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Showcasing Creativity: Programming and presenting First Nations performing arts

September 27, 201727 September 2017

Indigenous arts / Diversity and equity in the arts / Economic impact

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Based on a “national mapping of the publicly available programs of 135 mainstream presenters across Australia” in 2015 as well as a custom survey of 44 presenters and interviews with 40 performing arts producers and presenters, this report outlines “the level and types of First Nations performing arts programming in Australia’s mainstream venues and festivals; the presenting of works to audiences; and the motivations and obstacles for presenters and producers”.

The key finding of the mapping exercise is that “First Nations performing arts are under-represented in Australia’s mainstream venues and festivals”, comprising only 2% of the nearly 6,000 works that were programmed in 2015.

There is a clear division between presenters actively engaged with First Nations performing arts and those who are disengaged: 12 presenters (9% of the mapped presenters) “were responsible for more than a third of all First Nations programming”, while nearly one-half of presenters did not program any “works with First Nations creative control, involvement or content in 2015”.

In interviews, key motivations for programming First Nations works were found to include personal reasons, organizational leadership, and exposure through peers. In addition, engaged presenters were found to be “motivated to challenge and build their audiences”. On the other hand, some decision-makers were thought to “be tokenistic when considering First Nations works. Some lack the knowledge or interest to source small-to-medium works.”

Previous survey research into audiences indicated that, while 64% of Australians showed a “strong or growing interest in Indigenous arts”, only 24% of the population attended Indigenous arts. Audiences tend to “have a strong image of First Nations arts as ‘traditional’” but wish to attend more “contemporary” works. This appears to be a misconception, as more than 80% of the First Nations works programmed in 2015 were contemporary. The Showcasing Creativity report notes that financial risk and lack of marketing reach are key issues in programming First Nations works and building audiences for them.

The report concludes that “building sector capacity for First Nations creatives to connect to presenters through showcases and networks is critical to growing the presentation and programming of First-Nations works”. More broadly, the report highlights the “need to build sector capacity for cross-cultural engagement both ways, between mainstream presenters, and First Nations artists and communities”.

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