Creating Art Part 1: The makers’ view of pathways for First Nations theatre and dance

August 2020


Creating Art Part 1: The makers’ view of pathways for First Nations theatre and dance is the latest study in a series commissioned by the Australia Council with the aim of supporting the First Nations arts sector to connect more Australians to First Nations arts experiences and grow opportunities for First Nations artists.

Conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the research provides vital insights that can inform the recovery and future sustainability of the First Nations arts ecology.

Based on in-depth interviews with 45 dance and theatre makers, Creating Art Part 1 explores First Nations artists’ experiences realising work; maps pathways for works; and highlights opportunities, challenges and calls to action.

Calls to action include:

  • a strategic whole-of-sector response to the skills gap in off-stage roles
  • resourcing for mentoring and cultural consultant roles
  • development of pathways for First Nations companies
  • greater recognition of the diversity of First Nations performing arts.

Creating Art Part 2, a report to follow, will provide quantitative benchmarks for the First Nations performing arts sector as it was prior to COVID-19. This evidence will be important in ensuring First Nations arts do not lose their hard-won visibility as a result of the pandemic.

“In this time of uncertainty, we must continue to challenge assumptions, grow opportunities for First Nations creative control and decision-making and empower First Nations creators to self-determine the future of their cultural inheritance.”

- Lydia Miller, Executive Director Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts

The First Nations performing arts industry supply chain and Australia Council research


Art Market Audiences Society

Creating Art Part 1


Showcasing Creativity


Building Audiences


National Arts Participation Survey

Creating Art Part 1: Key insights

  • Building Audiences, Showcasing Creativity and Creating Art Part 1 all highlight the need to break down stereotypical ideas about First Nations arts, among both audiences and presenters.
  • They also highlight the need to build opportunities for First Nations decision-making and creative control to ensure appropriate presentation of First Nations performing arts in Australia.
  • First Nations artists make a powerful contribution to the performing arts industry, including challenging industry ideas about First Nations people and communities. Many dance and theatre makers strive for industry success.
  • Prior to COVID-19, the demand for, and impact of First Nations companies’ work and role in Australian arts was growing.
  • There is an opportunity for a strategic whole-of-sector response to building skills and pathways to employment for First Nations people in stage management, design, technical production and producing roles.
  • Mentors are critically important to First Nations dance and theatre makers at all career stages. Artists called for an increase in resourced mentoring opportunities and resourcing for specific cultural consultant roles.
  • Festivals are a powerful platform for reaching new audiences for First Nations arts, but artists often need to self-fund development of work to get it stage ready.
  • Connection to community is a vital and inherent characteristic of the work of First Nations artists. Community engagement requires investment in sustained effort.
  • International First Nations networks are strong. There are ongoing needs for formal and informal networking opportunities and for funding for international development activity when it can resume.
  • Prior to COVID-19, First Nations dance and theatre makers were touring work internationally to great acclaim. There is an opportunity for greater realisation of the export value of First Nations performing arts.
  • Demand and opportunities to create First Nations performing art works for schools are thriving and tourism and corporate work are also areas of opportunity.
  • It is essential that this work is developed from a cultural base to ensure diversity and authenticity, rather than reinforcing stereotypes. First Nations creative control is needed and there is an opportunity for strategic national branding.
  • Long-term funding is critical to developing a broad range of First Nations dance and theatre work, including riskier and more diverse work.
  • First Nations dance and theatre makers are creating their own opportunities, pathways and structures. They are committed to continuing conversations and overcoming barriers for the benefit of future generations. 

‘We’ve got the oldest culture on the planet. It is ours but we want to share that, we want to share that with you, with all Australians regardless of their background and hopefully that creates a stronger future.’

- Research participant, Creating Art Part 1

Case studies:

Click on each image to learn more about the different case studies.

Case study: Creation of the work Bukal by JUTE Theatre Company

PJ Rosas – Profile of a First Nations stage manager

Creating ‘Experience’: Career trajectories and the development of new First Nations work in the performing arts, by Susan Davis and Yvette Walker

The Bukal case study and PJ Rosas profile are based on research conducted by Central Queensland University that sought to understand the experiences of First Nations performing artists, technicians and creatives connected to JUTE Theatre Company’s Dare to Dream program.  The Australia Council supported this research to complement Creating Art Part 1.