By Elizabeth Minter

    As the only mainstream arts organisation signed up as a registered provider with the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Footscray Community Arts (FCA) is continuing its long tradition of being a trailblazer.

    People with disability have long been excluded from participating in society. While the exclusion is often physical – inaccessible buildings, for example – a more insidious exclusion comes in the form of low expectations – of the contribution to society that disabled people can make.

    Which is why Footscray Community Arts’ work is so powerful. Art is particularly important to people with disabilities because through art they can explore and express themselves, a powerful driver of wellbeing and growth, and also connect with others.

    FCA has supported d/Deaf and Disabled artists since 1991 through its ArtLife program but has been able to step up the support since registering with the NDIS in 2018. At its most recent audit, the organisation passed all 97 measures with flying colours – a measure of the dedication of staff.

    The home of FCA, formerly a piggery, is an 1870s bluestone landmark on the banks of the Maribyrnong River. It’s an apt heritage, not only because of the area’s working-class history but also because FCA came into being thanks to the drive of unionists and blue-collar activists. They understood the importance of telling their own stories, and that quality of life for working families meant more than wages and conditions.

    Since its inception in 1974, Footscray Community Arts’ mission has remained constant – to be an organisation that develops and presents contemporary arts, exhibitions and workshops in collaboration with communities of focus: First Nations, culturally and linguistically diverse, LGBTIQA+ and d/Deaf and Disabled artists. Some 40 d/Deaf and Disabled artists participate in ArtLife, which runs Monday to Friday. During the workshops, the artists work on their skills to develop their individual practice – whether that be in ceramics, digital arts, visual arts or dance.

    A key offering is the ArtLife Residency program, which supports artists who want to take their art to the next level and create an ambitious work. The staff provide a comprehensive support program – including helping the artists to put on exhibitions and applying for grants.

    Seven artists are in the Residency program. They have complete autonomy to decide the direction of their work. Every Monday, they work with facilitators and present their ideas to the artistic program team, who work with the artists to realise their goals.

    Steven Tran, who has been with ArtLife for 10 years and in the Residency program for three, is the first ArtLife participant awarded a grant from the Australia Council for the Arts.

    Louisa Carter, the acting executive director and manager of the NDIS program, says it is important to support d/Deaf and Disabled artists and recognise their potential to have a professional career, because they often face significant barriers including low expectations from the arts industry.

    Her favourite part of the ArtLife program, she says, is seeing the artists’ confidence develop as they are seen and recognised through their work. Louisa points to Steven’s major solo exhibition BOLDER, which opened last September, as an example of how FCA supports artists to achieve their goals.

    “Steven said he wanted to create an exhibition that people would need to wear 3D glasses to see, and that would immerse people in how he sees the world.”

    The 3D glasses idea evolved following conversations with artists who work in the mixed reality field. Steven realised that augmented reality most suited his ideas. Reflecting on his recent exhibition, Steven says: “My ideas came out with augmented reality and made my work dance. I want to make BOLDER again, and have it even bolder!”

    Steven’s success has also given other artists in the Residency program confidence that they can have a professional arts practice and be recognised for their work. Visual artist Diego Pizarro is influenced by exclusion is often physical (inaccessible buildings for example), a more insidious comics and popular culture. His leading character, Electric Man, is a train track worker who becomes a superhero when he encounters an electric fuse box at a railway station. Diego is aiming to produce a comic book. “I would love to print out my own comic book of Electric Man and for all of us to be connected through this story.”

    Electric Man, which featured in November’s Neighbourhood Festival, was presented at multiple venues, including The Substation windows in Newport, Gabriel Gallery, and the train stations of Footscray, Seddon, Yarraville, Spotswood and Newport.

    Pamela Debrincat is a visual artist, sculptor and curator. After curating the exhibition CLOSER in March 2022, Pamela is working towards curating her biggest exhibition, called Bright, to show in October in the Roslyn Smorgon Gallery at FCA.

    Pamela is interested in curating exhibitions that are easy to understand for everyone. “I want the audience to feel playful and enjoyment when they see the artwork.” She is working with ArtLife artists to exhibit in Bright.

    If you would like to support FCA’s invaluable work, a fundraising campaign has been launched to support the centre purchase a new accessible van. Creative Partnerships has offered a matching grant of up to $50,000, which means the value of public donations is effectively doubled. So please dig deep.

    You can donate here:

    To find out more about ArtLife:

    Elizabeth Minter is Daniel Mulino’s media adviser.


    Champions of the West is brought to you by Dr Daniel Mulino, federal Labor MP for Fraser.
    If you would like to nominate a Champion of the West, email

    Daniel Mulino
    Federal MP for Fraser

    (03) 9070 1974
    Shop 1, 25–27 Clarke St, Sunshine VIC 3020

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