First Nations artists work to challenge stereotypes and break down barriers to audiences

    17 August 2020

    New research from the Australia Council for the Arts explores the perspectives of First Nations artists and creatives working in theatre and dance.

    Creating Art Part 1: The makers’ view of pathways for First Nations theatre and dance is the third in a series of in-depth research pieces commissioned by the Australia Council and is based on interviews with 45 First Nations artists and creatives.

    The research identifies a growing appetite for First Nations work, alongside a continued need to challenge narrow perceptions of what constitutes First Nations theatre and dance.

    First Nations decision-making is highlighted as key to ensuring appropriate presentation of First Nations performing arts in Australia.

    “First Nations peoples’ self-determination must be central in theatre and dance-making in Australia, including greater opportunities for First Nations creative control,” said Lydia Miller, Executive Director Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts. 

    The research shows that prior to COVID-19, the demand for First Nations theatre and dance was growing. With Australia’s First Nations arts and culture sector facing particularly devastating impacts from the pandemic, this research provides timely evidence to support strategies for support and recovery. 

    “It is vital that First Nations arts do not lose their hard-won visibility as a result of COVID-19 – that they can continue to develop, challenge and contribute to the ongoing maturation of Australian culture,” Lydia Miller said.

    Key findings include:

    • There is a growing appetite among audiences, presenters and makers for meaningful engagement with diverse First Nations work. However, First Nations artists still face barriers in bringing their work to audiences. 
    • First Nations work can still be perceived as ‘risky’ to program and audience interest is underestimated. These assumptions must continue to be challenged and tested. 
    • First Nations artists and creatives working in dance and theatre are creating many of their own opportunities, pathways and structures in connecting a wealth of diverse storytelling to audiences.
    • Artists highlight opportunities including: a whole-of-sector response to the skills gap in off-stage roles; resourcing for mentoring and specific cultural consultant roles; and development of pathways for First Nations companies.
    • First Nations artists make a powerful contribution to the performing arts industry and were touring internationally to great acclaim prior to COVID-19.

    Creating Art Part 1 follows previous research looking at audiences and presentation of First Nations work, including Showcasing Creativity and Building Audiences. The research highlights the need to build opportunities for First Nations creative control and decision-making and empower First Nations creators to self-determine the future of their cultural inheritance.

    The report to follow, Creating Art Part 2 will provide quantitative benchmarks for the First Nations performing arts sector as it was prior to COVID-19.

    Alongside the soon to be released updated Protocols for using First Nations Intellectual and Cultural Property in the Arts, this research champions the vital importance of First Nations peoples’ self-determination, cultural authority and leadership.

    The Australia Council has recently opened a raft of opportunities for First Nations artists including:

    • Cherish II grants for First Nations individuals, groups and organisations. The fund has been set up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the disruption experienced by the First Nations arts and cultural sector and community. (Applications open until 6 October 2020)
    • The First Nations Contemporary Music Program providing development opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander musicians and bands throughout Australia. (Applications open until 6 October 2020).

    Media contact 

    Brianna Roberts

    Media Manager, Australia Council for the Arts

    Phone: (02) 9215 9030 

    Mobile: 0498 123 541 

    Email: b.roberts@australiacouncil.gov.au

    Learn more about Creating Art Part 1 and Opportunities for First Nations Artists.

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