Shaping Perspectives and Enabling Opportunities for an Inclusive Society

The National Arts Council (NAC), British Council Singapore (BC) and Singapore International Foundation (SIF) partner for the second time to co-organise the Arts & Disability Forum 2017, a two-day forum which aims to raise awareness of the arts as a platform in building a more inclusive Singapore society.

(From left) Keynote speakers Ramesh Meyyappan and Myra Tam sharing takeaways from the discussions with Minister Grace Fu (far right). Accompanying Minister Grace Fu are, (third from left) Jean Tan, Executive Director, SIF, Ku Geok Boon, CEO, Enabling Village, and Chua Ai Liang, Director, Arts & Communities, NAC.

How can arts and culture shape a more inclusive society? The Arts & Disability Forum 2017, held at the Enabling Village on 20 and 21 April, brought together over 200participants from across the People, Private and Public sectors with speakers from Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and Singapore to raise awareness and build capacity for arts and culture to shape a more inclusive society. The Singapore International Foundation partnered the National Arts Council and British Council Singapore to organise the Forum for a second consecutive year.

Opening the Forum, the Guest of Honour, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Grace Fu, spoke on the importance of harnessing the transformative power of the arts to build an inclusive society. She urged audiences to use the Forum as a catalyst to gain a deeper appreciation of the dialogue surrounding arts and inclusivity, as well as reflect on how we can adapt best practices from regional and international case studies to strengthen our current efforts. 

Myra Tam demonstrating a smart phone application that helps the visually impaired navigate their surroundings and showcasing multi-sensory artwork, as part of her keynote address titled ‘Regional Trends in Inclusive Arts Programming: Hong Kong’.

Dr Alice Fox, Lecturer, MA Inclusive Arts Practice, University of Brighton, United Kingdom, said in her keynote address that an inclusive artist is both a collaborator and facilitator who is an excellent artist, a social entrepreneur and an apt communicator. She made the case for inclusive arts as a platform to create spaces for creative exchange that is supported by the collaborative use of art materials and activities. She stressed the need to set different standards as opposed to lowering existing ones, as well as an openness to allow for failure in the shared creative journey.  She shared that “if you want a big shift in mindset, you need a mix of governmental bodies, policy makers, grassroots organisations and academics coming together.” 

Myra Tam, Executive Director, Arts with the Disabled Association Hong Kong, demonstrated the multi-sensory ways to explore an art space and experience artworks. She showcased examples of these approaches such as audio descriptions and touch art. These approaches are inclusive methods to enable all visitors to access and enjoy the arts.

The Forum placed the spotlight on Glasgow-based Theatre Practitioner, Singaporean Ramesh Meyyappan.  He shared how he overcame adversity and carved a path in the theatre scene despite being deaf. In his keynote address he said he “did not want to wait for a deaf role to be created for him so he created one for himself” and has developed performances using an eclectic mix of visual and physical theatre styles.

The Forum also brought together people from diverse parts of the arts and disability ecosystem for panel discussions on topics such as “Overcoming Challenges in Bridging Theory and Practice in Arts & Disability”, “Moving forward in overcoming gaps in Arts & Disability” and “Inclusive Programming”. The importance of input and action of multiple stakeholders was highlighted to foster an inclusive society. On one of the panel discussions, Fatimah Mustafa, Director (Disability), Ministry of Social and Family Development said she “always saw art as a platform to bring people together so people with all sorts of disabilities would be able to share the same platform.”

Participants at the Focus Group Discussions facilitated by the Kimberly Cham (in red) from the National Council for Social Services explore the potential for the arts to support and empower persons with disabilities to live within and participate actively in the community.

The Forum culminated with Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) comprising multi-sectorial organisations such the Institute of Public Policy, LASALLE College of the Arts, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, Make the Change, National Council for Social Services, National Heritage Board, Singapore International Foundation and Singapore Management University who facilitated the various breakout discussions. Participants in the FGDs engaged passionately in discourse sharing their knowledge on the arts and disability landscape. FGD participant and Singapore performing artist Lim Lee Lee stressed the “need to transform from a charity model to a social model of disability”.

The second day of the Forum comprised of workshops on capacity building for inclusive artmaking and programming. Dr Alice Fox worked with participants on various methods of inclusive artmaking and Myra Tam demonstrated the tools and considerations in programming for diverse audiences.

The Arts & Disability Forum is also part of the larger SIF Arts for Good initiative that seeks to contribute to positive social change through collaborations between Singaporean artists and their international counterparts, as well as galvanise greater community involvement in sustainable change. This initiative harnesses the arts and culture to be a driver and enabler of sustainable development, which comprises fostering inclusive communities, enabling livelihood and promoting sustainable urban living.

Read more about the Arts & Disability Forum here:

  1. View the photo gallery of the Arts & Disability Forum 2017 -
  2. The Arts & Disability Forum 2016 post-Forum publication was developed to capture the key learnings from the Forum to benefit the wider arts and disability ecosystem beyond the Forum. It introduces the concept of the social model of disability with examples and insights from Singapore and UK practitioners. View the e-book here -
  3. The Straits Times -
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