Dunedin artist and motivational speaker Julie Woods, aka That Blind Woman, will join Richard Benge, Executive Director, Arts Access Aotearoa in Parliament on Tuesday, 4 July to present the Arts Access Awards 2017.
“It’s essential that disabled people can work, be seen, heard and valued the same as anybody if we want to live in an inclusive society,” Richard says. “I’m delighted to present the Arts Access Awards with Julie, who is blind. Julie’s script will be in braille and we’ll have some rehearsals beforehand to make sure our cues are correct.
“Last year’s awards highlighted the deaf community and New Zealand Sign Language. This year, we’re acknowledging the contribution of people in the blindness community.”
Julie is an enthusiastic advocate of people having access to the arts. As an ambassador for the Blind Foundation and a founding member of Arts Access Aotearoa’s Art for All Otago Network, she works with regional institutions to improve access to arts and culture for disabled people.
“Art is a powerful way to have a voice,” Julie says. “It’s vital that we ensure everyone has access to resources so they can enjoy and create it.”
Determined not to let her blindness get in her way, Julie has a daunting list of achievements. She has published an autobiographical self-help book, How to Make A Silver Lining; walked nine half-marathons; visited 50 countries in 50 years; and refereed three naked rugby games.
In 2013, her show 50 Shades of Braille featured in the Dunedin Fringe. It used an edible braille montage to spell out a sentence from the novel 50 Shades of Grey to demystify the sexuality of blind people.
In addition to art, travel and writing, Julie also holds demonstrations of her “Cooking Without Looking” skills for dieticians, business associations and peer support organisations.
In keeping with this year’s focus on the blindness community, a finalist in the Arts Access Artistic Achievement Award, Mark Wilson, will entertain guests during the reception in the Grand Hall of Parliament.
Mark Wilson, a singer, composer and pianist from Queenstown, is blind. He learned to play the piano as a child by ear in the supportive musical environment of Homai College. A friend later persuaded him to apply to The University of Auckland to study performance, where he became the first braille reading musician to gain a Performance BA (Mus) degree in classical music.
Today, Mark performs in Central Otago, playing a wide variety of genres. He is an organist for the local church and has published a book of original hymns. He plays jazz and popular music with many local bands, and has performed at jazz festivals up and down the country. He calls his unique solo style “jazzical”, which is a blend of classical music with creative and innovative jazz solos.