Empowerment. Engagement. Authenticity.

Indian Summer Festival and VocalEye Strive for Inclusivity of People with Sight Loss

Kristy and Shawn standing in the Royal Box at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts

As our shuttle left Burrard Station, I reminded myself to relax. Getting to the correct bus loop, navigating to the appropriate Skytrain exit to meet my fellow concert attendees, even picking my way carefully through the gathering dusk was behind me. I could simply sit back and enjoy the entertainment to come. It was a notion as unfamiliar to me as the swaths of manicured hedges and stately A-frame houses I saw streaming by as we left city limits.

We all have our comfort zones, cultural silos to which we gravitate. It is human nature, is it not, to surround ourselves with people who share our values and our understanding of the society in which we live? Throw being a minority into the mix – be it racial, religious or disability – and that need amplifies and takes on another dimension. I grew up in Trinidad and Tobago, an island nation that, for all its strife, thrives on cultural diversity and appreciation. I proudly identify as West Indian. When the invitation from the Indian Summer Festival appeared in my inbox, it immediately piqued my interest.

And then that other dimension threw cold water on my excitement.

The venue was a universe away from the transit routes I knew. The event was at night and, even with our long summer days, I quailed at the idea of finding my way home after 10PM. Aside from financial constraints, access to a venue is the number one hindrance to my willingness to try something new. I've let many an opportunity go – professional and social – because the venue wasn't accessible via transit or, yes I'll admit it, I wasn't brave enough to leave my comfort zone.

The Indian Summer Festival, in collaboration with VocalEye Descriptive Arts, took the decision out of my hands. A shuttle would take concert attendees from Burrard Station to the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts and would return us to the Skytrain afterwards.

So out of my comfort zone I was thrust.

The concert, as well as the pre-reception touch tour and talk, was a cultural experience I'll never forget. Sitting in the Royal Box, in the cello-shaped elegance of the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, I let the haunting call of the sarod and the energetic rhythm of the tabla drums draw me into a space where comfort zones and cultural silos didn't matter.

The effort exerted by the Indian Summer Festival and VocalEye to make this experience inclusive and multi-sensory was accomplished with seamless finesse. My only wish was that the setting and performers' attire had been described in detail. From photos I took, I can see the thick-piled rug and the lavish bouquets of flowers. Was there a pattern on the rug? What types of flowers were there? Did the performers' garb gleam with the intricate embroidery so popular in East Indian fashion? Perhaps this is food for thought for future performances. The richness of such an event, one which pulls you by the lapels into something foreign, should be enjoyed on all levels – auditory, tactile and, most definitely, visual regardless of whether you are a person with sight loss or not.

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