News August 15, 2019

Aussie arts & cultural sectors fail cultural diversity test [report]

Aussie arts & cultural sectors fail cultural diversity test [report]

Diversity Arts Australia’s groundbreaking report Shifting The Balance has found that despite public proclamations of supporting cultural diversity in the arts and creative sectors, the reality does not match up.

Over half of music and opera companies, screen and theatre firms, and museums have no people of diverse cultural or linguistic diverse on their boards or executive lists.

39% of people in these sectors identify themselves as first, second and third-generation migrants.

But less than 10% of this group have made it to the level of artistic directors.

The glass ceiling exists for non-Anglo people as much as it does for women, says Diversity Arts (DARTS).

The numbers led executive director Lena Nahlous to call for the arts sector to reach more equitable representation by 2024 with stronger policy and commitment, and for government funding to be tied to diversity access and target achievements arguing that public funding should be for everybody and not a select few.

Shifting The Balance, the first report of its kind in Australia, included looking at the cultural backgrounds of 1984 chairs, chief executives, creative directors, senior executives and award panel judges from 200 major cultural organisations, government bodies, and award panels.

“Why focus on leadership?” Nahlous said at the study’s launch in Melbourne yesterday.

“Because leaders have power, to make decisions, to set priorities and agendas, and act as gatekeepers.”

She went on to say that lack of leadership from diverse backgrounds “was more often than not, reflected in programming, employment, casting, and ultimately the work that gets made and shown, and the artists supported.”

Nahlous admitted there were “challenges” when they compiled the report, “particularly resistance from people in power who didn’t want this research to go-ahead.

“This really surprised us, because to make change happen, we need to build relationships with those who are hostile to change.”

One of the speakers at the launch, Radio National presenter and podcaster Beverly Wang, said that in the ten years she’s been in Australia since moving from Canada, she has only had two leaders of colour.

One was former ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie (“whose term ended very abruptly”) and an executive producer of Season 2 of the It’s Not A Race podcast.

“It’s not a great strike rate considering I’ve worked across three radio networks and seven programs,” she commented.

She added that the report’s findings were not surprising, “we are distressing out of balance.

“But what we can see very clearly is the necessity of this research to lay foundations.”

Wang set up It’s Not A Race “to put people of colour front and centre.”

Research for Shifting The Balance was funded by a UNESCO grant, and led by Diversity Arts Australia in partnership with Western Sydney University & BYP group.

Check out the report in full here.

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