This year we are excited to celebrate the twelfth year of the Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe’s, Access & Inclusion Program, a program which has involved the participation of 5,540 visitors since it began in 2009.
We reflect, learn and acknowledge those who have been instrumental in making so much happen for so many.
In 2008 Pam Barras, together with Whisper her Seeing Eye dog, visited Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe for the first time. Pam recalls, “It was fantastic, and something else inspired me too. I met a young girl with her grandmother at the bus stop on my way home and we shared our enthusiasm for the exhibition. The girl was in a wheelchair which harnessed an oxygen supply.” This encounter caused Pam to suggest introducing ‘Touch Tours’ for the next Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe. We learned ‘Touch Tours’ had already been successfully designed and implemented by Lesley Goodman, Education Officer at the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA). Such a program at Sculpture by the Sea would offer sight-impaired visitors and their carers/families opportunities to explore sculptures through touch with a trained guide. Lesley enthusiastically took up Pam’s idea, as did Sculpture by the Sea. She secured financial support from the Disability and the Arts Inclusion Initiatives (DAII) and in 2009 a pilot project was launched in collaboration with Sculpture by the Sea. A press release at the time announced: “For the first time in Western Australia, people who are blind or with a vision impairment will have the opportunity to access and interact with art pieces in the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition at Cottesloe beach.” The partnership enabled ‘Touch Tour’ training for staff and guides with Vision Australia led by Pam Barras. Guides learnt to describe artworks with objective accuracy to provide a visual description (a skill now known as Audio Description) so that participants who are blind or with low vi sion could realise the sculptures through the spoken words. Visitors could touch sculptures deemed safe by the exhibition Site Manager and engage in a unique sensory experience. Pam reflected recently that she “felt so empowered to see my idea actually take shape and happen.” For Sculpture by the Sea, the initiative challenged and excited us to expand our public program to encourage greater engagement and accessibility for people with disability. The success of the pilot project led to a collaboration with AGWA for the next two exhibitions. It also provided the impetus to introduce the ‘Touch Tour’ program at Sculpture by the Sea Sydney and the City of Aarhus in Denmark later in the same year.
To be accessible, such a program must be free of charge and ensure that every individual’s interests and specific requirements are met via a one-to-one booking system. It also needs to inform and involve local people with disability and the organisations that represent them. However, Sculpture by the Sea as a small to medium arts organisation did not and still does not have spare funds to create a program of any scale without new sources of funding specific to a public program, especially as we are always challenged to find the funds to stage the exhibition.
In 2011, thanks to some financial support from Lotterywest, we had the opportunity to develop the tours in partnership with the well-respected WA arts and disability organisation DADAA. Renamed ‘Tactile Tours’ the program was opened up to target audiences of all ages with diverse disability. The partnership between DADAA and Sculpture by the Sea has been a very special one. It was the first time DADAA had been involved in managing and implementing Tactile Tours. Jacqueline Homer, Manager of DADAA’s Access All Arts program, started working with people who were blind, or vision impaired through the ‘Tactile Tour’ program at Sculpture by the Sea and has since become an acclaimed authority on Audio Description. Jacqueline recently stated, “The Tactile Tours are now part of DADAA’s Access All Arts program. They were met with an overwhelming response from people with disability and the disability sector from the onset. Each year, we see the numbers of bookings grow and in the last few years we have had to turn down bookings as we were fully booked (in 2018, 1000 people participated in a Tactile Tour). Some of the tours are designed for specific groups, for example people with onset dementia and Alzheimer’s, and people who are deafblind.”
DADAA’s Access All Arts has also been running training sessions for both DADAA Guides and Sculpture by the Sea staff and volunteers. This includes training in Disability Awareness, Vision Awareness and Mobility Accessibility.
The Tactile Tours are available for individuals and their carers, schools and organisations who represent people with disability. These have included: Vision Australia, Visability, Lifeskills; Jacaranda Community Centre; RecConnect; Artlinks; Mirrabooka Education Support Centre; Wirrabirra Education Support Centre; Inclusion WA; Rocky Bay; Intework/Lifeskills, Nulsen Haven, Crosslinks, IdentityWA, Ability Centre, Regis, Edmund Rice, Malibu School, Mosman Park School, Inclusion WA, Silver Chain, MOSAIC, Disability Services, Intelife, Amana Living, SENSES, WA Deaf Society, Rocky Bay, Autism Association, Alzheimers Association, Down Syndrome WA, Enrich Living, Activ Foundation and Family Support WA.
During the two years when DADAA were not directly involved in running the program as the Lotterywest funding was not renewed, Sculpture by the Sea self-managed the Tactile Tours with a small team of AGWA Guides and Sculpture by the Sea Educators.
An exciting initiative took place in 2016. The idea of accessing the beach for people in wheelchairs via matting was in direct response to listening to a visitor whose young son loved the exhibition but was not able to get close to some of the sculptures on the beach with his wheelchair. In response the Founding Director of Sculpture by the Sea David Handley responded to the challenge and successfully proposed to Iluka Resources to fund a pilot event ‘Beach Access Day’. Iluka Resources’ sponsorship enabled matting to be installed specifically for people with limited mobility, using wheelchairs or mobility aids. The extensive research and testing phase required to introduce this program, led by the Sculpture by the Sea Site Manager Philip Wadds, involved Bruce Peel President of Surfers Disability Australia who provided us with one type of matting and assisted in supervising installation and monitoring. Pre-exhibition consultation also took place with DADAA, which informed the matting pathways and risk management details of the event.
Hired matting was laid, connected and pegged down on Cottesloe beach south of Indiana’s by a team of Iluka staff volunteers and Sculpture by the Sea site crew. Additional first aid staff were employed for the event and a team of experienced visitor assistants were on site to meet and greet visitors helping them to navigate unsafe parts of the permanent pathway to the beach.
Feedback from visitors who used the matting was overwhelmingly positive. Our first email response was from Coral: “My husband, who is in a wheelchair, and I attended beach access day at Sculpture by the Sea. Well done to all those involved in thinking of this, and a huge pat on the back to those who participated in providing the matting, and the work it must have taken to lay it. We were very impressed. It was our first time to visit sculptures as I never wanted to go alone. Yesterday we felt included as
we wandered down on the beach. Other wheelchair bound people we spoke to were also SO HAPPY to be enjoying this event. Well done to the many exhibition staff who made sure we knew how to access the pathways and gave us interesting information about the sculptures. We thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon and were so impressed with the exhibits. Hoping we can enjoy this event again next year.”
Day pilot program, the next year Sculpture by the Sea approached Lotterywest to join Iluka Resources to enable us to have two free Beach Access Day. The public response has been wonderful with many tears of joy shed by people who had not previously been able to get on the sand.
Over the years our Access & Inclusion Program has continued to develop, particularly with thanks to the financial support of Lotterywest from 2018-2019 before being pared back in 2020. Additional programs successfully introduced in 2019 include: exhibition tours with exhibiting artists and Sculpture by the Sea Educators for community groups representing asylum seekers and refugees – now in their fourth year.
The exhibition opening and closing ceremonies are Auslan interpreted for people from the Deaf Community, as were the weekend public program of Artists Talks that took place when we had a Principal Sponsor. Wheelchair access to the indoor ‘Sculpture Inside’ exhibition was available from 2017-2019 before funding cuts required a change of venue; a large print exhibition catalogue continues to be published and an accessible toilet is on loan during exhibition. Last year additional funding enabled us to launch an Outreach Program involving marginalised young people who met and worked with exhibiting artists through a schedule of tours and sculpture making workshops during and post exhibition.
This year, despite our stretched financial resources and the ongoing need to provide assistance for people who use mobility aids for whom the permanent pathways are unsafe, despite being promoted otherwise, we are pleased to have a third Beach Access Day. After this year we will consider if two or three days is the optimum number of Beach Access Days given the amount of infrastructure we place on the sand and the principal of sharing the beach with those who are not visiting the exhibition and the artists’ artworks.
A community means ‘people’ and for three weeks each year Sculpture by the Sea gives us the opportunity to come together to share our differences and similarities at one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We can enjoy many types of sculpture created and carefully positioned in the landscape by artists from Australia and across the world. Sculptures need audiences. Each person’s response to a sculpture – through sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste(!) and on information gained about the work, forms an individual experience. Each artist’s use of three-dimensional creative processes and materials provides us with an object through which we can address our own and each other’s ideas and consider new ones. In order for each exhibition to invite us all to be involved, access and inclusion has to be integral to our thinking, learning, understanding and implementation. We look forward to continuing the great work that the Access & Inclusion Program has achieved in developing and providing community engagement for everyone.