Going Beyond Tick Boxes

There’s a renewed energy to work towards fairer representation of culturally diverse artists in the creative sector. Maybe this is a reflection of a broader awareness around issues of diversity more generally in the collective conscious. Or maybe it’s a scramble for new voices, new content and new audiences. Or both.

Whatever the reasons behind the momentum right now, there was hope in the air at the recent Diversity Arts Australia (DARTS) ‘Beyond Tick Boxes’ Symposium on Cultural Diversity in the Creative Sector in Sydney. The gathering saw over 140 creative practitioners, arts workers and industry representatives come together to take the pulse of the sector. The conversations felt circular at times, but the messages and perspectives, very current.

I was invited to attend as a citizen journalist and to write up my thoughts of the day. You can read the full article in Loudmouth magazine here or on the DARTS website here.

Image courtesy of DARTS and photographer Chris Woe

Iraqi Music Festival

The Iraqi Music Festival has become a fixture in my cultural calendar. How do I love it? I could count the (many) ways – but I’ll sum it up with three main points:

1.Heritage/folkloric traditions and contemporary culture are showcased together

Sometimes there’s this divide in the arts/cultural psyche between heritage practices (often seen as outdated, irrelevant and/or amateur) and contemporary practices (often viewed more favourably in the current climate where that loaded and kind of ambiguous word, “innovation”, is used as a marker of value or excellence).

But last night’s showcase music event at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre saw traditional dress/dance/music interspersed with more modern forms in the same program. And this concert sat within the overarching Iraqi Cultural Festival program that comprised of: a visual arts exhibition and program of events by Iraqi-Australian artists exploring memory of place, storytelling and identity; award winning new short films made by Iraqis living in Australia and abroad; and a keynote address by director, producer and civil activist, Mohamed Al-Daradji.

What this annual festival does so beautifully is to ignore that stigma around folkloric forms by placing them within the continuum of cultural expression as it evolves and responds to changing times and environments. And what the festival achieves is even more beautiful – it acts as a vehicle to connect people across place, time and cultures (within and outside of the various Iraqi cultures it represents). So, in that sense it is both a balm for the displaced and a thread pulling tightly across generations and homelands.

2.Arabic audiences know exactly when to clap

There’s a circular debate that’s been running forever in Western classical music circles – that of when an audience “should” clap. We could learn a lot from Arabic audiences I think. There is a definite etiquette around clapping of course. Eg: you clap at the end of a solo/improv section and at the end of each song, but Arabic audiences are also cued to clap and join in the singing at times by the singer on stage. And when they are cued, they respond, en masse and in sync. The audience almost becomes part of the performance, as the music is experienced and enacted together by performers and audience.

And cheering… well… you can do that whenever the mood takes you. And the mood took the guy sitting behind me often. It was great! And if you want to click your fingers, clap along or sway in your seat, or even answer your phone mid-concert (like the guy beside me) … get this… no one cares! No one tut-tuts you or scowls at you. How wonderful, how refreshing… how freeing as an audience member. [Disclaimer: there’s a time and a place for this stuff, right? Don’t blame me if you get chastised for taking duck-faced selfies mid-act at the opera, k?]

3.The inner workings of the ensemble are laid bare on stage

The other really refreshing aspect of the performance last night was just how interactive the musicians on stage were with each other. Head nods, hand cues, big conducting signals at pivotal moments by the leading performer were all just naturally and authentically part of the performance. There was also banter between performers on stage (what looked like in-jokes being shared) and a photographer traversing the stage to get the shots he needed, interacting with musicians and audience while doing so… again…. no one seemed offended in the slightest.

This view into the workings of the ensemble and a performance is exciting for audiences and makes the experience all the more inviting. You feel privy to the (often hidden) dynamics of the ensemble and that just adds a whole other layer of interest and engagement.

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There’s a lot more that I loved about the Iraqi Music Festival, not the least of which is the fact that we are lucky enough to have a maestro like Imad Rahem (pictured above playing violin) grace local stages, or the fact that this music resonates with me on a personal level because of the similarities between it and the music of my cultural inheritance… but I might post about those things another time.

 

 

 

 

 

BMus + CaLD

That old tape ran on loop in my mind again: Is my voice/my perspective valuable? Am I the right ‘fit’ for this? Old insecurities around belonging and worth were stirred – insecurities fastened to my sense of identity… I decided to brave it and to write about my lived experience all those years ago, feeling my way through a Western classical music degree (BMus) as a student from a culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) background.

I was invited to write for The Music Trust’s Loudmouth Magazine recently. It was a welcome challenge. You can read the full article here.

I ♥️ BPS

Bankstown Poetry Slam is hands down, the most welcoming and inclusive arts/cultural/creative space in Sydney. BPS finds the common  – intercultural, intergenerational and intersectional – ground effortlessly.

It gives a leg up to the shy, the curious and those testing the sound of their own voice. It holds the space for the disheartened, the heart-broken, the fighters, the survivors, the thrivers, the achievers, the thinkers and the imagineers all at once.

And the poetry… sometimes rough and raw; sometimes polished and precious. Always honest, authentic and biting. The themes last Tuesday night included: mental illness, abandonment, love, loneliness, borders, war, fragility, gender inequality, sexuality, racism, private schools, privilege and politics.

I think I’ll be making the monthly pilgrimage from here on.

 

Singular/Plural

Last night the New Beginnings Refugee Arts and Culture Festival was launched with a beautifully curated exhibition on the theme of ‘the singular’ and ‘the plural’ aspects of being. The festival has expanded over the last couple of years to include exhibitions and a series of participatory cultural events at different times in the year, as well as the flagship free outdoors community whole-day festival event at Tumbalong Park, Darling Harbour (save the date – 18 Nov).

I got to chatting with festival producer and Arts Coordinator at Settlement Services International (SSI), Carolina Triana, at the opening of Singluar/Plural. She commented about the importance of being able to respond to need and not be tied into a pre-existing model for the festival. The festival is re-imagined to a degree each year to best serve the artists and communities it was established to support. In her welcome speech, she said the festival is “all about the art” and this was clear by the quality of the exhibition itself as a whole. The mission of the festival is spelled out on its website:

The New Beginnings: Refugee Arts & Culture Festival is a celebration of the artistic vibrancy, cultural expressions and heritage of people from refugee backgrounds

Singular/Plural showcased exactly that and presented it from various viewpoints – the individual as artist, the artist as teacher in the community, artists in collaboration, community participation and celebration of heritage. The call out went to artists both from refugee and non-refugee backgrounds; the open-ended, non-prescriptive approach to curation ensuring different, inclusive, multi-dimensional, pluralistic takes – both by artist and viewer. This is the sort of exhibition I love – not being guided or coerced towards any pre-determined end point; not being asked for any action. Just a gentle invitation to enjoy, contemplate, experience.

Some stand out pieces for me were:
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Social responsibility

SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY AND DIVERSITY IN THE ARTS/MEDIA LANDSCAPE

Scrolling through my Facebook feed to get my early morning “news” fix, this thread on the Diversity in Australian Media public group, caught my attention. The page admin (and film/tv producer/director) Ana Tiwary, had posted a video that calls for the stereotyping of Muslims in the media to end. What ensued in the comments was a bit of a stoush between her and Kostas Nikas (also a film-maker/director/producer).

Kosta, never one to shy from expressing an emphatic opinion online, challenged the call for writers to be charged with the task of producing socially responsible content, highlighting the importance of artistic licence. Ana responded by pointing out that the post was meant for those creators who care about the impact that their work has on society more broadly to begin with – especially in terms of producing work that may propagate dominant, damaging stereotypes, leaving even less room for alternative stories and voices. Both of them make important, valid points. And both, though from different starting points, were advocating for a broader, bigger, more nuanced conversation around social responsibility in the arts/media landscape. Continue reading

CaLD arts funding and policy

CALD ARTS FUNDING AND POLICY: THINKING OUTSIDE THE ‘CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT’ BOX

A couple of months ago I was asked to consult on funding strategies, to research relevant grant opportunities and to help write grant applications for a local “multicultural” (they self-define this way) arts festival that takes place in the Inner West of Sydney. I attended this festival, now in it’s 6th year, just last year for the first time and absolutely loved it, so was happy to help out.

Actively seeking financial support for this sort of arts activity again reminded me of the challenges faced by artists and arts organisations practising under the cultural and linguistically diverse (CaLD) arts label; not the least of which is the binary attitudes and dichotomous dialogue around the value of CaLD arts and indeed their validity as serious/professional, contemporary artistic practice. Continue reading