Yesterday David Milroy’s session was titled ‘The Burning Question‘ and he spoke about the need for a ‘fire in the belly’. This morning’s session at the Australia Theatre Forum had plenty of oxygen, fuel and the all important ignition source. That the fire keeps burning until it brings space for new growth is my greatest hope.
The morning started with an address from Tony Grybowski, the new CEO of the Australia Council.
(…) Aboriginal people have been here telling stories and creating culture for 50,00 years. The Australia Council has been supporting art and culture for 40 years. I’ve been in the job for ten days. It really puts things in perspective. – Tony Grybowski
Tony had a background as a professional musician (playing the tuba) before falling into arts administration and making it now to the ‘top job’
I’ve got 15 minutes and I’ve got notes here. Feel free to ask a question. – Tony Grybowski
Being new to the job Tony was of course putting his ‘stamp’ on what he hopes to achieve and how he sees the role of the Australia Council moving into the future. Speaking from the bottom, these wider policies and structures feel very far away but the way they shape the culture at the bottom really does matter so I was interested in what Tony had to say (and how he said it).
The usual desire for Australia Council to be a flexible, transparent and vibrant arts organisation was trotted out and the twitterverse exploded with comments asking for and refuting the definition of vibrant. No one bothered to touch flexibility and the likelihood of that in a highly bureaucratic organisation – but perhaps we’ll all be surprised. Everyone talks about reducing bureaucracy and being flexible but does anyone actually do it and what does it even mean in practice?
(NB – if you want to read the Australia Council Bill that was passed in lower house – find it here)
Challenge us, entertain us and enrich us. – Tony Grybowski (on theatre and what it’s for)
There were some excellent questions and answers but nothing particularly of note that I want to add right now. Really just keep watching Oz Co to see what (if anything) new eventuates under Tony’s leadership.
Following Tony, The Nature Theatre of Oklahoma took to the stage (in pyjamas) to provoke and provoke they did. Pavol Liska controlled much of the conversation, inviting a random delegate to the stage and interviewing her (Claudia from Casula Powerhouse) with initially some almost hilarious results:
CC: Sometimes I make theatre.
PL: What do you mean sometimes? (….) Do you like public speaking?
CC: Usually but not now
Pavol and Kelly were impressive provocateurs and the conversation quickly became an open dialogue with the audience. I’m writing this on the fly but tonight I intend to storify the twitter stream from this particular session as the best way to experience it. Come back after 10pm tonight.
For those who were already following along on Twitter or keeping track via Jane Howard’s blog, you would have heard about the #walkout in the latter half of this session.
I’m just one tiny voice and the least qualified and knowledgeable of the many voices and listeners in this space so I have no hope of explaining the why and the what and the how. I will storify the #walkout stream for you as well tonight and you can make of it what you will but here is my subjective and flawed summary:
Candy Bowers the beautiful, powerful warrior that she is spoke straight from the heart TO THE HEART OF IT in our country. The reality is that not all people in this country can be their true selves. Not all people in this country can be safe. Candy specifically spoke on the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with particular attention to the NT intervention, but also referenced the reality of our first peoples across Australia (and IMO, there are other powerful connections that can be drawn)
Candy’s words came from Pavol questioning if our theatre is too weak. If it really changes anything at all? An audience member (didn’t catch his name) responded by saying ‘It’s because in this country we’re safe. No one is at risk of being killed for the art they make‘.
Candy Bowers: SOME people are safe in this country. We have ten year old boys taking their own lives. (….) Right now there is unacknowledged Apartheid in this country.
Candy spoke deeply, articulately and from a heart full of hunger (for better, for more, for answers, for champions, for allies, for everyone to wake the FUCK UP and see racism for what it is in this country today).
CB: I spend all of my time empowering young people to not see themselves as dumb or stupid but what am I preparing them for? (….) I would give up everything for those children to become the poets and visionaries they are.
(in answer to Pavol asking ‘Would you give up art to change it/make it better?)
Pavol asked if anyone disagreed with Candy’s words.
No one did.
Someone called Leon spoke up in defense of the NT intervention, justifying it (and his words) by saying he works in ‘Indigenous Communities’ and has seen what it’s like. I can’t remember his exact words but the sense I had from them is “Aboriginal people need us to come and fix them with education (a white lens institutional education was implied). Candy positioned the fear of controlling alcohol, drugs and pedophilia against the reality of all these things happening in Canberra right now (and no one doing anything about it) and called Leon out:
I’ve spoken to you before Leon and you’re a racist – Candy Bowers
I couldn’t tell you if Leon said anything further or what anyone else said in response but a figure stood up and exited the room quickly and quietly. Other people called out comments I can’t remember and then the microphone passed to Lee Lewis (Griffin’s AD) who asked how we could keep talking when Wesley Enoch (Queensland Theatre Co. AD) had left the room. Lee articulated how important that symbol was, how his leaving said something important. Another audience member pointed out that Wesley was on the next panel and perhaps he was going to prepare. Pavol, still at the microphone said “As he walked past me, he caught my eye and shook his head” and Kelly added “and he mouthed, I can’t”
So I don’t think he was taking a phonecall – Pavol Liska
What are we choosing staying in this conversation? – Lee Lewis (before handing the microphone over and following Wesley by leaving the room)
And so people chose. Some walked out and some left.
Nicole Smith on twitter said
I get the walk outs on principle but you can’t further the conversation if you’re not here. Come back, we need your voices!
I walked out.
I walked out to live my values. To stand by the song in my heart. And because I didn’t want to sit in an audience sobbing. I was not offended. I was not trying to prove anything. I was not trying to jump on the bandwagon. I was choosing the space and the people I wanted to be with in that moment. So I left. I walked out of the session. Hugged someone I knew and then sat on the stairs and sobbed my little heart out for all the deep scars in our stories that I have no words for.
I’m sorry I can’t explain it. I’m sorry this blog post does no justice to the great, proud and leading voices that were in the room. I’m sorry that my voice and my actions are so small.
I’m sitting now in the foyer writing this, I’d planned to go t0 the afternoon session
“Kyle: What is Aboriginal Theatre? Isaac: Whatever we say it is.”
But on approaching the door, volunteers turned the white away with the words ‘This session is now only for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’.
And my thoughts winged their way back to this morning and the last question asked of Tony Grybowski from the Australia Council by Jason Tamaroo. He challenged the Australian Council Policy that requires Aboriginal people to prove their Aboriginality with a certificate….
So I wait here today. I wait to hear what answers the closed doors may bring back to us.
I wait with hope. And with faith that there are great minds and cultural leaders behind those doors asking the questions I don’t know how to ask and teasing out the answers we all hunger for. I wait knowing that my desire to ‘help’ is something I need to manage, not force on others and make them accept.
And I write. With my own small voice.
To tell you, this matters to me.
Reconciliation, not as a Government token, but as a living celebration of culture and the potential for us to create something beautiful together. To evolve into something none of us seem to have the power to imagine.
I’m doing a terrible job of most things. There is so much I don’t know. So much I’m not good at. But please, please keep making me cry. Keep holding all of us but especially me accountable. Keep demanding that we do better. I want that, for the blue eyed little boy waiting for me back in South Australia. He and EVERY ten year old Australian deserve that we get this shit right.
Other Blogs touching on the #walkout:
“Official” ATF Bloggers