I’ve seen the power of the arts to move, to educate, drive change and foster social cohesion many times. I experienced it intensely first hand, when I produced Crossings: Songs from the East in 2013.
The concert showcased a cross-cultural collaboration of traditional and improvised music spanning the Greek, Kurdish, Arabic and Persian traditions. It was an exciting coming-together for the first time of local Sydney-based musicians; four out of the five were first generation Australians from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. They drew from both their musical heritage and their contemporary experience of multicultural Australia.
The audience, which we surveyed, said things like:
“Beautiful to see a coming together of cultures through the arts”…
“Brought back memories of home”…
“Wonderful! Especially watching the musicians improvising – working together… so much richness (and they say multiculturalism doesn’t work)! It is alive and brings so much richness to our lives and to Australia”…
The experience of that production impacted all involved, from the artists to the audience and everyone in between, in ways that only arts and cultural experiences can sometimes – on the level where words cease and only the senses and the human spirit exist. One comes away from an experience like that with a sense that something in them is a little different… a little changed.
As an audience member watching the Sydney Theatre Company’s latest production of The Secret River, I came away with exactly that feeling. I was shattered at the brutality of the story – the brutal truth in the story – but I was compelled to watch and listen.
I felt like I was bearing witness to a history not told often enough. In the author, Kate Grenville’s, words: “This book isn’t history, but it’s solidly based on history. Most of the events in the book “really happened” and much of the dialogue is what people really said or wrote.” Knowing this, I felt the weight of responsibility, like I was almost charged with the duty of carrying this history on, of re-telling it. So I made it my mission for days afterwards to tell everyone I met to go see the show.
It was hard to watch at times. The woman sitting to my left had her eyes closed for much of the massacre scene. It wasn’t explicit or visually disturbing – but it sat in that space – the space where words cease and only the senses exist. Clearly for the woman beside me, her senses were in overwhelm. I was grateful that the night I attended happened to be followed by the Q and A session with the actors and co-director afterwards – it was an opportunity for the audience to re-compose and debrief almost. More than that, it was a way to bring the savage racism of our history into the present.
The discussion that ensued was open and honest. The actors told of their own experiences of facing and witnessing racism today. Actor Ningali Lawford-Wolf told of how she was refused a ride by four taxi drivers on the street just outside the theatre. Richard Piper, who played the most savage of the white characters, talked of how the experience of being a part of this production changed him – made him reflect on times where he had been a bystander to racist incidences and had not acted. He spoke of the need for us all to speak up and take a stand in similar situations, and of his resolve to do differently next time. An audience member asked the questions: “What can we do? How can we do better when we leave this theatre?”. One of the younger cast members, Madeleine Madden, spoke about the power of the arts to move and affect change. Everyone on stage seemed to acknowledge a sort of shared social responsibility to tell the story with authenticity and sensitivity.
I came away with the feeling that the sentiment in that Q and A session was shared company-wide, and with 2 mins of online research I discovered the Sydney Theatre Company’s ‘Human Rights and Social Performance Statement’ As part of STC’s commitment to “operating as a responsible organisation” they state: “STC’s statement on Human Rights and Social Performance reflect our ability to uphold human rights within our organisation and our sphere of influence. We adhere to both international and local human rights legislation and reflect these in our human resources policies, practices and Code of Conduct.” Further down, in relation to audiences and the arts industry, it states: “We share our learning and promote human rights issues through giving voice to social issues by our choices in productions and our industry networks by contributing to conversations.”
This initiative – of writing the importance of social responsibility into the policies and strategic objectives of an organisation – is exactly what we need more of – especially in the arts and cultural industries, whose core ‘business’ is in the creation of meaning.
Go and see The Secret River if you can. Or read the book. Or watch the TV series. And share the story. Continue the conversation. It is our shared responsibility.
Review by Kiriaki Koubaroulis
Australia’s acknowledgement of racism has grown considerably, since Adam Goodes was Australian of the Year (2014). This could be largely due to the fact that his cause was anti-racism. The Racism. It Stops With Me. campaign was launched soon after. Over 250 organisations joined the anti-racism campaign, which promoted racial equality (including All Together Now). It seemed that Australia was finally ready to kick racism out of the country once and for all. However, it seemed in 2015, Australia once again took a step back as it questioned incidents of racism as actually being racist or not. The questioning of an incident being racist or not was seen most prominently during the booing bullying of AFL player Adam Goodes. People in the media questioned the validity of the incessant and constant targeted bullying, of this particular player, as being racist or not. It was undoubtedly fueled by racism, as the ‘issue’ that had people begin the booing of Goodes occurred after he displayed (during the Indigenous Round of AFL) an Indigenous symbol to the crowd as a victory showcase after scoring a goal. Idiotic though it may seem, racism is often just so.
We’d like to take the time to add to the discussion on Goodes, that being ‘politically correct’ is giving respect. It is the correct way to act. Denying respect includes denying racism. Or, as Marlon James put it, “most of us are non-racists” and are content to be so: “I won’t, I don’t, I’ve never” are not statements that change those individuals, groups or institutions that are prejudice, bigoted and racist. This ‘non-racism’ occurs when you know something is racist but by doing nothing it does not stop it from occurring. The question the comes to: How do we make active people trying to end racism?
We make active people trying to end racism by giving them knowledge of how it acts, interacts and attacks society and individuals ability to succeed, be unified and progress.
Non-racism along with racism denial are two important factors in the continuing of racism in Australia and internationally. So, here is a reminder of what racism denial looks like:
This year, Priscilla Brice, receiver of the 2013 Churchill Fellowship and Managing Director of All Together Now, researched the factors which make non-profit racism prevention initiatives effective in Poland, Belgium, France, UK, and USA.
One of the most notable findings was the extent to which the socio-political will to address racism in a country affects the success of antiracism activities in that country. Socio-political will impacts on the number and type of funding options available, the types of actions that not-for-profit organisations choose to take, and the way in which the media reports on racism and its manifestations.
There are some very effective initiatives and common tactics to be found on both sides of the North Atlantic that Australia can learn from. Of highest importance is having a sustained and long-term commitment to achieving racial equality by working in cross-sector partnerships to create practical solutions that are evidence-based.
The full report on her findings can be download from the Churchill Fellowship website.
Churchill Fellowship is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. It is based on the report: Brice, P. 2014, A study into the factors which make non-profit racism prevention initiatives effective, 2013 Churchill Report, The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, Canberra.
You are welcome to download (PDF) and print this infographic providing you observe this license.
All Together Now is a not-for-profit organisation. If you have found this infographic useful, please make a donation of $25 to help us continue to create more like this one.
Exit is an All Together Now project that works to prevent and reduce the recruitment and growth of white power groups active in Australia. Once involved, the cost to an individual can be very high and leaving the white supremacist group can be very difficult. For this reason, early intervention is crucial.
In addition to working directly with young people at risk of joining a white supremacy group, Exit also provides advice to friends, family and community workers who have concerns about a person becoming involved in the movement.
Responding to White Supremacy: A Guide for Frontline Workers was created with the support of the Australian Attorney General’s Department and is suitable for all frontline workers, including youth workers, counsellors, psychologists, social workers and teachers.
It provides information about the white supremacist movement in Australia and strategies for responding to someone who is involved in, r at risk of becoming involved in the white power movement including information on:
If you would like a copy of the guide, please contact us on [email protected].
The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (WCMT) provides an opportunity for Australians to travel overseas to conduct research in their chosen field that is not readily available in Australia. It also aims to reward proven achievement of talented and deserving Australians with further opportunity in their pursuit of excellence for the enrichment of Australian society.
In July 2013 I was awarded a prestigious Churchill Fellowship for my proposal to research the factors which make non-profit racism prevention initiatives effective. Over six weeks I plan to visit organisations in Poland, Belgium, France, England and the USA.
There are a lot of antiracism initiatives in these countries, particularly England and the USA. To narrow down the field I will specifically be investigating organisations which, like All Together Now, are:
This is not to say that the approaches I’m ruling out don’t have any benefit to racism prevention, but rather that I sought other initiatives that were most like All Together Now in their approach. It also leaves a lot of scope for other people to apply for Churchill Fellowships to study racism prevention in the future (hint hint fellow antiracists!).
This list still leaves us with at least 20 effective organisations and programs, among them some of the most highly-regarded and well-known racism prevention initiatives in the world. I will be contacting some of these in the coming months.
When I return home from my trip in mid-2014 I will begin to apply what I learn to All Together Now’s work so that our racism prevention programs are even more effective.
This is a huge opportunity, not only for me personally, but for antiracism practice in Australia. Having searched the Churchill archives I wasn’t able to find a single Fellow who had investigated racism prevention among adults in previous years, meaning that the value of this trip is potentially a massive first step for Australia. I’m so grateful to the WCMT for trusting and enabling me to carry out this important work!
Please stay tuned to this blog over the next year to read about who I’ll be visiting, what I learn and how All Together Now’s work improves as a result.