Communications Consultant, Hayley Holden in Yogyajarkata with Nalitari Dance Company

Partnerships in Inclusive Arts

Team up and create! That’s one of the principles which guides our work here at We Are Epic.  Inclusive arts as a practice wouldn’t work without partnerships and collaborations, after all, the point of inclusive arts is to value the participation of people of all abilities, backgrounds and identities.

We think that’s a key way to make inspiring art and develop creative economies! 

The act of partnering with other artists and organisations inspires more powerful ideas and helps projects to flourish. When you combine different ideas, backgrounds and diverse perspectives you open up another level of creativity.

Let’s explore why partnerships and collaborations matter in inclusive arts through one of We Are Epic’s main partners, Nalitari.

Inclusive Arts Partners: We Are Epic & Nalatri

Over the last few years, We Are Epic has worked alongside Nalitari. We’re proud to collaborate with Nalitari, an inclusive dance community group based in Yogjakarta, Indonesia.

I met Nurul, the dance leader from Nalitari, at a British Council training event in February 2018. I was immediately drawn to Nalitari’s work because of their work in dance and inclusion, but also their desire to become more sustainable through developing social enterprises

Our collaboration with Nalitari started in 2018 and has been ongoing ever since. By working together, everyone can access new perspectives and combine them into fresh ideas.

The Beginnings

The Nalitari Arts Leaders wanted to transform their vibrant grassroots community group into a more sustainable venture. Together we developed a roadmap to address organisational development needs and then began connecting arts managers & professionals from three continents – the UK, Australia and Cambodia to the Nalitari team! Each facilitator delivered intensive week-long training in areas of governance, marketing and safeguarding.

Nalitari has been established since 2013, now it’s 2019 so its our sixth year. Maybe its time for Nalitari to improve to become a more professional community, with a more well managed organisational structure and activities so we are more clear about what we want to produce and what the purpose of Nalitari’s establishment, as well as where we are going.

New Ways of Partnering

We’d all enjoyed working together for a year in Jogjakarta and we were excited for our next steps together in 2020! We hatched a plan and secured funds for a creative collaboration between Nalitari and ID Dance Co. Nalitari were to travel to the UK to explore inclusive choreography possibilities with the dancers who are part of We Are Epic’s talent development project (ID Dance Co.) in Leicester, UK. Just as we wrapped up our final intensive training in Indonesia and began finalising travel details, the first cases of covid-19 started trickling through South East Asia. Our plans were scuppered, but like everyone around the world, we came up with new ways of working. We continued our partnership and ended up delivering the exchange online, it was our first fully online international exchange.

behind the scenes the Nalitari team sit in front of a laptop and pose for a zoom screenshot

Connections Through Culture

Connections Through Culture In July 2021, the British Council supported We Are Epic to work with ID Dance Co. to deliver a virtual, inclusive dance

Continuing Partnership Through Uncertainty

With the global pandemic still raging throughout 2021, we began to see our new ways of working as the new normal – not just a novelty. We developed a new online international exchange which saw us co-ordinating a series of workshops. We partnered with disabled Choreographer, Lisa Simpson in a series of workshops. The online workshops introduced dancers from Nalitari (Indonesia) and Epic Encounters (Cambodia) to her innovative inclusive dance tool, The Simpson Board

United Differences

United Differences – Lisa Simpson In July 2021 We Are Epic worked with disabled choreographer, Lisa Simpson, after she was successfully awarded an Unlimited Micro

“People can create a dance even without verbal communication. It makes me believe that everyone can be a choreographer.”

Locally Led Focus

Much has been said already about western organisations entering countries and imposing ‘western values’ onto people and cultures. We see that this is still an issue in the international context. With a team that’s been running international inclusive arts projects since 2012, we’re dedicated to questioning our attitudes and processes to create locally-led projects.

"The pandemic allowed us a little bit of time to reflect on eight years of working internationally. I'd just got back from Indonesia working with Nalitari and had completed a dance residency with James Cousins at Epic Arts in Cambodia when lockdown began. Lockdown allowed a lot of time for reflection. I had the realisation that as much as I thought I'd done great work with previous partnerships, if I had the time again I'd have done it differently. The uncontrollable nature of the world led me to focus on things that I could change. Myself. I became more aware of my privilege and my biases both conscious and otherwise. As a white middle-class male there are plenty of those, and I can recall thinking about situations where I'd perhaps been a bit too heavy handed or dare I say at times, demonstrated a 'colonial' superiority about implementing my ideas on projects in the past. 2020 provided the mirror to make that revelation."

Our focus on locally-led projects helps us to make sure that our projects are successful and meaningful for all involved. The idea of international projects is to have a positive impact by fostering understanding between cultures. Working in an international context allows us to gain new perspectives and we can see our own cultures, beliefs and country in a new way.

"As we emerge into a new world and into new partnerships, we as an organisation have more understanding than ever that our role, whether as advisors, producers, mentors or directors, is to amplify, enhance and strengthen voices them without distorting them in the slightest and most importantly, learn everything we can from them and acknowledge that."

"I think WAE are really helpful in a way that to formulate our ideas. I think to make Nalitari a social enterprise, it will help a lot for our community in a way of sustainability."

Partnerships for Inclusive Arts

When it comes to leading arts organisations partnering up with others is especially important because it helps us bridge divides between communities. By joining forces with folks from different backgrounds and experiences, we gain insight into perspectives that are different from ours. Through these meaningful connections, we’re better prepared as an organisation to create programmes and projects that accurately represent all voices respectfully. Learning from one another is key to creativity. The beauty of partnerships lies in their diversity – different perspectives and experiences can bring together unique ideas. Reaching beyond our comfort zones allows us to open up new horizons we may have never considered before, resulting in a unique resource that benefits everyone involved! We can’t wait to tell you more about our upcoming project with Nalitari in 2023.