HEARING loss did not silence a piano virtuoso, neither did vision impairment stop a master chef or autism hold back the natural talent of a painting savant.

It is true that a disability is no obstacle to the passionate artist, or a stumbling block to the talented. This month, Art Includes 2019 will celebrate these extraordinary people.

Hailed as the first festival in Malaysia to showcase the artistic side – as well as the entrepreneurship – of those with disabilities, the festival will feature such personalities as celebrated Singaporean pianist with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss Dr Azariah Tan, MasterChef’s first visually-impaired champion American-Vietnamese Christine Ha, and two Malaysians – 16-year-old autistic savant Wan Jamila Wan Shaiful Bahri, as well as blind photographer Jamaliah Mohd Yasin.

Others appearing at the festival include disabled professional dancer from Nepal Sristi K.C.; Lim Chia-Chien, one of the first visually-impaired female baristas from Taiwan; and no less than three differently-abled entrepreneurs from Malaysia.

Happening at Ruang by Think City, Kuala Lumpur, from Sept 23 to 29, the inaugural Art Includes is themed Celebrating Diversities, and is held in conjunction with the United Nations Global Day of Action.

“We hope to generate RM500,000 from various activities planned throughout the seven-day festival to scale up the Dialogue Includes Academy (DIA),” says DIA founder Stevens Chan, the brains behind this festival.

Chan, who is blind himself, founded Dialogue in the Dark Malaysia (DID) in 2012. He and his team then turned it into an academy aimed at equipping and empowering the visually-impared, and other people with disabilities.

He explains: “The academy currently teaches eight visually-impaired youths, two physically-impaired children, and one autistic adult in downtown Kuala Lumpur and Cheras.

“We also aid 153 blind and deaf students with their studies, as well as 10 students with multiple disabilities and two in a special school in Kuala Lumpur.”

One of their efforts to raise funds involves a collaboration with online platform Yeefu to promote specially-designed T-shirts with the slogan, ‘We Were Born to Stand Out’, priced at RM60 each.

As for the Art Includes 2019 festival, it will start with a three-day conference themed Celebrating Diversities – The Path to Building Resilience.

It will feature 10 renowned local and foreign artists and businessmen who have become the best in their respective fields despite challenges, together with organisations that have facilitated the disabled to succeed in their fields.

Conference tickets are priced at RM300 for the one-day workshop on Sept 23, RM600 for the two-day conference from Sept 24 to 25, and RM880 for the three-day programme comprising the workshop and conference.

On Sept 26, prepare for “a culinary adventure made for the senses” with MasterChef US winner Ha in a fundraising dinner themed Fine Dining in the Dark.

Limited to 15 tables of 10 pax each, each table is priced at RM5,000.

There will also be a special Concert in the Dark on Sept 27, held in collaboration with the Singapore Causeway Exchange.

It will feature three professional bands from Malaysia and Singapore as well as artistes such as singer-songwriter and activist Rozella.

What makes this two-and-a-half-hour concert special is that it will be held in total darkness. Tickets for the concert are priced at RM99 each.

An exhibition and marketplace will also be held throughout the event.

Art Includes 2019 will conclude with an open-air Street Fiesta celebrating arts, dance, and music on Sept 28 from 10am to 10pm along Medan Pasar.

For more, visit art.includes.my.

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