can see people very easily separating themselves from things that they just don’t identify with. And again, it’s a human thing. Some of that is just a coping mechanism or whatever, especially, I think, in COVID, when everybody’s going through this trauma experience. But by organisations offering variety of how to participate and engage, that literally is amazing for absolutely everybody. So if you need to think of it like that to get it across, then—

Caroline:

Go there.

Sam:

–go for it because yeah, I think it’s such a strong message that you don’t need to keep everybody in their groups. And it’s really important we recognise that it’s really needed by some people more than others, that it’s absolutely essential because we need to be aware and learn now, but it just makes the world a better place.

Caroline:

Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, creating more access doesn’t exclude anybody. It just lets more people in.

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Sam:

Okay. Caroline. Right. I’ve got one more– well, I keep saying this, one more question. It’s two questions in one because I’m terrible. And this is just the one that we’re asking all of our guests. So it’s all about you. So it is, which three things would you like to spend more time on in your life? And what about less time?

Caroline:

I love this question. I have started sewing again.

Sam:

Nice.

Caroline:

So I’m sewing my own clothes at the moment, and I’ve just started making my own shoes.

Sam:

Wow.

Caroline:

So I would like to spend more time doing that. I had a lovely little time the other morning lying in bed looking out the window and watching– because it’s autumn here now. And so there’s a big tree outside our window. And it was quite windy. And it was just joyous to watch the choreography of the wind in the trees. And yeah, there was something about just watching, just watching, really, really, watching the world because I think I don’t– I think we’re quite stuck to screens. Well, I’m quite stuck to screens a lot now. So there was just something gorgeous about just watching, being still and watching and seeing the choreography, seeing the dance in the tree. It was beautiful.

And I think I want to spend more time making art because I haven’t been– even though I work for an arts organisation, it doesn’t mean that I’m making work. And I really miss that. So I want to be making more art.

The three things I want to be doing less, I want to be– I want to be– when one is in a leadership role, there is a lot of stuff that you have to manage. And not all of that feels productive. It’s essential to the role, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like the thing that I want to spend my time doing. So I’d like to spend less time doing some of those things. Yeah. I don’t know what else I’d like to just spend less time doing.

Sam:

That’s okay. Don’t have to—

Caroline:

I think I’ve got a pretty good balance going at the moment.

Sam:

And I love what you said about the tree. This week it’s Mental Health Awareness Week. Is that a global thing?

Caroline:

Possibly.

Sam:

Or is that a UK thing?

Caroline:

No, I think ours is later in the year– Oh no, maybe not. I know this month is kind of Mental Health Awareness Month.

Sam:

Yes, okay. So the theme on this week here is all about nature. I was doing some reading about it and there’s scientific studies into the mental well-being around nature. But that includes things like developing empathy, a sense of wonder. It’s getting out there or just experiencing or noticing nature. Really powerful.

Caroline:

Yeah, there’s something gorgeous about the noticing and there’s a lovely exercise actually that I was introduced to by my very dear friend Luke Pell. He has this beautiful exercise where you wander with someone and you talk about what you notice. And it doesn’t have to be anything but it could be, “I notice that there’s a picture on your wall behind you of your partner,” and you just take it in turns to notice. And it just is a really nice exercise in presence. To be present.

Sam:

I love that. Well, thank you, Caroline. It’s been joyous, to see you, talk to you, and to discuss this because it’s big. There’s a lot in there. We’re not going to tackle all of this on one podcast and it’s an ongoing thing. I just am really grateful to you for giving your time and energy to this topic and, yes, it’s been wonderful. Thank you.

Caroline:

It’s been lovely hanging out with you, Sam.
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Sam:

Oh wow. I literally haven’t stopped thinking about this chat. When we finished recording, we carried on talking for a bit. And we thought about what the word “belonging” could offer as an alternative to the word “inclusive” too. It’s a fundamental human need to feel that we belong, isn’t it? We all want that. We all need that. So surely that’s what an inclusive approach is really aiming for. To support people to feel that they belong.

Perhaps it’s time to make a change in our language and communication around inclusion. Perhaps access and belonging can be our focus.

Huge thanks to Caroline for taking the time to chat to me and for really questioning and deeply investigating this topic. Once again, her empathetic approach and love of people shines through. Helping us all create a world of more equity, respect, and belonging.

If you’d like to find out more about Caroline and her work, do check out Arts Access Victoria’s website. You can find it on artsaccess.com.au. We have also included links and further information on the episode page on our website. You can find a transcript there too.

We’re almost at the end of this series but there’s another discussion on this topic coming up next week with another incredible woman. This time it’s Katie Sparkes who is the CEO and founder of inclusive dance charity Flamingo Chicks. More on that next week though.

In the meantime, remember to tune into your body, be kind to yourself and stay curious. See you later.

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