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.
Jacob Boehme: Before we even actually go into discussions about treaty, we need to go through a process of truth telling as per the Uluru statement from the heart. I think there actually…really… I think there is the key to what – to how we can start approaching things. I’ve often challenged ADs and CEOs of organisations to look at that and see if they can adopt that in their…in their constitutions for their organisations. Yeah.
George Dunford: That was Jacob Boheme, a Melbourne born and raised artist of the Narangga and Kaurna Nations in South Australia. We’ll be hearing more of Jacob later.
Welcome to the ArtsHubbub, a monthly look inside Australian arts… and artists. I’m your host George Dunford. This month we look at access to the arts, and how inclusive the arts are for all artists. There are lots of barriers when it comes to accessing the arts, some of them more visible than others.
I want to start by acknowledging my own privilege. As a white cis male I can’t speak about the lived experience of an artist of colour, or an artist with disability, or a First Nations Australian practitioner. But what I can do is listen to people with real experiences working against some of those barriers and hopefully become a better ally to create change. For this Artshubbub we want to focus on disability and race, two issues that are confronting us right now.
Our website includes more articles on access, allyship and other barriers to the arts. Today’s episode is a starting point for a much bigger conversation. For the Nudge I’ll be handing things over to Artshub’s Richard Watts. He’ll talk to Jacob Boehme about how we can put First Nations’ culture at the centre of arts practice. We speak with Carly Findlay about her work as an appearance activist and developing accessibility guidelines for arts organisations. Fleur Kilpatrick details how dyslexia has shaped her work as a playwright and teacher. And Leeena Nahlous, executive director of Diversity Arts Australia reveals how they created their new anti-racism toolkit. Plus, Multicultural Arts Victoria’s Veronica Pardo asks what it will take to create real change in the sector
George Dunford: But first up, we talk to the new CEO of Arts Access Australia Matthew Hall. Matthew has worked in the arts and cultural fields for more than 20 years, including as an intellectual property lawyer for the Albert Namatjira family, and in various roles for the Brisbane Writers Festival and Queer Screen. Matthew identifies as a person with disability which is essential for his new role.
When we spoke to him it was his third day in the job and he was chatting with us from Burrawang in regional NSW, complete with the birds twittering in the background.
George Dunford: Matthew comes to the role from a legal background so we started talking about his work with the Namatjira Legacy Trust. I asked him how he came to be working for justice for an Aboriginal visual artist who lost the rights to his own work after being exploited.
Matthew Hall: There is a real sense of things aren’t what they need to be. And the way in which things work don’t deliver benefits to the people who deserve those benefits and… and.. and have an entitlement to those benefits and that there’s work to be done to, to shift that and to make the playing field more equitable and for people to be able to better control the stories that they tell and that are, you know, both culturally and personally very significant to them.
To the point where, as an example, like Albert Namatjira was was heavily criticised that everything that he earned from his career when he was alive, he…he was very strongly of the view that that was not his, it was his to share with his community and to help those and and support those in his community. And he had a cultural and moral obligation to do that. And so consequently, died essentially penniless because he gave away to his community. That which he created and he was, you know, severely criticised for that because he was not acting in a way that we would expect, you know, most European artists to act in the way that severe expression of themselves and they control it and it’s theirs. It’s not the community’s.
George Dunford: Copyright and the law, you know, more broadly are very colonial concepts. And yes, I wonder how you know, how you liberate First Nations art from that, you know, in this individual case, but even further down the track longer term.
Matthew Hall: That’s…and I mean, that’s… that’s been a burning question really for…for a long time that rears its head every so often. I mean, most recently there was the challenge around the use of the First Nations flag and who was the owner of the rights in that and the extent to which First Nations people were entitled or able to use it without infringing trademark or copyright rights of the artist of the flag and the NBA, commercial enterprise that obtained trademark rights in relation to it and so there are there…those issues and then they’re complicated by issues of ‘How is it that you can make use of indigenous artworks in ways that are culturally appropriate?’
George Dunford: There came a time that interrupted Matthew’s life as an intellectual property lawyer forcing him to re-think his career. He was attending the Ubud Writers Festival when he fell ill.
Matthew Hall: I spent five weeks lying in a hospital bed in their neurology ward of Liverpool Hospital here in Western Sydney. And that…that experience and the time when you’ve got nothing else to do, but lie in bed and think about things, and you are faced with your own mortality, you do start thinking about a lot of many different things and start questioning a lot of things and…and I started to question what I was doing with my life professionally and whether or not I was being fulfilled by that and whether or not there was something more that I could do that would make a more positive contribution and would be more meaningful to me personally.
George Dunford: He’d always been involved with the arts – not just his work with the Namatjira Legacy Trust but as Chair of Brisbane Writers Festival and Director of Queerscreen – but his health made him look at the arts differently. He identifies as disabled, a part of the Arts Access Australia charter which requires leadership and board members have lived experiences of disability.
Matthew Hall: It’s…I think it’s critically important to be able to bring to the role and to the interaction with other people lived experience and an empathy and irrespective of what the…what my experience is – which will be no doubt very different to the lived experiences of other people – it still…it still enables me to have an understanding, I think, of where they are coming from or to be empathetic to the issue or the… the… the framework within which they’re either viewing things or constructing an argument.
I think the ability to participate fully in a complete… completely rounded, balanced life is a fundamental human right, which is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that… and that it’s important that we recognise that everybody, but… but perhaps even more, so people who identify with disabilities have a real need… need to be able to access easily and equitably the fun things in life. And, and that’s what arts and culture gives to us.
George Dunford: How do you think …think other artists and art workers can be better allies for people who identify with disabilities?
Matthew Hall: Hmm, I think well, the easiest part of the question to answer is… I think there’s a lot that arts organisations can do that enable them to be better allies in terms of recognising that they may need to change the way in which they do things are the way in which they approach issues, whether that be in terms of having a more diverse artistic programme or more diverse contributions to their artistic programme, but also in terms of their accessibility for people identify with a disability or being able to… to engage with their programme.
George Dunford: I’ve heard it spoken about as who’s in the room. But I think it’s also about who has a voice and who feels capable of talking. How do we allow people with disabilities to be able to have a voice and make that voice more easily heard and expressed?
Matthew Hall: Well, I think… I think one ways is…is in terms of the work that Access Arts Australia and other disability advocacy organisations have and that it is to give people a voice through that organisation and I’m not necessarily saying for the organisation to speak for them, but to…for… the organisation to create the environments within which those people within… which people can speak and feel comfortable to speak and feel empowered to speak and feel respected and feel that they are also, not only are they being empowered to speak, but the people that they’re speaking to are listening and listening actively and empathetically and in a way that then generates a conversation as opposed to people just talking at each other. So I think that’s…that’s one aspect of it. And I think it’s also… and it’s creating those environments, both in formal context of…of either meetings or workshops or lobbying but it’s also in…in creating environments, or helping others and encouraging others to create those environments where everyone who wishes to can have a say.
George Dunford: Matthew will host Arts Access Australia’s annual event Meeting Place on 15-16 September. You can register for Meeting place at their website meetingplaceforum.org
Richard Watts: To celebrate the significant contribution of artists with disability to the vibrancy of Australian arts, the Australia Council has opened nominations for the National Arts and Disability Awards 2020.
You can help recognise the achievements of both established and young artists by nominating artists who have made an impact on you with their practice. Previous recipients have included Dion Beasley, Madeline Little and Janice Florence.
Nominations close 1 September. Find out more at australiacouncil.gov.au
George Dunford: Now it’s time for the Nudge.
George Dunford: Our monthly segment encouraging you to think more carefully about your creative focus and professional arts practice. This month, ArtsHub’s performing arts editor Richard Watts takes on a special edition of the Nudge.
Richard Watts: This month for the Nudge, I wanted us to hear directly from artists and arts leaders who are working to make our sector more equitable, and more diverse – people who are drawing upon their own lived experiences to reduce barriers to access, and arts industry leaders who – by example or through their work – are providing clear pathways forward, towards greater access for all. Together with my colleague Sabine Brix, we’ve spoken with some fascinating people who have a lot to say.
Fleur Kilpatrick: I actually think in a lot of ways I am a playwright because I’m dyslexic though, because I loved storytelling, but writing was hard, and drama class in high school was more accepting of the stories I could tell than English, where they were more, you know, concerned about spelling and reading and all of these things. So I think for me, I’m here because of that.
Richard Watts: That’s award-winning playwright and academic Fleur Kilpatrick. A lecturer at Monash Centre for Theatre and Performance, Fleur still sometimes struggles with the written word, but she has found creative solutions to such challenges.
Fleur Kilpatrick: I think the sort of… the creative problem solving that you have to do as a dyslexic kid all made me a more creative writer. So by that I mean like, you write a sentence as a dyslexic kid, you know, you want to use the word ‘problem’ but you can’t spell the word ‘problem’. So you rearrange the entire sentence to avoid that word. So you’re doing this constant redrafting on the fly, to work with what you’ve got, which in a way is great training for any form of creativity.
Richard Watts: Fleur’s work at Monash can sometimes eat into her creative practice because her dyslexia means it takes her longer to read an essay than her colleagues. Fleur has found ways to adapt and be more creative with her teaching.
Fleur Kilpatrick: There was a time last year where I was seven days a week for weeks on end, just because I had back- tback assessments. And finally I went…I did two things. I said, ‘What would I tell a student to do?’ In this circumstance? I would absolutely send the student to the disability liaisons office and say, ‘Well, what can you provide? How can you help me?’ So I sent myself there. And they gave me text to voice technology. So now all my assignments are read to me, which is great. But the other thing I did was: I remember that I’m the boss of my own units, and I designed more Fleur-friendly assessments.
Fleur Kilpatrick: 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… um… so many different forms of assessment now because of my dyslexia. Because of…I’m looking out for me, the students get more creative assessments. So it’s a similar thing to the restructuring of sentences in a way, I think – me trying to work around my problem has actually led to a more creative outcome.
Richard Watts: At the start of this podcast we heard from multi-disciplinary theatre-maker and choreographer Jacob Boehme, a Melbourne born and raised artist of the Narangga and Kaurna Nations.
Australia Council research has shown that while both audiences and presenters are keen to see and program more First Nations work, there’s simultaneously a nervousness about engaging with such work too – something Jacob, as an artist, has experienced first hand.
Jacob Boehme: 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 – it well – it just turns people into freezing, freezing and not trying at all just because of the…the fear… really.
Richard Watts: Rather than letting that fear stop us from working with people from different cultural backgrounds, Jacob suggests we embrace the fear – and that we be honest about the chance of making mistakes in the process.
Jacob Boehme: I mean, I loved,… when I started working with Angharad Wynne Jones when she was the artistic director of Arts House, was when I first started to get traction, as in, like being able to present my work in some of the arts houses around Australia. And that was only because we had an arts leader liking Angharad who pretty much approached the job going ‘I don’t know everything. I actually don’t know anything. I’m going to be led by you and can we agree from day one that we’re going to fuck it up?’ And that was a really good way to begin a relationship. And I think that’s the probably the safest way for all of us to approach working with each other is to… continually to acknowledge that each of us, we’re all human, this is a human experience, and as human animals, you know that’s our right and our folly is to make mist… is to make mistakes.
Richard Watts: Veronica Pardo is the CEO of Multicultural Arts Victoria, the state’s leading organisation on diversity in the arts. She believes in tackling racism from the top. And you can probably hear that we’re talking to her via a sometimes glitchy zoom call.
Veronica Pardo: Racism is rampant in our society. It’s… it’s… it’s not under the surface anymore. It’s exposed, and you know, we have this wound exposed, and…and we absolutely need artists to be calling this out. And what I think is amazing about artistic practice is the way that it kind of gets under your skin, sometimes in a really indirect fashion. You know, we can come at these issues that sometimes are difficult just to talk about in a conversation, but…but through, you know, through a piece of work, we kind of engage deeply in the subject matter and…and we’re really interested in how MAV as an organisation can take a much more anti-racist stance, not just being non-racist, but but you know, deliberately anti-racist.
Richard Watts: Based in Parramatta NSW, Diversity Arts Australia has developed an anti-racism toolkit called the Creative Equity Toolkit to help Australian arts organisations identify structural inequality and reach their diversity and inclusion goals. Lena Nahlous, the Executive Director of Diversity Arts Australia, tells us about how you develop resources for a community.
Lena Nahlous: 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 colour and culturally linguistically…linguistically diverse people and allies and organizations with the tools they need to make substantive, long term change and get to the root of systemic discrimination in the arts.
Richard Watts: Naturally the Creative Equity Toolkit is designed to be easily accessible and practical.
Lena Nahlous: We’ve really based the idea around a kind of travel guidebook, we want it to go from, you know, actions you can take immediately to more complex work that you need to do in your organisation.
Richard Watts: Writer, speaker and appearance activist Carly Findaly works part time as the Access Inclusion Coordinator at Melbourne Fringe where she helped develop a detailed guide to access inclusion for producers.
Carly Findlay: It gives people tips on how to work with Auslan Interpreters, what to expect when budgeting for access, what language to avoid, how to reach the 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, you know, doing, making the shows accessible because no one came, but then they didn’t reach out to those people in the audience’s, you know, in the communities.
Richard Watts: The complex task of addressing an organisation’s access requirements is often relegated to an outsider – a cultural consultant brought in to examine the issues plaguing an organisation.
Lena Nahlous: So quite often, organisations will bring in the person of colour to be the person who consults with other people of colour, but won’t…but often, they won’t have any power in the organisation, any decision making power, or power to kind of make changes that need to be made. And so we do give examples of and we have discussion about how that’s a real issue, and it has significant limitations and is really up problematic and not… it’s not best practice… not… not a good way to kind of work.
Richard Watts: Diversity Arts Australia’s anti-racism toolkit also provides an understanding of racism, how it operates and what it is.
Lena Nahlous: We’ve intentionally called it anti-racism because anti-racism is active. It’s an action. It’s work that you do rather than a static thing that you observe. And we’re also we’ve also kind of broken down the way the kinds of racism that there are, you know, and we’ve made, you know, talked about the difference between individual racism and, you know, institutional and structural racism so that and so that people don’t conflate the different areas and also in the toolkit kind of unpacked how focusing on one area, for example, focusing on individual racism, which is often the case is not going to bring about that kind of systemic change and that long term change.
Richard Watts: And it’s systemic change that is important but also harder – for organisations to achieve. Creating this change in the arts is something Veronica Pardo is very keen to see.
Veronica Pardo: The pace of change is is glacial. And I think that we need some, we need some people who are in leadership positions to come out really strongly and say that this is not acceptable. So, you know, if everyone kind of laments the status quo, but then no one is prepared to do anything about it, how are we going to get change? And I think, you know, in large part, this comes down to the issue of allyship.
Richard Watts: Real allies recognise that there will be a cost involved in making change, especially if they’re in a position of power.
Veronica Pardo: So, you know, my question to them is, you know, if it doesn’t cost you anything, is it real? Is it performative solidarity? You know, it’s easy to express solidarity with a group or movement. It doesn’t cost you anything. So then you begin to think about, well, okay, what a sort of what, you know, what are we negotiating here and when negotiating the transfer of power, so if you’re not prepared to concede any form of power, that might be about kind of status position. reputation, income, you know, title, all of these things that represent, you know, how we express power within, you know, the arts and cultural sector, if you’re not prepared to concede these at all, then I really questioned whether your allyship is real…’
Richard Watts: Jacob Boehme wonders if the global lockdown caused by COVID-19 might provide an opportunity for us to reconsider the structures we work with, and perhaps even remake them.
Jacob Boehme : So, you know, while we’ve been spending a whole lot of attention on trying to raise awareness and education and relationships between ourselves as First Nations artists, and what is essentially called the mainstream sector. I think there’s also an opportunity, you know, especially in the great pause, to start reframing and redirecting our attention and energies also. I mean, we can do a bit of dual tracking, but we haven’t really spent a lot of the time looking at First Nations led- organisations, First Nations led ways of working that prioritise and benefit First Nations communities first and foremost.
Richard Watts: The great pause created by COVID-19 has seen a rush to move exhibitions and performances online –which has made such works much more accessible for people who can’t normally attend galleries and theatres. Carly Findlay questions whether such works will remain accessible once the world returns to what passes for normal.
Carly Findlay: I know people are quite nervous about whether this is just a temporary thing. You know, whether online events, online galleries and stuff is just temporary. It’s very much for the benefit of non-disabled you know, non disabled people now at this very moment, but lots of disabled people were, you know, have benefited benefited from it.
Carly Findlay: I think that we we do need that mix, but we also need to ensure that in the hurry to move things online, we don’t forget to make it accessible. We have to make sure that we’re providing the same kind of access in the online space as we do in, in real life or in the real world.
Richard Watts: So how can we ensure that the arts – from the rehearsal room right through to the board room – are more inclusive, safe and welcoming spaces for all? Fleur Kilpatrick starts every new rehearsal with an important discussion – and recommends other arts leaders adopt a similar process tailored for their own workplace.
Fleur Kilpatrick: There’s a question that I ask at the start of each rehearsal process, which is ‘what do we need in order to do this joyfully?’ We’ll go around the room and we’ll talk through that and that includes support and that includes time for, you know, for rest… for recovery – if you say – have chronic fatigue issues. That includes for instance, some people’s epilepsy and things can be really triggered by particular lighting, things like that. So thinking about that. We want, in this industry, everyone to be working, you know, in a way that feels good. So I think just really honest, open conversations and as if you are the leader in the room, you need to be the one to facilitate that. You can’t just wait for someone to come to you three weeks in and say, ‘So the way we’re doing this is… is really difficult for me.’ You’ve got to sort of create the forum where we’re like, ‘how can we be the best? How can we make everyone feel like they are doing their best work here from day one?’
Richard Watts: Perhaps Fleur’s lived experience makes it easier for her to empathize with the needs of others. It certainly reminds the rest of us that not not everyone feels able to speak up about their access requirements – but perhaps they would, if we created safer, more equitable cultural spaces.
Fleur Kilpatrick: It is really difficult with invisible disabilities, I think and, and I want to say as well, I don’t think I don’t feel that I’ve been disadvantaged as a playwright, by my dyslexia. Absolutely in some other ways but playwriting has always been very welcoming to me in that regard. But I think the existence of invisible disabilities makes it really imperative that we create space for conversation and dialogue from day one or before.
Richard Watts: Jacob wonders whether we need to change the way we think about the art we make and present.
Jacob Boehme: I mean, if you look at the way arts or culture, work in Indigenous communities, everybody is a part of it. You may not be the dancer, but you, as a witness, you, that is your job to witness that dance. Because without you that ceremony doesn’t happen, that ceremony isn’t witnessed, therefore, that story isn’t told, you know, there’s, the relationships between the artisans, the ones who care for the artisans, the painters, you know, like there’s it’s all interconnected. And I, I kind of think we’ve lost a bit of that.
Richard Watts: Sometimes, it takes bold action by an individual to show the sector an alternative way forward. Having previously led Arts Access Victoria, Veronica Pardo stepped down as CEO in order to allow someone with lived experience of disability to lead the organisation. Veronica is surprised, even shocked, that other arts leaders haven’t followed suit – especially in the current climate.
Veronica Pardo: I feel like it’s important to ask the question, if your stated values and beliefs are about the importance of diversity at leadership, whether it’s at board or executive level within your organisation, but you take every opportunity to reinforce the current structures and paradigms, is your solidarity real? If it’s not, can you please stop talking about it? It’s actually… you’re perpetuating a lot of harm.
Richard Watts: Succession planning is common across all arts organisations – so why aren’t more arts leaders actively planning to use such an opportunity to create structural change?
Veronica Pardo: If half of those people deliberately left their job in a conscious way, planning for change that advanced this particular agenda for the sector within, you know, with five years, what would the sector look like? That’s, I guess my challenge to those listening in to… those in leadership positions in the arts.’
George Dunford: The Australian Film Television and Radio School’s virtual Open Day is on Saturday 8 August. From the comfort of your home, discover how the Bachelor of Arts Screen: Production can transform you into a leading storyteller. Register today at aftrs.edu.au
theme up for credits
George Dunford: Thanks for listening to the Arts Hubbub, we’ll be back next month. Review us on Apple Podcasts if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve heard.
Our guests this month were: Matthew Hall, Carly Findlay, Fleur Kilpatrick, Veronica Pardo, Lena Nahlous and Jacob Boehme.
The ArtsHubbub is produced by Michelle Macklem, Sabine Brix, Richard Watts and me George Dunford. Dr Jackie Bailey did a sensitivity read over our script.
Our theme music is ‘Chasing Waterfalls’ by Tim Shiel. Music in this episode also by The Other Stars.
This podcast was produced on the lands of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Kulin Elders, past, present and Emerging. Sovereignty has never been ceded.