Equality in Culture: Accessibility 3.0

Last year I learned a new word in Finnish: kaikille. It translates as „for all“ or „for everybody“. I learned the word while attending the „Forum of Equality in Culture: Accessibility 3.0“, a three day event, held from November 2nd to November 4th 2016 in Helsinki. The forum addressed stakeholders in the field of arts and culture, experts in technology and accessibility, and everyone interested. For me, it was quite an experience.

 

The Forum of Equality in Culture

The event was set up by the organisation Kultturiia Kaikille, which defines their aim as follows:

„The Culture for All Service promotes cultural services that are inclusive and take diverse audiences into account. We offer information and tools for workers in the cultural field to improve accessibility and knowledge of diversity.“

The „Forum of Equality in Culture“ did just that. There was a lot to learn from the workshops, discussions and presentations, but the way the Forum itself was organised was the main learning experience. A lot of thought and work was invested in making the event as accessible as possible to everyone interested in the topic. Any impairment that comes to mind was taken into consideration. Both the space and the contents where made accessible in the best way possible to the whole audience. Especially the rather complex system of simultaneous translations of the contents allowed us all to follow the Forum and added to a really enjoyable experience.

 

The Stairs to the exhibition “Yayoi Kusama: In Infinity” at the HAM – Helsinki Art Museum

The Stairs to the exhibition „Yayoi Kusama: In Infinity“ at the HAM – Helsinki Art Museum

 

The Program of the Forum of Equality in Culture

The Forum started with a day of preliminary workshops. There were many possibilities to choose from, even for those who can’t speak Finnish. I started almost learning to play an instrument at the Special Music Centre Resonaari. The Centre has been doing an amazing job of making music accessible to a lot of people for years.

The next stop was the HAM – Helsinki Art Museum where I sacrificed my lunch break to see the exhibition „Yayoi Kusama: In Infinity“ – it was worth it. At the museum I then participated in the workshop „Objects of Curiosity“ by Abigail Hirsch, about making art accessible through multisensorial interaction. The day ended at the Cable Factory of Helsinki (now a huge centre for cultural organizations) with an introduction to the inclusive dance method „DanceAbility“.

 

The artist, curator and educator Abigail Hirsch introducing her workshop at the HAM

The artist, curator and educator Abigail Hirsch introducing her workshop at the HAM

 

The main „Forum for Equality in Culture“ took place in one single very busy day. The input from the several case presentations was rich and the perspectives on the subject diverse. The highlight for me was the round table discussion „Digitalization as a priority and the accessibility of culture“. We would have needed days to go deeper into the matter. The one hour we had, only allowed us to present our cases and come to a few superficial conclusions. In my opinion, the most important conclusion was the necessity of a better communication between all parties involved in the process of digitalizing culture to get an accessible result.

 

My conclusions on the Forum for Equality in Culture

Let’s start with a very short (and probably a little simplistic) definition of accessibility and inclusivity in cultural processes:

  • Accessibility comes first because it means to make it possible for impaired members of society to take part in cultural life.
  • Inclusivity means to make cultural life not only accessible, but also attractive to impaired people.

An open society needs public cultural spaces to be accessible and inclusive. This is a fact for several reasons. It should be clear that to exclude a part of the society from cultural life is extremely undemocratic. But, even more important, an inclusive culture is automatically a richer one. Making the cultural process accessible to a broader part of our society can generate a broader audience on one hand, and more participation on the other. This leads to both more consumers and creators of culture. On top of this, if cultural media are conceived in an inclusive way, they automatically win a new pedagogical aspect. An inclusive cultural life can generate a culture of inclusiveness. In fact, society is in need of the creative power of its impaired members and the reduction of conflict potential that comes with the acceptance of diversity.

 

The entrance to the Media Centre Lume, venue of the Forum

The entrance to the Media Centre Lume, venue of the „Forum for Equality in Culture“

Making culture accessible and inclusive

Making culture both accessible and inclusive is not an easy task. At least three fields have to be taken into consideration: the cultural, the conceptual, and the technical field.

The Cultural Field

Cultural barriers often have to do with a conservative and elitist perspective regarding culture, linked to a toxic sense of entitlement, which conceives accessibility as a waste of resources and inclusion as a danger for culture itself. These kind of cultural barriers were not the main discussion in the „Forum for Equality in Culture“. For good reason: I don’t think anyone would participate in such an event without being aware of these kind of cultural barriers and why these are highly problematic.

The Conceptual Field

This field is where the work really starts. It’s about recognising impairment, understanding impaired people and understanding the needs they have. In some cases, this can seem to be easy to answer. But that’s where prejudices might be at work. To try to understand different types of impairments, cultural workers should do their best to communicate with all possible audiences while keeping an open mind. Only if we are ready to learn from the ones we are communicating with, we will be able to communicate culture.

The Technical Field

This field is where methods are developed and applied to minimize or, if possible, tear down the barriers created by impairment. The developments in this field are – as I could learn at the „Forum for Equality in Culture“ – astonishing. In many cases they are just waiting to be widely applied. And, in most cases, the technical solutions that are needed to make culture accessible to minorities, offer a way richer and enjoyable cultural experience to the majority.

 

Further Information on Equality in Culture

For more details on the „Forum for Equality in Culture“ and the participants I do recommend checking the links in this article. There you will find further information about the more practical learnings one could make from the event. You can even watch most of the event on YouTube. The „Forum for Equality in Culture“ proved to be a large source of food for thought.

 

Images: Damián Morán Dauchez – Helsinki, 2016

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