The Consulate General of Canada, Sydney, brought together a group of Australia’s creative industries leaders to discuss how culture and arts programming could better embrace diversity and inclusion as core values.
Canada and Australia share similarities in the cultural arena given the many parallels in our historical experiences. This unique alliance provides an opportunity to work together and shine a light on the themes of gender, reconciliation, youth, sexual orientation, innovation and disruption in the arts space.
This lively and open discussion encompassed both the challenges and opportunities associated with programming decisions and approaches. In turn, this has helped to inform a more targeted vision for Canada’s cultural programming in Australia as we consider how to best target resources to ensure all programming reflects diversity and inclusion as a central cross cutting theme.
A snap shot of key “take-aways” from the discussion are included in this report.
The Consulate intends to build on these learnings and pursue similar themed workshops with Melbourne-based experts and elsewhere in Australia.
We also look forward to share best practices on diversity and inclusion programming at industry events in both Canada and Australia as we build upon this vital conversation.
-Angela Bogdan, Consul General of Canada, Sydney
Look to the edges
It is vital to look outside the mainstream. Those on the fringes are having the loudest conversations and talking the most – they have the strongest sense of connection.
As a general rule, the cultural sector is in the best position to find these kinds of performers, artists or acts; leveraging their expertise of festivals and events not only allows for the best art to be discovered, but also to utilise the facilities and promotion avenues those events offer. This creates access points across the wider community and finds an active audience. Through such festivals, artists have greater opportunities to mix with creative partners from around the globe, to disseminate ideas, collaborate and learn.
Funding collaborations between Canadian and Australian festivals allows the cross-cultivation of ideas and the expansion of themes such as universal reconciliation, while allowing audiences the opportunity to explore the human condition through the distinct art of both nations. Such collaborations provide artists the chance to experience new environments, new cultures and new works, as is the case with the Tri-Nations exchange, detailed in our Case Study.
The Tri-Nations Exchange is a collaboration between Moogahlin Performing Arts (AUS), Native Earth Performing Arts (CAN), and Tawata Productions (NZ) showcasing new First Nations playwriting for international audiences. Plays are selected in a competitive process, workshopped collaboratively with actors and then produced for inclusion at major festivals such as PuSH International Arts Festival, Vancouver and the Sydney Festival, Australia. Stories translate seamlessly between Indigenous communities of Canada, Australia and New Zealand given their shared experiences. Cliff Cardinal’s work was read by Australian actors at the Yellamundie Festival while his play HUFF continues to capture Australian audiences with its potency.
Education and Youth
The importance of having young people engage in arts and culture is unparalleled. Festivals around the globe have an aging demographic, and the role of traditional platforms appear to be diminishing. The arts can be intimidating for younger people, and a focus on funding should be to break down barriers that exclude young people as they are central to the conversation.
An important aspect of engaging youth is providing them with positive representations. While stories and culture is being made for young people, they may not know where or how to access it. Technology, social media and influencers need to be better utilised by government funding to reach and provide access to the next generation.
A shift in focus to the delivery of the message rather than the marketing of the art will help rectify this issue.
Accessing young people through education streams should also be considered to ensure young people are activated in the arts from an early age – giving them the opportunity to both sit at the table, and create their own table; giving them a platform to tell their stories, and giving others the chance to listen to young people is essential in letting them know their stories matter.
The Mardi Gras Film Festival is an LGBT film festival which aligns with the annual celebration of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. It is Australia’s largest LGBT film festival.
In 2018, the Consulate General of Canada, Sydney, partnered with the festival to bring Natasha Negovanlis to the event in conjunction with her film The Carmilla Movie.
The movie is the silver-screen iteration of a small-budget web series which garnered huge online attention and resulted in social media stardom for its lead actors. Negovanlis has developed into a respected role model for young people.
Attendees (96% of whom identify as women) were clearly desperate for some representation. The film sold out, along
with a meet and greet session – with fans flying from interstate, some with their parents, to see the film and their role model. Consulate social media received some of its best results, with tweets regarding Natasha’s attendance and an interview gaining more than 200,000 impressions collectively.
For more information, see www.canadadownunder.org.au/natasha-negovanlis
Over the 2017/18 fiscal year, the Consulate General of Canada in Sydney invested over $200,000 into cultural industries and public diplomacy across Australia with over 30 partnership activities in the cultural sector assisting more than 100 Canadians to perform and collaborate in Australia.
Collaborations and investment in festivals has allowed our dynamic @canadadownunder social media to thrive, amplifying Canadian-Australian stories on priority issues such as LGBTQI, gender equality and Indigenous reconciliation.
Thirty-five Canadian delegates attended the Australian Performing Arts Market, which resulted in numerous discussions around collaboration, investment and performance both in Canada and Australia.
Funds from the Post Initiative Fund and Mission Cultural Fund have allowed the Consulate General of Canada, Sydney, to be a leader and focal point for culture in Australia.
The responsibility of culture within government is a broad one – it should be at the heart and soul across all sectors, not just the Arts portfolio. It is vital the discussion around culture, diversity and inclusion happens in leadership across the board, allowing it to permeate through areas such as education, trade, immigration and business. Arts and culture tell the stories of humanity and articulate perspectives, assisting government in delivering important messages to their constituents.
There is an undeniable link between creativity and the trade & investment areas of government, whether it be through networking, collaboration, business development or business culture. Government funds should be utilised to benefit this area in the interests of economic prosperity.
The Canadian Government is in a powerful position of influence with the globe looking at this socially progressive country for its leadership and messaging, and its capacity for cultural diplomacy. The Government’s role in elevating these messages and sharing them across the globe is enormous. The political will and leadership through cultural and artistic funding trickles down giving visibility to the communities that need it, and in turn benefits the government immensely.
It is important that governments do not limit their assistance to simply allowing artists to create, but also looking to widen the pool who can view it. Culture is where stories exist, and where young people in particular can find positive representation of their own experience. Governments need to engage with different platforms to ensure the artists they support audience for their stories and messages.
Governments must take financial risks and invest as the stories of a nation are best told through culture and the arts and those stories need to be discovered and cultivated. The power of soft diplomacy to spread message and influence is immense.
Canada needs to build on the momentum for change. The world is naturally conservative, and the comfort of the status quo is enticing; Canada’s push to tell its story through culture must be maintained – the power of culture to spread this message is immense.
Cultural funding from Canada has provided missions with the opportunity to explore Canada’s stories and give them a platform globally, but with the funds comes a great responsibility – we must adhere to best practice and policy but also be able to adapt. Culture and art is dynamic, shifting and constantly changing; the messages, platforms and storytellers mutate and vary quickly, and it the duty of government to understand and respond to these changes.
Art is education; it is a problem being shared to the wider community, a cry for understanding. The more we are able to share the problems of those on the fringes, the more understanding and educated the wider community becomes, and through this we all benefit. The more diverse a group is, the more adept they are at change. From this, the understanding the wider community grows and the stronger and healthier the community’s diversity will become.
Diversity truly is our strength.
The Consulate will also pursue concepts raised in our work with other government departments, including the Canada Council for the Arts in the development proposal for an Immersion Canada Arts Centre in the Asia-Pacific Region – ideally Melbourne – and share our learnings and continue knowledge sharing through attendance at conferences such as the America’s Cultural Summit in Ottawa in 2018.