“Growing up not seeing yourself reflected back in your nation’s stories is a quietly dehumanizing thing.” Race Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Tim Soutphommasane quoted Writer and Creator of the TV show Family Law, Benjamin Law in his opening speech at the Diversity Arts Australia 2017 Symposium.”
So why in 2018 is the power to decide what appears on screen or stage or what is shown in our cultural institutions still overwhelmingly in the hands of one cultural group?
It’s a question with which both the Australian and British arts sectors are grappling. The British Council and Diversity Arts Australia (DARTS) are partnering to support increased cultural diversity among our arts decision makers. The work will span three streams; institutional knowledge exchange, peer mentoring among programmers, and touring opportunities in Australia for British minority ethnic artists. Partners include Creative Victoria, Institute of Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship, Goldsmiths, University of London and Western Sydney University.
Expressions of interest are open for mid-career professionals from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, culturally and linguistically diverse and minority ethnic backgrounds* to take part in a new peer knowledge exchange called INTERSECT. The programme is open to curators, artistic directors, programmers, publishers and producers from the performing arts, visual arts, literature and screen sector. Alumni of previous British Council and DARTS programmes are encouraged to apply as well as those who have not previously participated.
Six British and Australian arts professionals will be selected to travel to each other’s countries to connect with international colleagues, share ideas and collaborate. INTERSECT is designed to be a peer-to-peer exchange over the course of nine months in support of each others’ vision.
INTERSECT was developed from stakeholder consultation which began with workshops facilitated by DARTS and Footscray Community Arts Centre. The Advisory Group includes leading Australian and British arts practitioners of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, culturally and linguistically diverse and minority ethnic backgrounds.
According to the Australia Council of the Arts’ 2017 Making Art Work report, people from a non-English speaking background account for only 10 percent of the arts workforce, compared to 18 percent of the general workforce. It’s a similar story in the UK, where The Arts Council of England found that people from a minority ethnic background make up 11 percent of staff at their National Portfolio Organizations and 4 percent of staff at Major Partner Museums compared to 16 percent of the general workforce.
Lena Nahlous the Executive Director of Diversity Arts Australia says this lack of diversity at the institutional level translates to a lack of diversity in programming and diverse artists struggle to get a foot in the door.
“The UK and Australia are very different on the one hand but there is also a lot of commonality and links in terms of our histories of migration and colonization. We share similar issues in terms of the under-representation of people from culturally diverse backgrounds in our sectors and both the UK and Australia have undertaken research and are facilitating discourse around the lack of diversity and inclusion.”
The Director of the British Council in Australia, Helen Salmon says that is why the INTERSECT exchange is focussed on curators, artistic directors, programmers, publishers and producers.
“INTERSECT seeks to strengthen diversity and opportunity in a place where power lies – among those who decide whose work is seen, what is seen, how it is seen and who sees it, thereby multiplying the impact,” said Salmon. “By connecting programming decision-makers who have growing power and influence in the UK and Australian arts, we hope to support platforms for art that reflect, resonate with and enrich our whole society.”
Australia is the third biggest market for British culture after the USA and Europe but previously one cultural group has been over-represented in the touring productions. In the UK the British Council is attempting to redress the balance of representation by UK artists / companies travelling abroad with support from the British Council, with programmes for minority ethnic artists to build international networks at the Edinburgh festivals, and bursaries to attend the Informal European Theatre Meeting.
In Australia, so far this year, the British Council has supported The Barber Shop Chronicles at Sydney Festival, Nassim at Arts Centre Melbourne and Perth International Festival, authors Yrsa Daley-Ward and Angela Saini at Sydney Writers’ Festival, Not Today’s Yesterday at Adelaide Fringe, salt. at Arts House Melbourne, and publishing legend Margaret Busby OBE at Brisbane’s WOW18.
Applications for INTERSECT are open now and will close 02 July 2018 23.59 UK Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
* For the purposes of this programme we will use the terms Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, culturally and linguistically diverse and minority ethnic. We understand and acknowledge that many people choose to self-identify differently.