Today it is International Day of People with Disability – an occasion chosen by Sydney Festival to announce a new Disability Programming Initiative, which aims to increase the number of artists with a disability creating work for festivals.

In 2018, Sydney Festival presented Beast, a solo dance show by Dan Daw, an Australian artist who was born with cerebral palsy. Other artists with a disability who have featured at Sydney Festival include Michelle Williams in Imagined Touch and Elthan Hugh in Kaleidoscope, both in 2017. It is hoped that this new initiative will increase representation and opportunities for artists living with disability or who are deaf.

Developed in partnership with Accessible Arts, the Disability Programming Initiative introduces an accessible, inclusive pitching process, with support offered at each stage of the application. Artists can submit their pitch via a number of different formats including a printed document, audio, video or in person. Applications for the 2020 Sydney Festival are open until March 31, 2019 and will be considered by Festival Director Wesley Enoch and his programming team.

Sydney Festival Director Wesley Enoch and Accessible Arts CEO Kerry Comerford. Photograph © Joan Cameron-Smith

Sydney Festival’s Access and Inclusion Advisory Panel has highlighted the complexity of issues regarding programming of artists with disabilities such as funding, inaccessible venues, inaccessible application processes, and misconceptions about quality of work – issues discussed in a Limelight article earlier this year. Sydney Festival, in collaboration with Accessible Arts, will now provide clear information online about how to pitch, and offer support and guidance to all artists keen to submit work through the program.

Riana Head-Toussaint, Chair of the Sydney Festival Access and Inclusion Advisory Panel said: “This targeted initiative by Sydney Festival is an acknowledgement of the fact that artists with disability experience particular disadvantage when attempting to secure artistic opportunities in Australia, and that space needs to be carved out in an effort to change this. It is a real commitment to seeing the diversity of Australian life accurately reflected through arts and culture, and I have no doubt it will lead to some phenomenal projects by systematically undervalued artists finally reaching broader audiences! I hope it encourages other festivals and arts and cultural institutions to reflect on their own programs and what further positive action they could be taking.”

“Sydney Festival takes seriously our role to unite our city and create memorable moments we are all excited by,” said Enoch. “We have a long history of inclusion and accessibility for audiences and via this new initiative we will be focussing on giving artists with disabilities a platform for their diverse range of work to be included in the annual Sydney Festival program.”

Kerry Comerford, CEO, Accessible Arts, said: “Alongside the numerous accessible performances for audiences, it is equally important that what Sydney Festival presents in their annual program reflects the society in which we live, which means including artists with disability or who are deaf in their programming. Programming more work by, and providing artistic opportunities for artists with disability recognises the under-representation and employment of people with disability in the arts in Australia.”

For further pitching information and how to submit, artists can go to