Due to the wonders of technology, I recently had the opportunity to be one of the keynote speakers at Creative New Zealand’s Nui te Kōrero: Talking About Diversity Conference, held June 7, 2017, in Auckland, New Zealand.
When I first received the invitation, I thought I was being offered the opportunity to go to New Zealand, which has been on my bucket list for many years. However, when I checked my calendar I discovered I already had committed to participating in the SAVVY Venture Program and would be unable to travel to attend. But then the conference organizers corrected my wishful thinking and explained that they wanted me to address the gathering by pre-recorded video.
A few weeks later, I was virtually participating in Creative New Zealand’s Nui teKōrero: Talking About Diversity Conference; on screen instead of on the dais. The title of my talk was “A Vision of Inclusivity,” and I had the opportunity to share with the audience of representatives from more than 200 New Zealand arts organizations my strategies for making the arts more inclusive, accessible and engaging for diverse audiences.
Nui teKōrero: Talking About Diversity Conference is Creative New Zealand’s annual capability-building gathering for the nation’s arts managers, leaders, producers, marketers and administrators. It provides a collective opportunity to workshop and discuss key issues related to audience engagement. This year’s theme examined why diversity and inclusion in the arts are important and how the arts can provide a platform for change.
Highlights of the conference included a keynote address by Arts Council of New Zealand member and owner of Haumi (NZ) Ltd consulting, Karl Johnstone. Karl talked about “Culturalpreneurship,” including the need to take risks and to challenge convention, status quo and intergenerational complacencies. He shared examples of how developing opportunities from the heart of communities adds immeasurable depth and value to a kaupapa (to the community) and to the organizations and audiences involved.
Participants also heard a video keynote address from Abid Hussain, Arts Council England’s Director of Diversity. Abid outlined the Creative Case for Diversity, which empowers organizations and artists to enrich their work by embracing diverse influences and practices.
Abid raised a critical point that I think all of us engaged in the arts must both ponder and answer if we’re to ensure that our organizations and institutions survive and thrive into the future. He said: How relevant is the work you’re presenting and producing to the audiences with whom you currently engage, as well as the audience you hope to engage? Too often the focus is on the current audience or the traditional audience. Instead, we need to also think about the future. It’s important to present material in a way that we’re able to cultivate new generations of audiences for the future.
Sydney-based producer, writer, actor and broadcaster Annette ShunWah also participated in the conference, via video interview and by leading a discussion. Annette shared her work, which involves engaging with Asian artists and audiences in Australia through contemporary stories and perspectives, and helping to get them a place on mainstream stages and screens.
The ideas discussed at this cutting-edge, international conference provide those of us in the United States who are engaged in arts management—directors, producers, artistic directors, curators, arts marketers, and artists—with several viable examples of how united efforts can expand the reach and influence of the arts and influence cultural change.
I was particularly encouraged that the cultural leadership in New Zealand has chosen to develop policies that help bring to the forefront the artistic voices of its indigenous community, the Māori, as well as from the country’s larger Asian populations. While maintaining its special recognition of Māori arts and the arts of New Zealand’s Pacific peoples, Creative New Zealand also acknowledges the increasingly diverse ethnic composition of the entire country, as well as the way individual New Zealanders may affiliate with multiple ethnicities.
Through this policy Creative New Zealand supports the creation, presentation and distribution of, and participation in, a diverse range of New Zealand arts. The organization promotes diversity in the arts as a creative resource for the entire country, offering innovation and invigoration to artists, arts organizations, audiences and communities.
I can only imagine what would happen if our cultural paradigm included investing in the diversity and creative innovation that the arts and artists provide to the community at-large. It’s not an easy task to make accessible work that is reflective of the entire community. But unless we take concrete steps to do so, there will be no future or audiences for the passionate and essential viewpoints and voices that our diverse artists offer us all.