At a recent Diversity Arts Australia (DARTS) conference, Paula Abood hauled a pile of dog-eared publications onto the table. “This is my collection of Diversity in the Arts policies”. They went back 30 years.
In the UK too we’ve been talking about this for a long time. The contexts may be different but we share many similarities, e.g. in both countries representation of people of colour and CaLD artists is roughly half that in the arts as it is in the wider workforce. Progress is being made, but it is not keeping pace with our societies, it is often not sustained, there is little structural change, and it is not yet embedded where power resides in our industry. I was recently told “I’ve got people with capacity coming out of my ears. What we need is access”.
We have taken a year to listen to artists and organisations in the UK and Australia, working with DARTS to explore where our resources are of most value. British Council’s core work is cultural relations with a diverse, globally mobile team across 110 countries, and Australia is part of a strong East Asia region. Stakeholders honed in on our ability to connect people worldwide, both artist-to-artist and by facilitating knowledge sharing between institutions and policy makers, and our sustained focus on inclusion.
We have partnered with DARTS, Western Sydney University and key strategic bodies (announced soon) on Art Connects Us. The next three years our arts work in Australia will focus on:
Australia is the third largest market for British culture after the USA and Europe, but opportunities have been limited for BAME artists. This over-representation of “whiteness” in touring work does not reflect contemporary British culture. We are networking BAME producers into international markets, and in Australia we will focus on opportunities and profile for UK BAME artists. In 2018 we have supported The Barber Shop Chronicles at Sydney Festival, Nassim at ACM and Perth Festival, Not Today’s Yesterday in Adelaide, Margaret Busby OBE comes to Brisbane’s WOW18 in April, in May Art House will present Salt and we welcome two artists to Sydney Writers Festival. Most have long relationships with British Council and we are delighted that Australians are seeing more of their work.
We are collaborating with DARTS to connect British BAME and Australian First Nations and CaLD curators, programmers, producers and publishers – those who have the power to select whose work is seen, what work is seen, how it is seen and who sees it. It will be open to new applicants and alumni of programmes such as ACCELERATE and Realise Your Dream.
Best practice is not widely shared between the UK and Australia. Western Sydney University will be asking the industry what might this look like, and we will partner with institutions in the UK and Australia to deliver it.
Photo: Salt by Selena Thompson, copyright Richard Davenport