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AAV Artists Talk – Kath Duncan on Pride    

“We bring to the table a whole different way of looking at things, at contracting art, projects and gathering people” - Kath Duncan 

Kath Duncan

AAV Artists Talk is a video series that feature Deaf and Disabled artists sharing their experience. This video features Kath Duncan. Kath is a writer, activist and raconteur with many decades of feminist and disability pride under her belt. In this video she discusses what pride means to her and how to use pride to build your career.  

 (Video description: Kath Duncan speaking over Zoom. She has bright red hair, a filter that gives her purple eyebrows and orange lipstick.)  


The series was filmed as part of a co-design workshop series to develop programs for young Deaf and Disabled artists, creatives, audiences and arts workers. Each artist responded to one of our values. We will be releasing a video each Tuesaday from 14 March to 4 April 2023.

Click here for more info about our programs for young people.

This program is in partnership with Engage!, VicHealth and Cassandra Gantner Foundation.

Artist in focus

Kath Duncan: Today I’m gonna be talking about pride.

And the way that pride can, let’s say, you know, stir fuse a pitch document, a proposal, and so forth.

So what we’re talking about here are sort of two different but intersecting thingss.

And one is, you know, what is pride? And the other is, how can we use pride in our applications, whether that’s for funding, or projects, or daily life.

The position I’m coming from as a person, I’ve worked in media on, you know, an artist in various different ways.

I’ve worked as an arts manager, performer, writer, researcher, journalist, all these sorts of different parts of the arts industries.

So I first heard the word disability pride in, God, it was 1995, because an Australian disabled woman, can’t remember who it was now, which is really embarrassing.

But anyway had just come back from the Disability Pride match in is it Boston or Washington.

It’s some sort of I don’t remember Cincinnati, or something, some American city.

And when I saw those two words together, disability pride, I thought, what’s that?
Like, you know, how could this be? And I’ve been disabled since birth.

And I’ve picked up a few other disabilities along the way.

So I certainly was part of the disability community. But then I’ve never seen those two words together.

So let’s talk about this pitch.

So we’re not just gonna talk about pride, as just kind of like a feel-good idea.

But, you know, how we can use this idea of pride to propel ourselves, you know, forward in our projects, so to get funding, and so forth.

So I think it’s really important to be able to use the stats that off the top of my head, for example, right now, in Australia, only about 50% of us who are disabled are employed.

And of those 50%, who are employed, 60% of us live on or below the poverty line.

Now, that’s just realistic, they’re just stats.

And so when you’re putting a pitch together, you can use those stats.

So you’ve got this, you’ve got this sort of weight of evidence that really says that a lot of us don’t get a lot of opportunities.

However, on the other side of that, and this is what I think is really important to balance for whether it’s a pitch, whether it’s about your own life, and so forth, is the fact that we bring to the table, a whole lot of different ways of looking at things.

A lot of different ways of constructing arts, and projects, and gatherings of people. So I’ve applied for a lot of funding in my time, and not got all of it, of course, but my hit rate is about 30%.

But the more successful pictures I’ve put in have to do with explaining the power of it.

Well, in my case, I don’t do a lot of work alone, I sort of work in groups generally, you know, whether it’s shows or films or whatever, I’m usually working with a bit of a team.

So it’s… I think it’s really important to express just the power, a lot of disabled people have gathering in the one place.

Kind of changes people’s attitudes.

So I’m just trying to think of like planks, to build a kind of a textural pride, ’cause I think there’s a bit of a difference between how you feel on the inside, and then what you actually say, to prove this on the outside.

Ideally, those two things come together, but they may not.

And it’s really important to think of how to set that up as sort of an argument, let’s say, to get your point over how we do things differently, and what that can open up to other artistic people.

People working in, you know, other sorts of industries where people come together, you know, whether it be health, or team sports, and so forth.

And I think it’s really important to talk about this as well.

So what happened when we did arts workshops was that we realized that there was a lot of openness among disabled people to other people’s differences.

And you might say somebody said it before about vulnerability.

So (INAUDIBLE) really powerful thing to use.

The fact that our people, when we come together, are much more open to everyone being different and what those differences might be, and being able to express those differences.

Because a lot of us have to let’s say adapt our output whether that be, you know, visual arts, or text, or film, or performance so that it is accessible.

We end up with a much more approachable and accessible outcome as well for other people, for other people in general.

And we sort of pass that on.

And to me, this is also really important about it, meaning we’re all different.

And we need to find some universal codes and universal languages that are gonna work with all have us across the board.

So that’s kind of my opening salvo about pride for myself. So I started off as just your average physically disabled baby and grew up.

But along the way, I sort of attracted a few other impairments as well.

And I picked up this weird disease that’s called discoid lupus.

And it’s a type of lupus, where your immune system is overactive.

And mine is skin surface lupus, it’s bizarre as hell.

And it… I just didn’t realize that…

I kind of thought that because I already had the arm and leg thing.

So I was born with half my left arm and half my right leg, pretty much not there, and a few other little bits and pieces that are a bit weird.

But when I picked up this autoimmune, I was really pissed off.

And it was really interesting to kind of, I guess, identify with another type of disability.

And if I was gonna say, you know, what am I proud of? The amputee thing is fabulous, but the lupus thing is a pain in the ass.
So, you know, how do I summon up that sort of pride about something that’s effectively a pain in the ass, and requires a lot more management than my arm and leg stuff does? And for me, and it has to do with solidarity with other people with similar sort of conditions, you know, when something just sort of turns up, and completely changes your life.

And so it’s hard for me to say, oh, this was fabulous, about my discoid lupus.

So pride doesn’t have to be just feeling wonderful about everything that you’re caring about all of your impairments.

But it’s a lot to do with other people who are in this with me.

And among us, we can feel safe, OK with each other.

Like we’re doing OK.

Like that, we’re I don’t know, being able to talk about it, it’s not a secret.

All those different elements that to me makeup pride in the disease on less fond of you might say, or my impairment that I’m less fond of when it comes down to it.

When you start making sense for people that you don’t, don’t feel, you have to, like, just adore everything about your impairment, to feel pride.

You know, we’ve all been at different parts of the journey.

And it’s important, perhaps to acknowledge people’s discomfort sometimes with who they are.

So one of the things that we can do, I mean, if you’re in a workshop situation, is to get people to talk about their disability journey.

Like where they are now, and where they started out from and the sort of things that change, ’cause you’ll find that along the ways.

Those are those insights into how pride gets built.

And there’s just a lot in sharing, you know, like I talked about my discoid lupus, like I say, it’s a pain in the ass.

But if I talk about with other people who’ve got those other sorts of impairments that kind of turn up, like, you know, your post viral syndrome, and multiple chemical sensitivity, like all that, that whole body of work and fibromyalgia, the things that kind of turn up.

And even if you talk about how shitty it can be to have those syndromes land on you, there’s something about being able to be together talking about how shitty it is that’s really helping build pride.

You know, because we can be honest about it with people and you can share with people that understand what that’s about.

So in terms of like using pride for a pitch, it’s important to use the pathetic stats.

Sorry to put it like that.

But it just is.

It’s built a good argument for why you or your team or wherever deserve this opportunity, because, frankly, there aren’t that many opportunities, right? So you need to make people aware of that.

And the other thing is, where you stand and what you’re bringing to the party that’s different from what a non-disabled person brings to the party.

Now, the reality is that as you grow older and continue working in arts, the people you’re looking at the moment are your peers, and you will support them and follow them, and they will be your colleagues for life.

This is ideal.

You may not all get along.

You won’t all be working on the same sorts of ideas, but even just being there for each other, supporting each other’s works, even the ones that, you know, you’re a bit rude, you know, so what about is really important.
And I think this is what…

I’m just gonna be really blunt here.

So my experience of working with other people with disabilities is the lot of us…

I mean, I think it’s different in families, but a lot of us haven’t had the experience of, say, doing team sports, being chosen for the debating club, being chosen for same place, being chosen in general, right? So we’re not all of us, I’m not saying this applies to everyone, but my experience is, a lot of us are not familiar with working as a team.

So there can be a lot of divisions among disabled people.

And this can be really problematic and can weaken the herd, you might say, of solidarity, and pride, and togetherness, and community, and all that, because a lot of us are very used to having to do it all ourselves, including myself.

You know, like so in the morning I put on a prosthetic leg and I stumble and lumbar about and all the rest.

And it’s something I’ve had to do by myself since I was a kid, right? So I’m used to thinking of myself as a solo unit battling the world, blah, blah, blah.
But that’s not very useful in arts.

This kind of I can do it all myself, get out of my way, all the rest.

Useful at Woolworths, but not so useful in a group project.

So what I really like to emphasize here is that it’s really important to kind of get along.

It’s really important to support each other.

It’s really important to see the value in everyone’s work, even if it’s, of course, not what you yourself would make.

Because over time, this is what builds strength.

This is what builds solidarity is being there for each other.

And I really hope that all of you, as you proceed through your lives, will be there for each other.

It’s really important.