In the seventh episode of The ArtsHubbub we look at how the arts can support all artists regardless of their cultural background or their level of ability. We wanted to hear directly from artists and arts leaders who are working to make our sector more equitable, more diverse. We know there are more voices to hear from and many more issues to unpack; this episode aims to start a conversation for arts organisations rather than being the final word on the matter.
We start with Jacob Boehme, a multi-disciplinary theatre maker and choreographer of the Narangga and Kaurna Nations. Boehme believes there’s a degree of nervousness in how we approach questions of race and culture in the arts, especially in regards to the demonstrated hesitance audiences and even some presenters display when it comes to engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and performance.
‘I think really what it comes down to a lot is just basic fear. Fear that the presenter is going to get it wrong and from the audience, fear that they’re going to get it wrong, they’re not going to get it. Which rather than jumping in and making mistakes, generally tends to kind of do a whole 180 and turn people into, well, it just turns people into freezing, freezing and not trying at all just because of the, the fear, really,’ Boehme said.
Developing good allies is an important part of long-term change. Lena Nahlous, Executive Director of Diversity Arts Australia, thought her organisation needed to go one better. In partnership with The British Council, they created an anti-racism toolkit.
‘Often we operate in systems that we take for granted and the Creative Equity Toolkit reminds us that these systems are often created to exclude many people and only include an elite few. So this toolkit provides resources to empower people of color and culturally and linguistically diverse people and allies and organisations with the tools they need to make substantive, long term change and get to the root of systemic discrimination in the arts,’ said Nahlous.
DIsability and ACCESS
Disability can come in many forms – some less visible than others. Neurodiversity is also often invisible, but for too long has hindered some people’s equal access and engagement in the arts. For playwright and academic Fleur Kilpatrick, her dyslexia has become an important part of her teaching.
‘So instead of now doing things that are all about me reading massive things, I was like, well, let’s be more creative about this. We do videos, we do podcasts, we do presentations, we do so many different forms of assessment now because of my dyslexia. Because I’m looking out for me, the students get more creative assessments,’ Kilpatrick told us.
Working as the Access Inclusion Coordinator at Melbourne Fringe, appearance activist and writer Carly Findlay has developed practical guidelines to assist independent producers make their work more accessible. Such guidelines include practical aspects, e.g. organising Auslan interpreters and budgeting for accessibility, but she also advocates for the importance of promoting within communities.
‘One of the things that is really important is when you’re doing when you’re doing accessible shows, when you’re creating accessible art, you need to reach those people. And so many people might think that it was a waste of time in … making the shows accessible because no one came, but then they didn’t reach out to those people in the audiences in the communities,’ Findlay said.
This episode was supported by the Australia Council’s National Arts and Disability Awards 2020 which recognise the achievements of established and young artists.
Nominations close 1 September.