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New beginnings for the Inclusive Arts Collective
by Kirsten Steenkamp
Art is the rich colouring of the diverse spaces we inhabit: the walls of art galleries and studios, theatres and performance schools, sprayed across buildings and painted on street corners the world over. However, most widely, we experience the transformational power of art at home. Within the pages of a journal you write, the poetry you type, the beats you drum and the melodies you hum.
Our formative years are filled with endless hours of creative projects, drawing, playing and daydreaming invented worlds. But as the years go by, academic development and professional pursuits begin to take priority. Tragically, we begin to lose touch with our playful, imaginative lens of the world. And while some temporarily forget the value of art, others never return to reignite their creative intelligence. The soft thread of art that runs through each of us doesn’t require our attention to exist, but it does to grow.
Admittedly a vague concept to many, art invites us to engage and play with our inner child. For the artist, it “can be seen as a vehicle for expressing and staying true to who you are.” According to the new project manager of the Inclusive Arts Collective in Cape Town: “When you are yourself, you allow others to do the same.”
More than ever, our world cries for authenticity: spirited individuals willing to claim their quirky interests and eccentric inclinations. But when creativity is largely considered non-essential, how do we choose to be part of changing this cultural narrative? And where can we make space to foster the original creators within each of us?
A fresh voice breathing life into the Inclusive Arts Collective (IAC), Warda Petersen is a vehement advocate for youth development. Full of energy and hungry for social change, she is the first full-time project manager on this team. Warda’s collaborative expertise with PeaceJam South Africa now bridges her passion for dramatic and written arts with an IAC mission: to inspire conversation around disability and grow inclusion using art as the vehicle for change.
Homed within the Arts and Culture programme of The Chaeli Campaign since 2007, the IAC’s roots were initially sprouted through the annual Art and Poetry competition. Accepting entries in three South African languages, this national event explored disability-related themes through art. Past years encouraged submissions in all art forms, such as crafts, poetry, photography, sculpture and most recently spoken word; exploring categories, for example Being Heard, Everyday Heroes and everyBODY dreams. Cue 2011: inclusive performance enters centre stage!
Guest choreographers held sessions across schools in Cape Town, introducing integrated dance workshops to mainstream schools for the first time. Accompanied by wheelchair dancers from the Chaeli Sports and Recreation Club, experiential themes encouraged individuals – disabled and non-disabled – to explore communication through body movement and dance. Disabling barriers between people were bypassed to create inclusive spaces, stimulating unique interactions and even more unusual conversations.
In the same year, the first inclusive theatre production was choreographed. Nominated for a Naledi Award (for Best Newcomer and Best Choreography), as well as receiving an Ovation Award at National Arts Festival at a later rerun, In the Wings is told from the perspective of the non-disabled sibling. This pioneering play explores ordinary family discourse, a sensitive sibling dynamic and the collective courage needed to pull through challenging times.
Each IAC production aims to give voice to powerful perspectives that largely remain unexplored in public discourse. Using anecdotes to create dynamic narratives for the stage, the Chaeli Campaign co-founders’ lived experiences lie at the heart of these nuanced scripts. The success of the IAC’s fourth and most acclaimed theatre production, No Fun ction alL anguage, has birthed new beginnings for the IAC.
Along with Warda’s appointment, the IAC is thrilled to announce its first quarterly projects will focus on early childhood development. Teaching our young children through fun, interactive workshops – we encourage from the youngest age the use of art as a therapeutic medium. Nurturing creativity through reading and imaginative storytelling, children are taught in a way that includes everyone.
“How often do people fear being themselves? We aspire to be people who aren’t even authentic.” Warda says. She intends to create and restore hope for young artists, encouraging each of us to finally accept ourselves. Warda furthers that we must choose to love ourselves as the ‘whole, imperfect beings’ we are and surround ourselves with people who see our light. “We’re so hard on ourselves, but we are powerful. Take a blank canvas and redefine what you want to be. Art looks different on everyone, so the invitation is to add your flair, touch, your flavour!”
Embracing the inclusive aims of The Chaeli Campaign, the IAC “invites people to open their hearts and minds, expand their knowledge and embrace a world where people from different walks of life know that they belong.” The future of the IAC looks bright and hopeful, so follow on social media platforms to keep up with the latest developments or to get in touch with Warda!