Musician and arts consultant Morwenna Collett has a passion for increasing accessibility within the music industry

Morwenna Collett. Photo by Will Taylor.

Morwenna Collett. Photo by Will Taylor.

Morwenna is a musician and arts consultant with a disability, specialising in diversity, access and inclusion. Having previously held leadership roles at Accessible Arts and the Australia Council, Morwenna is particularly passionate about increasing accessibility within the music industry. We spoke to Morwenna about her recent Churchill Fellowship, the music landscape beyond COVID-19, and her plans to celebrate International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD).

The theme for IDPWD this year is Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World. How will you be celebrating this year and what do you think about this theme?

IDPwD is an important moment to celebrate the achievements of people with disability in our communities and the significant contributions they make economically, socially and creatively. I think this year’s theme is important and timely. While COVID-19 has been immensely challenging, it has brought with it some silver linings for people with disability, including more digital access to arts and cultural activities, and this is something that we don’t want to disappear as we start to return to business as usual.

I’ve had a busy time in the lead up to IDPwD this year, finishing a number of projects due for announcement and articles that will be published, so on the day I’ll hopefully be breathing a sigh of relief that all that work is done!

I’m also looking forward to watching the Australia Council and Arts Access Australia’s Arts and Disability Awards ceremony (streaming online) and will also no doubt be enjoying some art (music, podcasts, books) by some of my favorite artists with disability.

You are currently developing interactive online resources and training materials for music organisations and musicians to improve accessibility and engagement with people with disability. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Yes, I’m really excited about getting these resources out into the world shortly – they will be available on my website by the end of the year. I’ve provided Disability Inclusion Training to many music organisations this year and guided a number of them through the process of developing a Disability Action Plan, to set them on a path to increasing their access and inclusion over the next few years. For a number of reasons, music can be a bit behind some other areas when it comes to engaging with people with disability, so I’ve observed a need for further information and resources to upskill the music industry in this area.

The resources and materials I’m developing will be practical and include top tips, case studies, best practice examples and further reference materials. They will include information for music organisations, festivals, venues, training institutions and musicians. The goal is for these to be helpful, tailored and free information sources that music organisations can use to increase their understanding of access and inclusion, showing them what they can do quickly and easily to improve their practices.

You recently wrote an article, Making live music accessible, which talks about the barriers that musicians living with disability face. What do you think needs to be done in order to make the music industry more inclusive?

At the end of 2019, just before COVID-19 hit, I was lucky enough to undertake a Churchill Fellowship investigating inclusive music programs, venues, and festivals that actively engage people with disability across the USA, UK and Ireland. As a disabled musician myself, I was particularly interested in speaking with a range of musicians with disability about their experiences navigating the music industry.

Barriers that they experience included lack of accessible training pathways, lack of accessible venues, attitudinal barriers, inaccessible instruments (organisations like Drake Music are helping to counteract this), lack of understanding of access requirements in the sector, difficulty in attaining critical reviews and unhelpful portrayals of disability in the media.

In terms of the Australian music industry, I think there is a willingness and openness to being more inclusive. But sometimes organisations can find it overwhelming, not knowing where to start or where to find information about what they need to do. It’s been great to see new initiatives start to tackle issues such as ticketing like the partnership with Live Nation, Ticketmaster and Get Skilled Access. As well as inclusive festivals such as Ability Fest, which embrace the use of access services (like sign language interpretation). However, there is still a long way to go.

One project I’m really excited to be working on next year is called Accessible Live Music Venues, which myself and Music NSW have received funding to deliver in 2020. We will be conducting access audits across the City of Sydney and other locations across Australia, undertaking a survey on the state of live music nationally and then producing a White Paper and industry summit. The hope is that this will enable more live music venues to become accessible in the future.

How do you feel COVID-19 has changed the landscape for musicians?

Like many other artists, the music industry has been hard hit during COVID-19. However, the popularity of live-streamed concerts and gigs has been good, it has removed potential barriers for some people with disability to being able to access live music. Earlier this year I heard disabled artist Ricky Buchanon describe her experience as someone who is bedridden, and the access to music and other artistic content that digital access has opened up for her.

Digital music and arts festivals have also been on the rise. I’ve particularly enjoyed seeing disabled musicians profiled at events such as the Platform LIVE festival and the Isol-Aide ‘Accessible All Areas’ Festival. I think some musicians have also used the pandemic as a time to experiment creatively and collaborate in new and different ways. The emergence of digital community music making activities, such as choirs and other ensembles rehearsing online has been pleasing to see.

What else do you think needs to change to level the playing field in the art, screen and culture industry in 2021 for artists and practitioners with disability?

There is so many things I could suggest here! My top priorities are better representation of artists with disability on stage and screen – ‘cripping up’ simply shouldn’t be acceptable anymore. The recent controversy over Sia’s Music movie portraying a character with autism (not played by an actor with autism) is a recent example. We also need more disability leadership, with better representation of people with disability in positions of decision-making power – leading organisations, on boards, on assessment panels.

Training and planning for organisations is another priority. It can be hugely beneficial in enacting change. Undertaking Disability Inclusion Training or developing a Disability Action Plan are really useful, as is the simple act of adding an access line in your budget and all your project planning templates. One of my resources already available on my website is ‘5 success factors for inclusive music organisations’ has some more suggestions about positive things organisations can do to increase their accessibility and inclusivity.

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Image: Morwenna Collett. Photo by Will Taylor.