ADVERTISING FEATURE: Art challenge focuses on inclusion

CONVERSATION STARTER: Muswellbrook-based artist Andrew Davis is working with Ability Links and Octapod to facilitate the Smart Art Includes You Challenge.
CONVERSATION STARTER: Muswellbrook-based artist Andrew Davis is working with Ability Links and Octapod to facilitate the Smart Art Includes You Challenge.

SCHOOLS across the Hunter and Central Coast are being urged to get their art on and explore the concept of “inclusion” by entering the inaugural “Smart Art Includes You” Challenge.

Students of registered schools will be asked to express ‘”What inclusion means to me” by way of a rap song, video, photo series or visual art to go in the draw to win up to $9000 in prizes.

The Challenge is an initiative of Ability Links NSW, a free, state government-funded program delivered across the Hunter Central Coast by the St Vincent de Paul Society NSW.

The program’s Community Engagement Coordinator, Gabriel Wingate-Pearse, said the challenge was designed to get kids, and their school communities, thinking about how important it is to feel included.

“By thinking about what inclusion means to us, we are better placed to have empathy for others who may experience discrimination and social isolation due to points of difference,” she said.

“That point of difference might be a person’s race or gender, their sexual preference, or their experience of life with a disability. Disability is more common in our community than most people realise, largely because 85 per cent of disabilities are invisible. The ways in which people living with disability experience discrimination or social isolation can be long-lasting and profound.”

The Challenge is open to public schools across eight regional areas, from the Central Coast to Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and the Hunter Valley, with a total prize pool of $72,000.

The prize money will go to schools to build their capacity to be accessible and inclusive.

“The sky’s the limit on what that money might go towards, so it’s just a matter of staff, students, and their parents coming up with ideas and initiatives that will benefit their school communities,” Ms Wingate-Pearse said

The Smart Art Includes You Challenge is based on a concept developed by Ability Links coordinators based in Maitland and the work of Muswellbrook-based artist Andrew Davis, and will involve other artists within the community, as well as Octapod.

The challenge is just one of a number of projects that Ability Links and Octapod have joined forces on, with others including the Artist Run Initiatives in Maitland.  

“We are thrilled to be involved with this Ability Links initiative as we share a commitment to inclusion,” Octapod director Christina Robberds said.

“The arts is a powerful tool for self-expression and community connection. This project will use the arts as a conversation starter  to accept difference and celebrate diversity.”

A team of 44 linkers across eight offices in the Hunter Central Coast region support people with disability, their families and carers to live the life they want in their community, linking people and communities with opportunities.

There are about 130,000 people living with disability in the Hunter, plus 52,000 carers, most of who are not eligible for individually-funded supports but who can benefit from support to link to mainstream services, organisations, and businesses. More than 43,500 people in NSW engage with Ability Links every year, which returns $3 for every $1 invested in the program. 

Of those, thousands have achieved employment, education and training outcomes. 

Urbis consultants describe the program as ‘ground-breaking’, and the “first of its kind in Australia”, taking a whole-of-life approach to helping people overcome social isolation, lack of confidence or skills and other barriers to community life.

The  Smart Art Includes You Challenge’  forms part of Ability Links’ strategic approach to building capacity within schools and the broader community to be maximally accessible, welcoming, and inclusive of people with disabilities, their families, and carers.

Schools must register to participate by June 30, and to be eligible to go in the draw to win prizes of $5000 or $2500 they must prepare a two-page summary of how they would spend that money on capacity building initiatives.

For more details or to register, visit or contact   4905 0705. To learn more about Ability Links NSW, visit or call  4905 0700.