In conjunction with the good folk from the Sunshine Coast Creative Alliance Arts Front ran a sector gathering and visioning workshop as one of the regular series of Juice and Jam breakfast gatherings.
Whilst many of the key themes and ideas from last year’s national Arts Front 2030 gathering also surfaced in Maroochydore, the Sunshine Coast arts community bought a unique flavour and strong regional lens to the evolving Arts
Front process, and the growing national dialogue regarding the future of arts and culture in Australia.
The vital role of local government came strongly to the fore and there was some opportunity to connect the Arts Front visioning process with the state and local government cultural planning work currently underway in the region. We think there are opportunities to pursue this further that the Alliance and Arts Front could take on jointly.
Similarly, the nexus between the environment (climate change) artists and traditional owner knowledge came through very strongly – but with the added context of the development pressures created by a rapidly growing population. Leading local artist Leah Barclay shared examples of the leadership that the Sunshine Coast region has developed in this area of practice, and the potential for it to play a leading role in the future. The role of artists as active agents in the development process – helping to guide and influence it in positive ways – is an exciting concept that we will continue to explore in future Arts Front gatherings.
Decolonisation and UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People
Like the national Arts Front gathering last November, the Sunshine Coast Arts Front speakers set out some big challenges for the arts community. Activist and Aboriginal elder Bob Weatherall laid things out pretty unambiguously when he said:
“We can decolonise together or you can support the assimilation policies that are going to turn us into a fraction of ourselves. That will be your loss – and ours”.
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People responded positively to Bob’s ‘call to consciousness’ and decolonisation was a central topic during the workshop. Bob also proposed using the UN proclamation on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a non-partisan policy framework to guide local action.
Alethea Beetson picked up seamlessly from Bob on the theme of decolonisation, sharing the highlights from DIGI Youth Arts latest initiative Unsettle. As locally raised Gubbi Gubbi artists her focus on the challenges and opportunities young people (especially Aboriginal young people) face, echoed a key theme from last year’s national gathering. Alethea called for a future in which the arts will “no longer be a government pleaser, or an anthropological spectacle of the other or a tool for further assimilation in this country”.
The Sunshine Coast gathering also heard more of the national perspective from Kate Cherry – the CEO of the National Institute for the Dramatic for Arts. Kate shared her vision for a future that sees the arts engaging and experimenting more with new partners and in new sectors – climate change, big business, health, education. She spoke of the need to ‘hold the space’ for future leaders and for the exploration of complex ideas like the ones being raised through Arts Front. She called for a reassessment and review of the roles that the major institutions play in arts and culture at a national level as part of the Arts Front process.
We also heard from Torres Strait Islander elder and Arts Front steering group member Nancy Bamaga on the history of the movement to establish a National Indigenous Arts and Cultural Authority (NIACA) as well as the work she is currently leading to assist artists to prepare for the opportunities presented by the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Nancy also updated people on the campaign to have imports of fake traditional art banned in Australia.
Leading from the regions
One of the really exciting propositions coming from the workshop was that the regions (with proper support in place) could become the creative powerhouse for Australia’s cultural and artistic future. Whilst our big cities continue to get more and more unaffordable regions like the Sunshine Coast potentially provide artists with spaces to experiment and develop. The pay off for regions in keeping their young and emerging creative leaders living and working in the community is massive.
First Peoples First
Whilst the national Arts Front conversations have strongly prioritised and positioned First Peoples arts and culture as the core of the visioning work, the engagement with Gubbi Gubbi leaders on the Sunshine Coast underscored the need for us make sure we are properly and fully engaging local traditional owner groups when developing and delivering regional gatherings. The welcome to country that Lyndon delivered was outstanding, and in conjunction with the performance with Leah Barclay it set a wonderful tone and framing for the day.
Gubbi Gubbi elder Helena Gulash made extremely valuable contributions throughout the day, updating everyone on the work they are leading to develop a Gubbi Gubbi cultural centre and arts facility in the region. From a protocols point of view in hindsight we feel it would have been appropriate for us to provide Helena with a more formal speaking opportunity up front. This is something we will keep in mind for future Arts Front gatherings.