Intersectional Curatorial Hopes for Community Arts Production

When comedy variety showcase, “Tickets on Myself” was produced for Melbourne Fringe 2019 – a central idea of the show was intersectional curation.

If you are not sure about what I mean by intersectional, read on.  I hope the context of this post will help you more than a definition will.

Tickets on myself was fledgling and I, as producer, was learning.  I still am learning. I have a background in anthropology, a discipline burdened by the sins of it’s white colonial past and trying to take responsibility for it’s hand in oppression.  I have stepped away from anthropology into broader arts practice, but my grounding in discourse about difference is helpful (some of the time).  Listening to people not like me is better practice.

But Tickets on Myself tried to feature a range of diverse experiences and representations including, Jewish, Irish-Australian, First Nations, Neuro-diverse (Autistic and Highly Sensitive Persons), Amputee, Disability sexuality, Older, Trans, Non binary, Chronic Illness, Mental Health and Queer lived experiences. I may have left some experiences off that list.

Note the conscious capitalisation of those experiences.  If you think the arts should not be political, then I would counter this is not political, this is life.  Life is political and the arts should not shy away from that.

There was also a conscious effort to curate different performance experiences (performers didn’t have to be deemed “virtuosos” to be included).

It also aimed to have a blend of scripts written on topics that performers could elect to perform and own written and designed work and as producer I tried not to intervene too much in those, unless that was requested from performers.

I still felt at times I was too white producing and I have a lot to learn and so do many around me even though I am also disabled and queer.  I still have to reflect and learn – about how to better use the white privilege I have to be more intersectional in response.

But Tickets on Myself was a conscious effort.  It wasn’t perfect but it was progress.

Anyway, as I continue down this curatorial ambition as a Queer Autistic Nonbinary Irish-Australian producer and performer I wanted to share some new information.

Today I found a paper in the International Journal of ScreenDance about Intersectional Curatorial Practices.

The paper posed questions on intersectional practice.  Again, it’s not perfect and the key here is that they are questions.  They should open up discussion and the questions are a means to an end – to make practice more intersectional and provide process improvement.

So I will end with where curation should best be located – with questioning instead of presumed answers.

From the questions specifically for dance from the US Screendance example I have started to rework and broaden the questions for intersectional practice below:

Is it really intersectional if nine out of every ten bodies I see are young, white, thin, able-bodied, cis-gendered? What about black women and men? Fat women and men? Trans women and men? Non binary people? Disabled bodies? Neurodivergent representations?
Are we providing space for non-verbal, non-spoken, non-sound or sensory based mediums? 
Is it really a intersectional when large groups of people of color (the most underrepresented group on all fronts), are often seen through the lens of a white director or choreographer?
Why don’t we see large groups of white actors being seen through the lens of directors and choreographers of color?
Is it really intersectional when most scenarios where large groups of people of color are seen at once, it is most often about being people of color?
In fact, is it really intersectional if most of the work created by, with, and for marginalized groups of people are about that marginalization?
Is it fair that young, white, cisgender participants feel the freedom to make statements on a wide range of cultural and aesthetic topics, when marginalized people do not enjoy that same freedom given their lived experiences?
Is it really intersectional if a culture cannot more readily embrace forms of art that come from low-income communities and communities of color?
Is it really intersectional if all – including both disabled and “untrained” or “non-art form expected” bodies – are not represented?
If it doesn’t have to necessarily look like a given art form, why aren’t more “non-art form expected” bodies and their movements and voices being explored?
What is our relationship to virtuosity and why does that matter?
In what ways have we made it clear that our space is off-limits to “non-art form” performers?
How can I make the experience more inclusive and more accessible?
Are we serious about accessibility for physical, social, emotional, sensory and movement based accessibility for both the audience and performers and their experiences? How can we do this better? 
How can I help to make the experience more intersectional?

Dear Ableism

I’m writing to you in the hope that putting these thoughts on paper might change something between you and I.

Just a couple of things. I’m speaking only for me, as an autistic person, but I’m sure other people might have something to say as well. They might like to write to you and state their case too.

I’ve carried you around for a very long time.

I carried you without knowing you were there for most of my life.

I thought I discarded you. Only to find a great number of the rest of the world still wielded you like a social axe with sharp oppression edges and it’s like dying the death of a million paper cuts.

I was four when I first noticed you, but you were there from birth. You morphed into a massive weight around my neck as I aged. I wore you like a restrictive, chaffing Elizabethan neck collar. I thought you were necessary because the world around me did.  No one told me to rip you off and be proud until my 30’s.

Sometimes I find myself still picking you back up and wearing you again. Just like an old worn work shirt. Like the one you might choose to wear when doing a dirty, unlikeable task.

So in the interests of trying to dispatch you into the void of the past, I’d like to ask you to stop doing some things.

Sometimes you are like an invisible radio, you broadcast these things through other people, but the signal is sometimes just accepted.  It’s time to change the channel, change the signal.

Sometimes you broadcast your poisonous frequency from abled people and sometimes  from other disabled people – so however you broadcast them, the list is the same.

Impairment judge. You don’t get to judge:

  • How Autistic I am.  Those with genuine expertise or lived experience don’t use high and low functioning anymore.  With “high” and “low” you set me up to fail or have expectations so low I cannot achieve – either way you then use inappropriate measures of me to incorrectly prove your prejudice.  Ask questions if you must (or maybe just read this list and apply it!), it’s better than rank assumption. 
  • How I speak or even if I speak at all. You also don’t get to interpret my innate directness as rude.  I can be hyperverbal, a chatterbox and I can want to not talk to anyone.  It’s not your call to make, whether this is necessary or not.  I can communicate with you whether verbal or not, but it might not be in way you expect.  Give my communication the same respect as any form of communication and take time to appreciate it.  Speech is not the only form of communication and Autistic communication is different (not deficit). 
  • How I think or process information. There isn’t one way to think.  I may seem to go around things in a different way, but what I produce, what I do, and what I say (or not say) are valid.  Thinking is not measured against the neurotypical only.
  • How my senses operate and how I take care of my environment.  You don’t get to decide if it’s too bright, too loud or too many people in a space for me. Or whether I should force eye contact or not (I’m doing my best to look at your glasses or eyebrows usually, then looking away regularly).  I get to decide how I manage that, and I do know what hurts me.  I can not change my sensory parameters to suit yours, I am not a machine with dials and switches anymore than you are.  I cannot step out of my senses.  
  • How social I am or am not.  To you it’s anti-social, to me it’s self-care.  My need for solitude is not your business.  I also am not in need of a dinner companion because you have decided it’s lonely.  I will seek the company of other people when I want and if I can.  My social boundaries are different, not wrong.
  • What I call myself. You can say “person with autism”, but to me autism isn’t something separate from me and it is not something to be ashamed of.  For me, I am autistic or autistic person. 
  • How I do a task. I know what I can do, so don’t exclude me from a task because it is too “stressful” for me based on your limited judgement of me or without checking first.  This happens to autistic people even when we are skilled and qualified and have a proven track record.  I also deserve to try something now and modify a task to fit my known workarounds and ways I use aids.  I also deserve the right to abandon a task.  I will seek support if I need it. Don’t make these decisions for me.  
Assistance Policing.  This is my final ask.  You don’t get to decide:
  • How I do or don’t use aids. Using communication techniques or social scripts that I have learned from the neurotypical world are my choice to use as I see fit.  They are no different to any other disability aid.  I won’t use them all the time.  But when I need to feel safe it is my right to use them like a semi-ambulant persons uses a stick at times and then sometimes not.  Give me that right to decide.
  • Whether I’m masking.  I’ve had people counsel me about the dangers of masking or think I am being untrue to my nature when I use communication aids.  I know “masking” can hurt me and I know my “rudeness or directness or realness” is perfectly okay.  I also know that after years of abuse from neurotypical people I tend to start slowly and may mask for self-preservation.  I’ve made the decision to mask from time to time to feel safe and that is my right.  Sometimes I will choose to mask because I know logically (if not emotionally) that I may offend (on a given topic).  I ask neurotypical people to take time to get to know my communication style and sometimes I need to do that for them too.  I pick my own battles (sometimes poorly!) and that’s my right. Make no mistake, I will not always mask. One form of oppression doesn’t need to be matched with another.

So, Dear Ableism, to be completely autistic, I’ve had enough of you.  This is my last communication in this format.

Do not reply.  Go hastily into the night and do not return.