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NDIS, art and you: how to make art part of your plan

The NDIS presents Australians with disability an unprecedented opportunity to exercise choice and control over the supports they receive – however, the NDIS doesn’t always understand the value of cultural participation. On this page, we explore why art matters within an NDIS context, and how you can advocate to make art part of your NDIS plan.

On this page: 

Can art support me to be healthier and happier?

No matter if art just makes you happy or if it’s a vehicle for total transformation in your life, making and experiencing art – what we call cultural participation – can benefit you in many ways.

Art can play a key role in opening and maintaining connections between people with disability and the broader community. It can be essential in helping people to build confidence and improve their overall wellbeing. Regular participation in art programs often leads to positive social, employment, education and community outcomes.

Did you know: Everyone has a right to take part in art and culture. This right is included in two important documents that protect the rights of people with disability and mental health issues: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. These documents say that governments must make sure people with disability have the chance to:

  • Be creative
  • Make art
  • Learn new creative and artistic skills

How does art fit with the NDIS?

You may not hear or read much about arts and cultural participation in relation to the NDIS, because the NDIS doesn’t mention art specifically – art falls under the categories of participation, recreation or skills development. This lack of recognition largely comes down to a lack of understanding; the NDIS often just doesn’t get how art can fit within the Scheme. Below, we explore the major ways art does line-up with four key NDIS outcomes.

Social engagement

Arts programs are a fantastic way for people – particularly those who have experienced social isolation – to engage in their communities, for one simple reason: making art is a fun and productive way to spend time and meet new people!

The arts provide a unique setting in which people come together to create objects, performances or meaning. It is the capacity of the arts to create a communicative experience and for individuals and communities to express themselves that sets it apart from other sectors.
Opportunities for social connection, VicHealth

At AAV, we recognise the power of art to transform lives through creation, but also through connection. Our programs are deliberately designed to address social isolation and build social skills. Supported by experienced inclusive arts practitioners, our participant artists meet people who share their interests and ambitions, develop their artmaking skills, exchange thoughts and ideas, and build strong relationships in a safe and supported environment.

Because our programs are community-based, the opportunities for social engagement extend beyond the group itself; participants are empowered to connect to their broader community, including other community groups, local venues, service providers, arts and cultural institutions and the audiences who see their works.

Our experience with SmashHop was amazing! Not only was it a lot of fun for my daughter and got her really excited about dancing, but it also provided an positive experience for her to interact with other Deaf teens and adults and to be in an environment where she was just like the other kids, not stick out. Even though she was the youngest kid there, she really was made to feel a part of the community. Thank you!
– Deaf Arts Network participant parent

Economic participation

The Victorian arts sector is an economic powerhouse; in 2013, our cultural and creative industries directly contributed more than $22 billion to the Victorian economy and employed more than 220,000 Victorians, with an additional 70,000 volunteers. There are so many opportunities for people with disability to be valued and productive contributors to this vibrant industry.

Arts Access Victoria’s Pathways program facilitates the professional development and career aspirations of hundreds of artists with disability through projects, partnerships and development opportunities.

The fantastic thing about the Pathways Program is they give people with disabilities the chance to actually go out there and give things a try. I feel as if I’m able to go out there and grow myself as an usher…give it a few more years and I might be on to other things, but I feel as if I’m actually growing all the time. [Arts Centre Melbourne] is my dream place to work and I absolutely love it.
– David, who began his work with Arts Centre Melbourne through a Pathways Program work placement

Through participating in our arts programs, people with disability are also developing key life skills. Group participation builds teamwork, communication, and self-advocacy skills. Community engagement through social, community and civic participation builds social and relationship skills and confidence in using community services, such as transport.

We also support emerging artists with disability to develop their skills as working artists, including planning, writing and budgeting.  

Health and wellbeing

Many of our participants tell us that art has a positive impact on their mental and physical health – and there is lots of research that shows that’s true for people all over the world!

Art, particularly artmaking with a health focus, has a demonstrated range of social, artistic, environmental, cultural, economic and health benefits, including the potential to improve the quality of health care (National Arts and Health Framework).

Making and experiencing art is associated with people living longer, healthier lives. Physical creative activities like singing, dance and playing instruments improve heart health and fitness, as well as brain health. Art has also been shown to be an effective tool in pain management for people experiencing chronic illness or surgical treatment. (Institute for Creative Health).

Art has been identified by researchers as a potentially effective, low-cost strategy to address mild to moderate mental health issues, such as such as anxiety and depression (Craemer). Because art uses abstract concepts and metaphors to express ideas, it can be an ideal setting for people living with mental health issues to explore their emotions and psychological wellbeing safely and confidently (VicHealth).

A 2016 study showed that people with more than 100 hours per year of arts engagement had significantly better mental wellbeing than those with none or lower levels of engagement (BCM)

Because arts programs tend to offer many forms of arts participation, they can ‘bundle’ many of the benefits outlined above, addressing multiple health and wellbeing issues at once. This makes art an extremely efficient tool for supporting people’s health.

My art is what helps me get on the road to recovery, both mentally and physically 
– Connecting the Dots project participant

Choice and control

One of the central principles of the NDIS is choice and control – a principle that AAV has been committed to for more than 40 years. With AAV, you get to have a say in every aspect of our collaboration.

Whether artmaking is just something you enjoy doing, or it’s an act of reclaiming power and identity, AAV artists’ creative journeys are driven by their desires and ambitions. Our job is to listen and support you to make your creative goals a reality. 

We offer all participants the opportunity to engage as fully as possible in making decisions about the services they receive through us. These supports are always high quality and appropriate to each person’s needs, wishes, requirements and context. At all times, we respect the importance of a person’s right to make informed choices, take calculated and goal-oriented risks and to learn from their experiences.

“Despite his limited modes of communication, Jeremy has been placed in leadership roles within WOW and I can see the difference in him! He has changed, he is more engaged, interactive and has been empowered by his role in this great group.” 
– Parent of Way Out West artist

Standing up for your right to make and experience art

Even though lots of research exists to show art is a really important part of life, when it comes to NDIS planning, participants may have to do some work to show planners and NDIS administrators that art is a reasonable and necessary support.

You will need to put together information about why art is important to you, and get information from people who can help you participate in art under the NDIS. Once you have this information, you can talk to your NDIS planner about what art means to you and how you want to be involved in the arts. We call this self-advocacy.

Some things that might help you self-advocate for art in your NDIS plan are:

  • Identifying and writing a statement about why/how art is important to you
  • Write down life goals/aspirations that involve creative activities, like arts programs
  • Identify arts programs, providers and other creative opportunities that interest you
  • Talk to your informal supports, such as family and friends who know about and support your arts participation

You can do all of these things with Art and You: A Planning Guide. This is AAV’s NDIS planning tool, to help you think, talk and write about how you like to make and experience art. It also includes lots of helpful information about self-advocacy and NDIS planning.

You can also contact Arts Access Victoria to talk about art and your NDIS plan – we offer different levels of support to help you advocate for your right to make and experience art through the NDIS. This could range from phone advice to an AAV team member joining you as a support person in your planning meetings.