Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) to see the Bella Plus Connect program in action. This is a program for people with a disability or access requirements with the motto, “Art is for everyone.” My visit coincided with the monthly community drop-in day. What I saw was a dynamic environment where people can be creative and social with support. Unbelievably, the program is free to participants!
BJ has always been a reluctant artist. His restricted control over a pen or paintbrush meant producing anything but lines was impossible. I don’t think he saw the point of trying. AJ and I love art and craft but I could see it wasn’t rewarding for BJ so didn’t persist and encouraged teachers to stop enforcing it. However, one day he went to a school holiday program with the Cerebral Palsy Alliance at the Museum of Contemporary Art. When I saw the photos of BJ with a big smile on his face and the inventive way they had participated in the art program I was impressed. BJ had used big rollers to do painting while staying in his wheelchair and he looked thrilled with the process. Seeing his level of engagement made me realise we just hadn’t found the right way to do art with BJ.
Earlier this year BJ went along to a session at Bella Plus Connect with his buddy AL. They both came home so happy and stimulated from the day out. AL raved about it and BJ was happy to share his artwork and proud to have it pinned up for all to admire. It prompted me to visit myself this week and see what happens so I can share it with you.
Walking into the bright open space overlooking Sydney Harbour I was impressed by the energy in the room. The area was buzzing with participants, support workers and MCA staff assisting at the various work stations. A variety of activities are set up and change each month. Participants can choose what they’d like to try and the activities suit a variety of abilities. This week there was knitting, painting, paint spraying, sticking, drawing and more.
This program is for adults and the age of the participants is varied from teens to older adults. Like BJ, many participants clearly love the social opportunities the day offers. Numerous participants introduced themselves to me and proudly showed me their artwork.
I chatted to the support workers from the various service providers attending and all seemed to be regulars. They were keen to share their enthusiasm and the benefits of the program.
One lady said the program provides an environment for their clients to be creative and express themselves. She said most of their clients were engaged by the activities with only one of their clients more interested in the social side of the day.
Another support worker said that their centre was based in “the bush” so for them the whole day was a change of scenery with their clients buying lunch and sitting by the harbour to eat it. She said that as support workers they often were opened up to new ideas and activities to try within their own day program.
Interestingly, the MCA has been a place of friendship building with two of the program participants becoming best of friends despite only seeing each other once a month.
It seems to me Bella Plus Connect is much more than a cleverly adapted art program. It’s a place of supported learning, somewhere to try new skills and make friends. Support workers seem stimulated by the activities and the opportunity to learn and participate themselves.
Each month a different facilitator from the MCA organises the Bella Plus Connect activities so they are varied. The music experience offered via the iPads was popular with participants recording music and playing it back. There was plenty of time for them to really experiment with the sounds.
The Bella Room was a good chill-out zone for participants who needed a rest or a place to relax for a while. The room is a multi-sensory and interactive artwork commissioned to engage and inspire people with disability or access needs to connect with contemporary art through sensory experiences.
Participants were asked if they’d like to go with a MCA staff member for a tour of an exhibition in another area of the building. I followed along for a little while and I was impressed with how the staff member related to the participants and made it relevant to them.
Bella has a flexible range of programs so I suggest sending an email enquiry to see if the MCA can accommodate your needs. They do group and family bookings. You can read more about the programs on offer here.
You may have noticed no faces in the photos, except for BJ and AL. This was because my visit was at short notice and I didn’t have permission to share participant’s faces. I can paint a picture for you and that’s of a room filled with lots of smiles, some very serious faces as artwork was being completed and lots of chatter.
The Museum of Contemporary Art is a short walk, or wheel, from the ferry wharf or train station at Circular Quay.
Lift access is available throughout the building.
Large stand-alone accessible bathroom facilities are available.
There is a rooftop café for meals.
The museum gift shop is worth a look, they have some lovely gifts available.
A big thank you to the staff of the Bella program for allowing me to visit and thanks to the support workers for answering my questions.
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