Artists and performers with disabilities get a mainstream platform in a regional city

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

“As a young man I was trained as an opera singer but life got in my way with the onset of my disability, which affected me deeply,” said Mr Worlters.

“And basically it destroyed my ability 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 terrible illness was to grab my guitar and sing, and then the symptoms stopped.”

Vincent Worlters first discovered his love of acting when he joined a theater group for the disabled.(ABC Mid North Coast: Madeleine Cross)

A new inclusive arts program on NSW’s north mid-coast has now given Mr Worlters the opportunity to pursue his dreams on stage.

The Wauchope Regional Art Program, also known as WRAP, aims to help artists with disabilities build their confidence and skills. It connects them with professional artists so they can participate in the mainstream industry.

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

“The acceptance is really very nice,” he said.

“Groups like this give me a chance that otherwise won’t happen.”

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

The trio is mentored by singer and musician Ian Castle.

“It’s that collaborative effort, building on the strengths they have as individuals and my inspiration, that inspires them to try other things,” Mr Castle said.

The theater company performed to a crowd on stage at a mainstream arts festival in the region called ArtWalk.

A dream came true for the committed team.

“When the audience gets behind you, your entire performance takes to a whole new level,” said Mr. Worlters.

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

The audience watches the performers on stage as the sun sets behind them on a river
WRAP groups performed at the ArtWalk event in Port Macquarie which draws 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 lucky,” she said.

And it’s not just stage artists who have been successful in the inclusive program.

Artists celebrate inclusion

Creating fine art has always been a source of joy for Kerri Cains, but her intellectual disability often made it difficult for her to be taken seriously.

“I’ve always struggled with reading, writing and arithmetic,” Ms. Cains said.

“But making art has always been a passion of mine.”

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

Ms. Cains said she was delighted to be involved with the Wauchope Regional Art Program and its workshops.

“Sometimes it’s 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 put on the side … they’re real artists teaching you how to do it and they treat you like they would treat anyone else.”

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

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

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

“It’s just nice to see that disability and art come together in such an amazing way.”

Ms. Cains was paired with 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 every day,” said Ms. Kaye.

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

Artist skills skyrocket

WRAP was established by the Wauchope Community Arts Council through an NDIS Information, Linkages and Capacity Building Grant.

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

“Although we have a very busy arts community, they haven’t connected with people with disabilities,” she said.

“Disabled artists were separated.”

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

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

“It’s the first time many of them have made public appearances,” she said.

“The growth of their confidence and poise, ability to communicate with strangers has skyrocketed.”

Woman with blond hair and green jacket smiles at camera, 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 daughter, who has a disability.

“I’m always trying to have what’s best for her, to have the best life that she can, and that’s what it’s about β€” giving these guys a chance,” she said.

β€œArt is not about being perfect or being the best. It’s about the passion and joy that the person can show in their artwork or dance.

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

A crowd watches the performance with buildings and palm trees in the background
The WRAP performances drew a large crowd at the ArtWalk event in Port Macquarie.(ABC Mid North Coast: Madeleine Cross)

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