Art is for everyone


Dear Artist,

My friend Carla co-leads exhibition tours at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. She does it as part of Bella Plus Connect — a monthly community drop-in program for people with disability or access requirements. Art enthusiasts of all ages and abilities are invited to meet and connect with each other and artist educators to explore the galleries and develop their own art practices.

Bella Plus Connectors in the Inside/Out Room, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. Daniel Boud photo

Bella Plus Connectors in the Inside/Out Room, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
Daniel Boud photo

“I like being a part of the tours because it’s made me more mature and confident. I’ve learned to use eye contact and be sociable and friendly,” said Carla in a recent interview for the MCA about the tours. “I’m good at co-hosting and being a gallery rules ambassador.” For Carla, who’ll turn 30 this February, co-leading tours at the MCA is just one of her many interests including her dance class, cooking, hanging out with friends, travelling, watching movies, going to the gym, following her favourite Rugby League team and her job at Fox Sports.

And Carla’s gallery tours are just one of several parts of the Bella Program — a collection of individually tailored programs including ones for creative learning in schools, for groups, for families, for people living with dementia and a special exhibition room that annually commissions a totally interactive, sensory-focused installation called The Jackson Bella Room Commission. Another program called Bella Plus Art Partners features 3-month, one-on-one, individually tailored professional and creative mentorships for adult artists with special needs. All of it is offered by the museum, free of charge.

A student from Wairoa Primary School visits the Jackson Bella Room. Paint me in, 2018 Synthetic polymer paint and ink on canvas, steel by Lara Merrett (b.1971), commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia for the Jackson Bella Room, 2018 Jacquie Manning photo

A student from Wairoa Primary School visits the Jackson Bella Room
Paint me in, 2018
Synthetic polymer paint and ink on canvas, steel
by Lara Merrett (b.1971), commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia for the Jackson Bella Room, 2018
Jacquie Manning photo

Named for Belinda Jackson, a jeweler, who died in 1990 at age 29, The Bella Program was established when Belinda’s family wanted to commemorate her creativity by supporting other artists. First, in 1992, they began what is now the longest-running exhibition of Contemporary Art in Australia, Primavera — the MCA’s annual exhibition of young Australian artists aged 35 and under. The following year, the Jacksons formed the Bella Program. Bella currently welcomes 3000 children and adults with disabilities into the museum and a world of art.



PS: “The tours make me feel happy and better – it’s helped me build skills, make friends, be social. It’s good fun to be here. I feel welcome and I enjoy the activities. Everyone respects each other.” (Carla Hage)

Carla and Sara in Sydney, December, 2019

Carla and Sara in Sydney, December, 2019

Esoterica: “Recognizing the importance that creativity played in their own daughter’s life, and deciding to share this with other artists, curators and broad audiences, publicly acknowledges the value of art,” said Hannah Mathews, Primaveras 2008 curator. “This is something we need more of in Australia: a commitment to and a valuing of art and culture as sustaining elements for a healthy, educated and enriched country.” When asked to reflect on her experience co-leading tours for Bella Plus Connect, Carla said, “Take a deep breath. The people here are friendly. Art is for everyone.”

Happy New Year to each and every one of you. I hope you’ll say hi to Carla in the comments! Sara 

The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys. 

“Ability is of little account without opportunity.” (Napoleon Bonaparte)



  1. Linda Klenczar on

    Art Heals the soul. So glad you are enjoying talking about art with others Carla. It is fun to learn about art, by talking to others who enjoy it. All kinds of new ideas come through creative processes that everyone has. Enjoy. Linda

  2. Hello Carla,

    Thanks for what you do to help spread the joys and benefits of the arts. We need more people like you. Have a very Happy New Year.

  3. Great program! Creating art so beneficial for the senses just as viewing art can transport us to places we may never know otherwise. Thank you to the Jackson family for creating the Bella program!

  4. Hi Carla and Sara,
    How wonderful to read about this! Wish we could go on a tour with you! Happy New Year.
    Warmly and with love,

  5. Hi Carla,
    It’s beautiful that you are blessing so many people with this program; art is so therapeutic an inspiring to us all!
    Thank you and God bless you.

  6. How wonderful that the Bella Program has you as an ambassador/exhibition docent, Carla! You clearly love what you in the program and that, in itself, makes the program even better. Congratulations on all that you do; (apply 2020!

  7. January 4 is Braille Day everywhere so it has started already in Australia,

    Thank you Carla for these great experiences. I hope to hear more about this program including activities for visually impaired persons.

  8. Carla, I love your sense of humour!: “Take a deep breath.. . Art is for everyone. “ Yes, my dear, indeed, and thank you for spreading art knowledge and its many benefits by doing these tours. Maybe one day I will be able to attend one, but in the meantime, Happy New Year to you and everyone everywhere and may this new decade bring us all sharper vision and delightful new art insights, wherever we may be!

  9. Carla and Sara
    Art is for everyone
    How often the disadvantage and challenged adults and children are left out…leaving the Museum experience only to those like the mainstream population. What a wonderful program. More Museums should follow your lead. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Thanks Carla and Sara. I’ve just been asked if a group from our local dementia home could visit my studio gallery. I’d said yes but was wondering how it might work out. Now I feel part of something bigger and these new visitors will be just fine

  11. Such a great program. Happy to say I operate a free, weekly drop-in program in downtown Toronto in a marginalized community with a history of poverty and violence. Many of the residents are living with or in recovery from mental health issues, housing and food instability, mobility and other physical challenges. We are three artists with a passion to transform communities through art. Every Thursday participants enjoy a safe and welcoming space in which to try their hand at painting and clay sculpture, printmaking and collage. CBC Toronto recognized us with a Community Champions Award in 2019. Check us out on Instagram @AcornArtsProject and if you feel inclined to support our efforts, we have a Fundraising page on the GoFundMe platform. Thanks and Happy New Year to the wonderful Painter’s Keys Community.

    • That’s amazing and heart warming! How generous of you and your companions for a much needed (everywhere) service. Be proud of yourselves! I am!

  12. Everyone has creative ability. Carla, thanks for helping needs people actaulize that ability and feel the joy, accomplishment and sense of community that it brings.

  13. Greetings Carla- what a wonderful program to be a part of the sharing of art. Love your smile wishing you the very best throughout the year.

  14. Jan Sedgewick on

    Dear Carla and Sara,
    So thrilled to learn about this offering. The Minneapolis Institute of Art has tours similar to what you’re doing
    Although your program sounds more developed. B/C I helped make it happen here, it just brought great happiness to read your story from Australia!
    Yes! Art is for everyone. Thank you, keep the peace spreading.

  15. That’s amazing and heart warming! How generous of you and your companions for a much needed (everywhere) service. Be proud of yourselves! I am!

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Featured Workshop

“THE MAGIC OF PAINTING FROM LIFE” with Sheree Jones at Casa Buena Art Retreat, Mexico
November 20, 2019 to November 27, 2019

Spanish Casita

Join Canadian artist Sheree Jones as she shares her passion for painting “from life” at this idyllic coastal retreat.

This workshop is designed for experienced beginner & intermediate oil (and acrylic) painters.
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Outstanding food, accommodations, and field trips will satisfy your desire for both comfort and adventure. Non painting partners welcome.

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11 x 14

Featured Artist

I am a self taught artist, I work in oil, Acrylic and watercolour also in Pastels. Started painting In Ashcroft with Mr. Campbell. I taught my self how to paint by studying professional artists’ work through reading, TV programs, educational DVD and work shops.


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