Creating connections and building relationships: why the ArtLife program is so powerful for d/Deaf and Disabled artists
May 22, 2023

Creating connections and building relationships: why the ArtLife program is so powerful for d/Deaf and Disabled artists


The ArtLife program may be all about supporting d/Deaf and Disabled artists with their careers—but it’s also about so much more: making connections. 

Visual artist Darren Aquilina joined the program back in 2019. And when the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 hit, the program kept Darren going, both through friendship and art-making, with the Footscray Community Arts team hosting the program safely via Zoom. 

“I couldn’t see anybody, so it helped a lot,” Darren said. 
The ArtLife program facilitates everything from drawing, painting, mixed media, sculpture and digital art, to dance and performance. It also focuses on industry development, including workshops, talks, networking, mentoring and leadership opportunities, aiming to increase d/Deaf and Disabled representation in the art industry.  
While ArtLife has been incredible for Darren’s career as an artist and dancer, it’s also helped him build relationships, make industry connections, and find friends.  
“Meeting new people is my favourite thing about the program,” Darren said. 
“I really like meeting my friends, having lunch with them, and going to get a coffee or hot chocolate.” 

“Sometimes we go see art shows, which also helps us make our own art.” 

Darren joined the program after other friends recommended it to him. And when he came, he even saw a familiar face: Diego Pizarro, a digital artist whose work is inspired by comic books and pop culture. 
Diego found the ArtLife program after finishing a course at RMIT.  He’d had a deep love for art since school, and decided to give it a go—and he’s glad he did. In the ten years since joining the program, Diego’s career has skyrocketed. And to put the cherry on top, Diego says he’s made a lot of life-changing connections and friendships—including Darren, and many of the other ArtLife participants. 

The pair hope even more d/Deaf and Disabled artists can join the program—but to do that, Footscray Community Arts urgently needs a new community van, a vital part of the program that transports participants to events and opportunities.  
The current van is more than 20 years old, and needs accessibility upgrades, like a wheelchair lift, so more artists can be involved. The team are raising money to get a new, more accessible van to continue to support more disabled artists into Melbourne’s thriving art scene, with a goal of $100,000.  
Darren, Diego and the other ArtLife participants hope they can get a new van—because it means they can meet more people and make more connections in the art industry. 

“We love going out to galleries and different places, and we’d love for more people to come with us,” Diego said.  
“The important thing is to make sure it’s more accessible, so we can get more people to join the program.” 

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.