Artists and performers with disabilities benefit from mainstream platform in regional town

Vincent Worlters remembers when his dreams of becoming a professional musician were dashed.

“As a young man I was trained to be an opera singer, but life got in the way with the onset of my disability, which was quite profoundly disabling,” Mr Worlters said.

“And basically it destroyed my opportunities to be a professional singer.”

Despite his diagnosis, Mr. Worlters was determined that music would remain a big part of his life.

“The only respite I got from my horrible illness was picking up my guitar and singing and then the symptoms would stop.”

Vincent Worlters didn’t realize his love of theater until he joined a theater troupe for people with disabilities.(ABC Mid North Coast: Madeleine Cross)

A new, inclusive arts program on the mid-north coast of New South Wales has now given Mr Worlters a chance to live out his dreams on stage.

The Wauchope Regional Art Program, also known as WRAP, is designed to help artists with disabilities build their confidence and skills. It puts them in contact with professional artists so that they can participate in the traditional industry.

Mr. Worlters joined WRAP’s acting class, along with Steph Smith and Kirsty Georges.

“Acceptance is really, really beautiful,” he said.

“Bands like this give me an opportunity, when nothing else will.”

Two men sing together sitting on a stage, two women are dancing in the background
The WRAP theater group rehearsed for weeks with mentor Ian Castle.(ABC Mid North Coast: Madeleine Cross)

The trio is supervised by singer and musician Ian Castle.

“It’s this collaborative effort that builds on the strengths they have as individuals and myself inspiring them to try other things,” Castle said.

The theater group performed on stage at a local mainstream arts festival called ArtWalk to a crowd of onlookers.

It was a dream come true for the tight-knit team.

“When the audience supports you, your whole performance totally elevates to a whole new level,” Worlters said.

“You can see it in their faces, or the cheers and their applause. It’s really uplifting.”

The audience watches the performers on stage as the sun sets behind them over a river
WRAP groups performed at the Port Macquarie ArtWalk event, which attracts thousands of spectators.(ABC Mid North Coast: Madeleine Cross)

Kirsty Georges said her parents and family were “thrilled” with the program and her performance.

“I feel it in my chest. I feel happy,” she said.

And it’s not just performing artists who have thrived on the inclusive curriculum.

Artists celebrate inclusion

Creating visual art has always been a source of joy for Kerri Cains but, due to her intellectual disability, she often struggles to be taken seriously.

“I’ve always had trouble with reading, writing and math,” Ms Cains said.

“But it’s always been a passion for me to make art.”

Lady in floral shirt stands in front of colorful artwork.
Kerri Cains is thrilled to see her work exhibited at a local gallery.(ABC Mid North Coast: Madeleine Cross)

Ms. Cains said she was delighted to participate in Wauchope’s regional art program and its workshops.

“It’s sometimes hard to find places that are so inclusive,” Ms Cains said.

“In this art class, in particular, we don’t feel like we’re just being pushed aside…these are real artists who actually teach you how to do it and they treat you like they would treat everyone else. “

Two women in flowered shirts stand in an art gallery and look at works of art on a table.
Graphic designer and mentor Michele Kaye worked with Kerri Cains to develop the WRAP logo.(ABC Mid North Coast: Madeleine Cross)

Thanks to WRAP, Ms. Cains’ work was featured prominently at the Wauchope Art Gallery as part of the ArtWalk event.

“I can show my family and friends and everyone in town will see my artwork,” she said.

“It’s just good to see disability and the arts come together in such an amazing way.”

Ms. Cains was paired and mentored by graphic designer Michele Kaye.

“It’s beautiful, it’s humbling, it’s real, it’s life. It’s what everyone should see day to day,” Ms Kaye said.

Two women in floral shirts stand side by side and smile with artwork in the background
Michele Kaye says she loved every moment of Kerri Cains’ mentorship.(ABC Mid North Coast: Madeleine Cross)

Artists’ skills “soar”

WRAP was created by the Wauchope Community Arts Council, through an NDIS Information, Links and Capacity Building grant.

Project coordinator Vicky Mackey said the WRAP was launched due to a lack of similar services on the central north coast.

“Even though we have a very busy arts community, they weren’t in contact with people with disabilities,” she said.

“Artists with disabilities were separated.”

Woman in white and red costume performs on stage, under blue light
Steph Smith, a member of the WRAP theater group, performed a one-man show on stage.(ABC Mid North Coast: Madeleine Cross)

Ms Mackey said it was fantastic that the group received their first mainstream platform at ArtWalk.

“It’s the first time many of them have to perform in public,” she said.

“The growth in their confidence and the way they carry themselves, the ability to communicate with strangers, it’s skyrocketed.”

A woman with blonde hair and a green jacket smiles at the camera, with artwork behind her
WRAP project coordinator Vicky Mackey was inspired by her own daughter’s disability.(ABC Mid North Coast: Madeleine Cross)

Ms Mackey said she was inspired by her own disabled daughter.

“I always try to get the best for her, to live the best life possible, and that’s what it’s all about — giving these guys an opportunity,” she said.

“In art, it’s not about being perfect or the best. It’s about the passion and joy that the person can show in their work or their dance.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect and that’s great – life isn’t perfect.”

A crowd of people watch a performance with buildings and palm trees in the background
WRAP performances drew large crowds at Port Macquarie’s ArtWalk event.(ABC Mid North Coast: Madeleine Cross)