Artists and performers with disabilities given mainstream platform in regional town

Vincent Worlters remembers the moment his dreams of being a professional musician were initially crushed.

“As a young man, I was being 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 to grab my guitar and sing and then the symptoms would come to a stop.”

Vincent Worlters did not realize his love of acting until he joined a disability theater group.(ABC Mid North Coast: Madeleine Cross)

A new inclusive arts program on the NSW mid-north coast 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 assist artists with disabilities to build their confidence and skills. It connects them with professional artists so they can participate in the mainstream industry.

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

“The acceptance is really quite beautiful,” he said.

“Groups like this give me an opportunity, whereas nothing else will.”

Two men sing together while sitting 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 this collaborative effort building on the strengths they have as individuals and myself inspiring them to try other things,” Mr Castle said.

The theater group performed on stage at a mainstream arts festival in the region called ArtWalk in front of a crowd of spectators.

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

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

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

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

Kirsty Georges said her parents and family were “stoked” about the program and her performance.

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

And it is not just stage performers who have thrived in the inclusive program.

Artists celebrate inclusion

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

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

“But it’s always been a passion of mine to do art.”

Lady in floral shirt stands in front of colorful art work.
Kerri Cains is over the moon to have her artwork on display at a local gallery.(ABC Mid North Coast: Madeleine Cross)

Ms Cains said she was over the moon to be involved in the Wauchope Regional Art Program and its workshops.

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

“In this art class, in particular, we don’t feel like we’re just put on the side … it’s actual artists actually teaching you how to do it and they treat you like they would treat everybody else.”

Two women in floral shirts stand in an art gallery looking at pieces of art work 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 has been displayed front and center at Wauchope Art Gallery as part of the ArtWalk event.

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

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

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

“It’s beautiful, its humbling, its real, it’s life. It’s what everyone should be seeing 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 mentoring Kerri Cains.(ABC Mid North Coast: Madeleine Cross)

Artists’ 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 started due to a lack of similar services on the Mid North Coast.

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

“Disabled artists were segregated.”

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

Ms Mackey said it was fantastic the group had been given its first mainstream platform at ArtWalk.

“It’s the first time that a lot of them have got to perform in public,” she said.

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

Woman with blonde hair and 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 daughter who has a disability.

“I always try to have the best for her, living the best life she can, 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 the joy that the person can show in their artwork or their dance.

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

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

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