Front and Centre is a program developed through Accessible Arts, which helps women with a disability gain access to careers in the arts world – and there are plans to take it national.
Specialist arts and creative leadership coach Judith Bowtell began the pilot for the program in 2019 with the former CEO of Accessible Arts after realising the system in the arts still had barriers for people with disabilities or mental health issues in leadership roles.
“The main outcome we were looking for was confidence and development in goals and aspirations… to look at building a network with an opportunity for the women to form relationships with each other too,” Ms Bowtell said.
The pilot program ran for six months with 10 women in the program across regional NSW, and is supported by the NSW Government.
“Everyone reported a big increase in confidence and participants felt like they had more opportunities in the workplace of the arts,” she said.
Now completing its second year, the program ran for 10 months in which participants have access to eight one-on-one coaching sessions with Ms Bowtell and several group sessions.
The course is built on 3 leadership development pillars
Ms Bowtell explained the three pillars of leadership development: clarity, confidence, and community and connection.
“Everyone reported a big increase in confidence and participants felt like they had more opportunities in the workplace of the arts,” – Judith Bowtell, Front and Centre coach
“Clarity allows them to work on developing personal, professional and creative goals, confidence is important for women who may have had experiences of sexism or ableism and having a community of people around who get your life experience allows them to have more aspirations in life,” she said.
The whole course is done online with the support of mentors through webinars which explore compassion and well-being.
“The self-compassion piece has been an eye opener to women in the Front and Centre program, it teaches how to be kind to yourself and to understand yourself in a more supportive way,” Ms Bowtell said.
“I love the leadership the participants are showing, [they] are the outcome of the program.”
Liz Cooper is one of the participants from this year’s Front and Centre Program, who said she didn’t have a lot of the disabled community around her and found it hard as a filmmaker to get into the industry.
“Front and Centre was offering leadership skills and the opportunity to expand your career which is very important and the support was incredible, when I felt like I had hit a wall as a disabled person in the film industry,” Ms Cooper said.
Ms Cooper shared about the negative past experiences of confrontations and aggression towards people with a disability and the systemic issues around people with a disability accessing careers and their access needs.
“I needed the support and people who treated me with respect and dignity… to be able to connect with other disabled artists,” she said.
“Judith, who is exceptional, has these exercises, ideas and philosophies and her values are so amazing, doing sessions with her was like a magic pill. My confidence has grown a thousand-fold.”
Ms Cooper said she had a vision for herself but felt very stuck in her career and believes the one-on-one sessions is where the value was really added.
“I didn’t really understand self-compassion until I did the course and it was about building myself up more in the community and connecting with people that felt safe and right.”
Ms Cooper said she is very grateful for the whole program, the coaches, mentors and other participants.
“I wish everyone could do [the program]. There’s so much to gain,” she said.
The 2023 Front and Centre program, in its third year, is set to start in February where they are hoping to make it a national program. Applications are open now and close on Monday 28 November 2022.
Feature image: aarts.net.au