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Embracing diversity in arts policy

Fiona Mackrell

Nike Jonah, from the Arts Council England has been in Australia sharing the importance of putting diversity at the centre of arts policy.
Embracing diversity in arts policy
‘Art can do many things: entertain, instruct, console, inspire, enrage, transform. It teaches us things we can’t be taught in any other way and makes us see things we wouldn’t otherwise see. It allows us the illusion of escaping our daily lives while simultaneously taking us deeper inside ourselves.’ Blake Morrison writer From Achieving Great Art for Everyone – A strategic framework for the arts The Arts Council England late last year released their 10-year vision, Achieving Great Art for Everyone – A strategic framework for the arts and for anyone who has been thinking about Australia’s own approach to art and culture policy for the next decade, its policy goals would be surprisingly familiar. As the title suggests, however, great art for everyone also holds embracing diversity as a central premise of their vision. This was further outlined in The Creative Case - a whole of Arts Council approach to Diversity in the Arts, launched at decibel Performing Arts Showcase in September, which aims to shift thinking on diversity from a legalistic policy for inclusion of disadvantaged groups to seeing diversity more positively as a requisite of culture and art that reflects modern society and inspires creativity. “The Creative Case is based upon the simple observation that diversity, in the widest sense, is an integral part of the artistic process. It is an important element in the dynamic that drives art forward, that innovates it and brings it closer to a profound dialogue with contemporary society.” Speaking in Australia for the World Summit on Arts & Culture on interculturality in the arts and at forums in Melbourne and Sydney for Kultour to talk about decibel and the Arts Council England’s diversity policies has been Nike Jonah, Project Manager, decibel Performing Arts Showcase, Arts Council England. Held in Manchester, Decibel Performing Arts Showcase is a four-day cross artform biennial performing arts market and symposium that promotes diverse practice and works from artists of ‘black and minority ethnic backgrounds, disabled people or any other artist who may have had limited opportunities to participate in the arts’. Artists present preview extracts and works that are ‘Tour Ready’ but can also show works in progress or pitch new works to arts programmers and producers from the UK, Europe and around the world. ‘Decibel is one of many initiatives we have at the Arts Council,’ says Nike Jonah. The focus is on attracting interesting, dynamic and innovative work that wouldn’t normally be seen in the mainstream that reflects the diversity of 21st century Britain and giving it a platform to reach a broader audience. ‘Because we believe, and this goes to our Creative Case, that if you create an environment where everybody can participate and engage you get some really interesting and excellent work coming out,’ says Jonah. Particularly heartening this year was an increased interest and support in the media. ‘I think they realize that this isn’t a token gesture and a way of supporting diverse artists but actually the work is really good, she says. Magdalena Moreno CEO of Kultour who attended decibel for the first time this year describes it as ‘mind blowing’ because it was about ‘great work’. ‘You weren’t focused on any set of otherness, you weren’t focused on disability or race or any other matters…it was actually about incredible and diverse work.’ She says it was a bit like APAM meets the World Summit meets a grass roots gathering that also had a lot people purchasing work. Moreno says what’s particularly interesting about the central concept of Great Art for Everyone is that it provides the broadest and most diverse pathways to allow everybody to thrive. ‘You’re not looking at community cultural development becoming the avenue for great indigenous or culturally diverse art … you’re talking about providing and acknowledging that artist pathways are different. In an Australia context this could reflect the diversity of the Australian aesthetic. ‘It has to be diverse because that is what we are as a country.’ ‘What needs to happen is that we need to broaden the canon of what’s considered Australian practice because the minute we do that then it’s about the great work.’ Though ostensibly in Australia to share her experiences and insights from the UK experience, Nike Jonah has been in awe of what is happening here and is keen to further strength ties. ‘I don’t often get blown away and I am,’ says Jonah of the interconnections she’s seen in the works of artists from diverse backgrounds. Where else she says can you see fusion between artists from Indigenous, Pacific Islander, Asian and European backgrounds, bemoaning that it’s a side of Australian culture not seen in England. ‘Why do I only get Home and Away? she says reflecting again on the limited platforms available for promoting cultural diversity. ‘Australia’s so incredibly vibrant. I had a very different impression of Australia to what actually is happening here and I think it’s very exciting… I should have come here much sooner.’ ‘You really are touching on a time where,’ says Jonah, ‘for me if it’s managed right and led right you could be positioned… as world leaders as far as arts and culture.’ Download the Arts Council England’s Strategic Framework for the Arts via their website or visit decibelpas.com.

About the author

Fiona Mackrell is a Melbourne based freelancer. You can follow her at @McFifi or check out www.fionamackrell.com

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