Breaking barriers and supporting careers:  why ArtLife matters
May 22, 2023

Breaking barriers and supporting careers:  why ArtLife matters

Disability Pride pasteups by Larissa MacFarlane


Growing up, Diego and Darren were always interested in art—but they never really knew how to make their way into the highly-competitive art world, especially as disabled artists. 

That is, until they joined the Footscray Community Arts ArtLife program, which has supported their careers to skyrocket in ways they couldn’t have imagined. 

Artist Diego Pizarro specialises in prints, paintings, ceramics and digital media, influenced by comics and pop culture—and last year, he ran his very own solo show at the Neighbourhood Festival. 

“It was a good feeling,” Diego said. 

“I wasn’t expecting it to happen. It makes me feel happy, because people saw my work. I feel very proud of myself.” 

Diego’s show was centered around a character known as Electric Man, a trackworker who becomes a superhero after an encounter with a fuse box at his local train station. Loosely based on the narrative of Robin Hood, Electric Man is a way for Diego to address global imbalances of power and the unequal distribution of resources around the world. Alongside his art, Diego also created merch, including Electric Man t-shirts, which sold out, a feat Diego is proud of, as well as seeing his art advertised on posters and billboards throughout Melbourne’s west. 
Diego has been working with the ArtLife Program for 10 years, and says it’s taught him a lot about the art industry and has expanded his own art-making. 

“I used to just do painting. I didn’t know how to do ceramics, and now I’m pretty much a pro,” Diego said. 

“I’m glad I joined ArtLife, because I enjoy it a lot. I love the art industry.” 

One of Diego’s other biggest achievements with the program was his 2019 installation, Maze of Lost Souls, at the Due West Arts Festival, which was inspired by missing extended family who live overseas. 

Diego has no plans of stopping and is currently working on the next instalment of Electric Man, where the hero saves the Amazon from a bad guy trying to steal all the water. 

Darren Aquilina is another talented visual artist—and dancer—who has worked with the ArtLife program since 2019. His paintings are a reflection of his love for sport and friendship, including birds-eye views of football ovals and abstract portraits of friends. He also creates impressive sculptures, adorned with thick, heavy lines and industrial shapes. 

Excitingly, Darren is gearing up for his very first art show, which will be part of Bright, an October exhibition in the Roslyn Smorgon Gallery at Footscray Community Arts. He will also be sharing his work at the Makers Markets in August. 
Darren joined ArtLife after some of his other friends recommended it—and it’s now become one of his favourite things, both for art, and for socialising with new people and making friends. 
“I’ve always been interested in art, but never made any before I came here,” he said. 
“I love it here.” 
Darren’s works are often featured in the ArtLife newsletter, which brings him a lot of joy. He hopes to make more friends, see more art, and keep creating. 

“I want to do more paintings. I’d like to have my own show one day, where people can come see and touch my art.” 
A key part of the ArtLife program is supporting d/Deaf and Disabled artists to engage in the art world—and that wouldn’t be possible without their community van, which takes them to galleries, exhibitions, workshops, leadership events and more. 

“We love going out to different galleries and places, and we’d love more people to come with us,” Darren said. 

“It also helps us with our own art.” 

However, unfortunately, the van is over 20 years old, and needs to be replaced, which will cost the team around $100,000, particularly with access upgrades, like a wheelchair lift. They’ve launched an urgent fundraiser so they can continue supporting d/Deaf and Disabled artists with their careers. 
Want to know more about the community van fundraiser and how you can help? Share our fundraiser or donate today. 

Written by Zoe Simmons
Zoe Simmons is an award-winning disabled journalist, copywriter, author, speaker and advocate. She believes words can change the world—and she candidly shares her experiences with disability to smash stigma, create change, and help others know they aren’t alone. You can find out more about Zoe on her website, or follow her on InstagramFacebookTwitterLinkedIn or Tik Tok.