Contemporary Indigenous performing arts funding – where ya @?????
Call in the taxidermist – put the mortician on speed dial cause there is a clear attempt to stifle contemporary Indigenous performing arts expression to the point of a near death experience.
The ‘mainstreaming’ of Indigenous funding, not only symbolised the end of the Indigenous determined bureaucracy known as ATSIC but the beginnings of a regressive extension to the assimilation policy. The Minister was quoted in her ATSIC death knoll statement - “We will talk directly with and respond to Indigenous communities, finding flexible solutions through the principle of shared responsibility, to the problems they identify as critical to their future.” Well shiiit, I wash my face, wipe my noorah and pump my own petrol, so there’s not a lot of “shared responsibility” needed here, but Amanda…Mandy…Mand - the contemporary Indigenous performing arts communities are wondering where the direct call went so we could identify problems critical to our future. None of our mobile phones went off and we never received an email – So where ya @ Minister Vanstone!?!
Instead we were met with macro management and scrutiny far and beyond any other organisations in the world. Many organisations forced into signing contracts with dire issues surrounding intellectual property assignment clauses, then overseen with the fervor of mini-Hitlers from those lieutenants in middle-management bureaucracies, each assigned the task of “dealing” with the last of the ATSIS funded programs.
So we acquit and are grateful to be rid of such an ‘interim’ oppressive regime, only to receive a dubious acceptance of the acquittal that suggests that while all is fine for now, rest assured they will be back if they notice one hair out of place! [Needless to say, I have framed that letter for the day when they return with sniffer dogs and bright yellow stars]. I have a hunch that this is not the same level of scrutiny afforded to the “mainstream”, however it appears that there is an agenda to impose a brutal lesson towards those who were delivering positive and important outcomes for the Indigenous community.
And its coming from all corners - Our alleged leadership was recently overheard at an Indigenous arts festival telling an Indigenous contemporary performing artist, who dared to challenge the lack of recognition for contemporary and urban expressions – what are you complaining about?
Interesting to note that this leader within his own private pursuits, stands to be a direct benefactor from this preservation and maintenance push. I’ve no doubt that HIS funding application went in before C.O.B.
At another recent gathering, the Manager of the Indigenous programs of DCITA gave us the preservation and maintenance spiel, in which contemporary Indigenous performing arts and the 2/3rds of Australia’s Indigenous populations – ie those in urban metropolitan centres appeared to be the big losers. When this was pointed out, his only comment was, “go find your funding elsewhere – Good Luck!”
So with our “leadership” letting us down and unwilling to advocate a place for contemporary and urban expressions its becoming evident that we face the marginalisation of the marginalised, the oppression of the oppressed and thrust into re-enforcing the cultural stereotype – I mean we can get funding if we paint up for tourists – there’s a number of boxes we can tick to access this opportunity.
How ironic that this push for preservation comes at a time when those institutions who relish in static collections are looking to embrace their living culture citizenship and forge relationships with contemporary Indigenous artists to breath life into a true Cultural experience.
So where do we go to secure a place, a voice for contemporary Indigenous performing arts and advocate for the basic fact that Indigenous Culture is living breathing diverse culture/s. Culture/s in which urban and traditional each have a vital and ingrained relationship. How do we continue to build the capacity of our Indigenous populations to present new Indigenous work and tell the vast range of Indigenous stories – recent, past, future - to be celebrated in the now and not always 10, 20, 60,000 years too late?
Cast your eyes forward Australia – understand that preservation and maintenance is but one part of a bigger more meaningful SHARED RESPONSIBILITY.
I want to leave you with a statement full of hope, one less than 10 years old and one that was presented by the then leadership of the day. I want you to wonder how a nation can regress in a return to its ignorant roots in such a short time and I want you to visualise a Culturally embalmed-nation – because we are headed in that direction.
“As never before we now recognise the magnificent heritage of the oldest civilisation on earth - the civilisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In literature, art, music, theatre and dance, the indigenous culture of Australia informs and enriches the contemporary one. The culture and identity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians has become an essential element of Australian identity, a vital expression of who we all are.” Creative Nation: Commonwealth Cultural Policy, October 1994
Less than a decade on, and we as contemporary Indigenous Australia continue to pedal on the survival wheel with our arts health in the category of failure to thrive. As positive good news stories for the Indigenous Community, we cannot even access black funding as we are largely deemed ineligible. If we head to mainstream we are told to go back and access black monies…and so the wheel turns. Folks, there’s a major contemporary Indigenous performing arts health crisis on our hands. Lets stand together to make a difference.