Access for all

Rubiks Collective performing in a Relaxed Performance. Photo: with permission from Julian O’Shea.

As the recreation coordinator at Wintringham Gilgunya aged care facility, the hardest part of Alby Brown’s job is finding low cost activities suitable for people living with a disability.

But a pilot concert series at the Melbourne Recital Centre is not only helping Alby with his job, but also giving residents at the Coburg specialist aged care centre the opportunity to experience something new.

Alby Brown at Wintringham Gilgunya. Photo: Madi Chwasta

“I love listening to classical music, and I love it when I take someone for their first time and watch them become mesmerised by the sounds, the way it just captures their imagination and takes them away,” Alby said.

“It’s opened up the doors for people, who are marginalised and can’t afford to sit and listen to great music, to be moved and inspired.”

The Relaxed Performance series allows people living with a mental or physical disabilities or experiencing financial disadvantage to attend professional classical music performances.

Melbourne Recital Centre learning and access coordinator Belinda Ashe said she had worked with various organisations, including Arts Access Victoria and Scope, to curate a concert environment that catered for people who would not attend normally because of strict concert hall etiquette and financial cost.

“There’s a whole audience out there who would love to come along, so breaking down those barriers to ensure it’s accessible for them is really important,” she said.

During a Relaxed Performance the lights are on, loud music is explained beforehand, noise from audience members is permitted, the doors are open the entire time to allow movement in and out of the hall, a quiet zone is set up outside the hall, the performance runs for 45 minutes, and tickets are affordable at only $5.

While the program is in its first year, Belinda hopes as more people and community organisations become aware of the project a larger variety of programs will be available.

“It would be great if people could choose between a full program of music the way that everyone else gets to,”

Belinda Ashe

Australia Council Major Performing Arts director and arts accessibility advocate Morwenna Collett said while the Relaxed Performance series was a positive development, there was still a long way to go, as accessibility options for music in Australia were “vehemently” five to 10 years behind other art forms, such as visual arts and dance.

“It comes back to one in five Australians have a disability, and I think there are some really strong arguments as to why it should be built into everyone’s thinking, but we’re certainly not there yet,” she said.

Even though accessible classical music concerts are scarce, Alby said he was thrilled he could now take residents to the Relaxed Series and was hopeful more programs of this type would be available in the future.

“If we’re trying to build a world where people are included and have a chance, when they do these kinds of acts to allow people into that world, it really makes a difference,” he said.

“For me, that’s a game changer.”

After a Relaxed Performance. Photo: with permission from Julian O’Shea.

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