The ubiquitousness of culture and the work of cultural safety in the arts and cultural sector

 

Robyn Higgins (RH): I’d be interested to start the discussion with asking: what is "cultural work", with this understanding – which I think we all share  - that it goes beyond some kind of connection to the creative object/artifact?

Cara Kirkwood (CK): Well I think for me that we are doing cultural work all the time, as Blakfellas, because we are trying to progress a culture and equity of cultural value or identity. At work in cultural institutions, there is cultural work in; getting a Reconciliation Action Plan and getting an employment strategy to increase inclusion for example. I think even currently, Indigenous resistance to the pipeline construction in Dakota[i] is a really macro, pointed and violent example of the consistent fight for cultural equity in doing cultural work.

Scott Brook (SB): How about in the work roles that you've had in the arts? Have broader activist senses of culture collided with more specific senses of culture-as-art in a way that has been problematic for your professional practice?

RH: In Mparntwe/Alice Springs I felt like this was less problematic and there was much more of an understanding of a broader sense of cultural value, and culture of the arts not just as art. I would say coming here to Canberra, Ngunnawal and Ngambri country, I found peoples’ approach to the idea of culture much more siloed. There seems to be a sense that if we attempt to expand the understanding of what ‘art’ is, the context and framing of where ‘art’ is possible, who is entitled to make ‘art’, and who is authorized to have a creative practice – let alone also recognizing that ‘art’ and ‘culture’ are not synonymous – then that undermines people who are trying to have a professional practice as a medium-based arts practitioner and earn money from their work. I find this divisive approach really limiting. I feel like diversity of practice and conceptions of both culture and art, as well as diversity of experience and identity expression are vital to our sector. But what I feel ends up happening is that  – and despite rhetoric to the contrary – a narrow perception of what culture is and what art practice can be, prevails. In turn, peoples’ cultural and artistic expression – that falls outside of this – is sidelined. The biases of the dominant culture preference those who have been through arts education, are conversant with the appropriate jargon, have particular written English language skills, have the affectations and codes of being an ‘artist’ et cetera. As an example, I recently applied to be part of this two-day workshop on creativity. The framing of the application was directed towards media-based artists, asking them to ‘speak to their work’ and finding out about what media they worked in. Now, I actually feel the real creative cultural work in arts and cultural spaces is much less to do with what you produce and much more about the field within which you produce it. And I think both of us, Cara and I, are trying to affect that field. In this sense then my real media is ‘relationship’, but speaking to that language in spaces where everyone is - dare I say it - quite literal about what creative practice is, has been confusing at best. At the moment I don’t know how to situate myself in those spaces.  Where once I was a ‘print-maker’, or a this or a that, I now find myself much more in the camp of ‘its not what, but how you do’ and am uncertain that even using the term ‘artist’ is an alignment I would like to have.

SB: Is that what relational art or relational aesthetics is about?

RH:  In short, yes. As part of this investigation into cultural safety I did a bit of reading around relational aesthetics and it is useful in terms of how artistic practice can be understood as a social engagement. But, and I haven’t landed this yet, a thought I would float is that although relational aesthetics focuses on the artist as a facilitator, – a departure from the idea of the artist as maker – it is still the artist that is regarded as the catalyst for change. It sees the activity as a curated or constructed experience that locates the power of the exchange between the artist-facilitator and their audience, or interlocutors. I find this interesting and useful, but largely I am less concerned with the artist as the key agent and considering their work from the inside out, so to speak. Rather, I am concerned about the cultural work that happens from the outside in; how structures and institutions conceive and reconcieve themselves and affect the field rather than the roles of the artist per say. Relational aesthetics seems to focus on this quite specific relationship connected to the ‘artist’ and the linguistic terms of that relationship, which possibly risks a circular semiotic debate.

CK: Relational aesthetics sounds like what you and your friends look like when you are hanging out though, doesn’t it?! [laughing]. Don’t you think!

RH: Totally.

SB: ‘Hey, good looking!’

CK: Like if you saw a group of people at a pub you’d be like, ‘Oooo, look at their relational aesthetic’.  You know, Hipsters. Hipster culture.

SB: Yeah the, ‘you two go well together’, that kind of thing.

CK: That’s what I think when you say those two words.

RH: There is something in that, potentially! Something like this idea that relational aesthetics is surface level and project-based, and has limited engagement with the broader context but that a further embodiment and embedded shift in the field is necessary.  I find the idea of a physical engagement interesting. I’ve just attended an excellent workshop called Working in First Nations Cultural Contexts[ii]. When I was there I had a realization about the embodiment of knowledge and of practice. Sitting there talking about whiteness, racial literacy and decolonizing practice for 3 days, at some point I realized it had become less of an intellectual project and much more an experience of learning through the body. I actually felt physically tired, felt so emotional. I had an acute sense of my posture and presence in the room. There was a real sense of embodiment. I had this feeling that I had learnt through my body in a spiritual and emotional sense where the meaning of words surpassed themselves. But the other part was just watching peoples’ bodies in space. Seeing people talking ‘decolonizing practice’ and observing resonance and dissonance in the action of that. When mixed groups of non-Indigenous peoples got up to present to the larger group, the body language of who was standing where, who spoke first, who spoke most, who felt entitled to query or make really lengthy statements about themselves…. You know that habit sometimes people have of responding to the end of a presentation, when they call for questions, with a 20-minute speech about themselves and only at the last tack a question on (or even don’t)? All of that kind of stuff. So it’s funny, you can do all the learning that you want but sometimes it’s not made it through to the body, and you can see much more in the way that people physically behave.

SB: So I would imagine in cultural safety discourse that the tension between what you can think, say and articulate, and how the body acts  - which of course affects what we say and how we habitually think - is at the cutting edge of the work?

RH: Yes, it’s is really important, I think, because this is where I think the arts comes a cropper. Because here there is often the rhetoric of being progressive and avant-garde but sometimes – not always of course - that masks a whole lot of really normative behaviour that is completely contradictory to the words. There are a lot of really ‘well-meaning’ people in the arts but this in itself can cause unexpected damage.

CK: I keep going back to the word ‘culture’, the way we use ‘culture’: cultural work, art and culture, culture in the yoghurt….. I often think about culture in the sense of yoghurt when I am thinking about cultural practice and what constitutes this entire thing. I don’t know what is going on chemically in yoghurt but my sense is that the culture is trying to permeate this liquid mass, and this is how I view arts and culture; as something which saturates our lived experience and is inseparable from our sense of ourselves. Yet, somehow, in contemporary Australia it has become an idea completely detached from society and humanness. Culture as it is – I would say misunderstood, – has little to do with what we are expected to do in the world around us, like having jobs and going about our lives. But really it is so saturated through everything, that to do that - to abstract it and detach ourselves from it - is very harsh, almost violent. Somehow we have become both ignorant of culture and at the same time people are desperately seeking it out in a distorted sense. For example, we are finding cultures being built out of the far right through this idea of ‘brotherhood’ that seeks unity in violence against others. In this sense, cultural work is a really complex web of connected and interconnected thinking. This is why connection to and ownership of arts and culture is really important. It is the birthplace of creativity and you need creativity to problem solve and to function. This is attached to the Blakfella worldview of collectivity. That it’s all interlinked. But the whitefella worldview is built into our cultural work at our workplaces. Here we are relegated to roles and the underlying assumption is that we are detached from the work. It isn’t about interconnected relationships - it is about this abstract concept called ‘art’ that sits outside of ourselves and is quite separate. Therefore, when we are talking about cultural safety, it is about everybody having cultural safety. I remember when I first used the term ‘Cultural Safety’ with a reasonably privileged non-Indigenous person, they immediately went to their own framework and went ‘well yes, yes, I haven’t thought about how safe I feel when I talk about art’. And I thought ‘wow, that wasn’t the response I was expecting!’. But in some way, particularly if someone is privileged, white, and their sense of entitlement is thick as thieves, this statement is actually hitting to the core of what cultural safety is and what the starting point for someone with that experience may be. Cultural safety is about self-reflection and embarking on a process of discovering what your biases are.  This person has immediately flipped the concept in their own mind to make sure that in their already very protected safe world they are even more safe and protected. Whilst they have clearly missed that their whiteness could be used in other ways, rather than to perpetuate their own sense of safety in their very white structured environment, I have compassion for this because whiteness is so blinding; it can take time to unravel, and even though it can be frustratingly slow, I need to have patience for that.

RH: Following on from this, how, in this space, do you define or explain to someone the difference between feeling unsafe and feeling uncomfortable? Because of course, feeling uncomfortable is absolutely necessary for this type of work. The challenge and the rewriting of what we think we know is essential, and will necessarily have an element of discomfort. Can I talk about your work as an example?

CK: Yep.

RH: So, I have seen you in spaces addressing large groups of non-Indigenous people -with a white majority - as both an arts worker (which confers some positional power) and a Mandandanji person (with a different type of power), challenging preconceived notions, stereotypes and assumptions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their art. A particular memory I have is when you publically challenged someone in the audience on their language in that space. Singling this person out and challenging them on that language, in that public space, is uncomfortable but not unsafe. But how would you explain to someone the mechanisms at work here?

CK: Well I think it starts with pre-existing power and a long legacy of whiteness and a fear of the awkward. The two words that come up for me, when I listen to what you are saying, are awkwardness and power. I think over time I have become quite comfortable about being in awkwardness  - you get to embrace your own crazy. And your crazy makes people feel comfortable – this gets into roles: roles of the joker, roles in setting people at ease. However, you also named positional power about being an employee and that they have their own structural power: white, upper middle class, educated, grew up in particular areas. I remember in that space that I had to acknowledge power, the power in the room that they had, and that I had too - out loud - because I knew that the tension of inter-cultural or cross-cultural learnings was going to get really awkward.  Even though I was the only Aboriginal person in the room, the power that I had over their white guilt meant that I had a shit load of power too. I could say anything and it could either make them feel really bad about themselves, or it could justify everything they thought about Aboriginal people; which might be along the lines of ‘aren’t they nice when they are playing dot paintings but we don’t like it when they are super smart and can speak our language’ or ‘we just don’t like to be challenged in our way’. I noticed when I acknowledged that power was in the room - and that I actually had a lot of power - many of them were nodding their heads. They seemed to be acknowledging the truth of that statement, and that they (although they hadn’t really thought about it) were afraid of me in a sense. This is something that I have learnt to question and name: what power is, and what authority is, and that everybody actually does have a type of power in every context even if you are a minority. Often the problem with whiteness is…. Pft, just so many problems with whiteness…

SB: ‘Just don’t get me started! Or we’ll be here all day’

CK: That’s right! So, you know I often use the phrase that whiteness is blinding. Well, whiteness is so blinding. It literally blinds people to their own ability to sit in awkwardness and their ability to locate power.

RH: This leads me into thinking about that experience in terms of your work, and what impact it has on you personally; having to stand up and absorb whatever is going on and the energies circulating in the room in these spaces? What effect does it have on you to be accountable to that? Not only then but also after the event?

CK: eh, I’m exhausted!!! No. I suppose that’s a good thing to talk about. There is something distinctive about working in this awkward space in terms of how often you’re educating people in smaller or bigger ways, like in forums, like guides training, or just on a day-to-day basis with colleagues. And it is important to acknowledge that there is work in building peoples’ muscle and comfort with engaging with the ‘other’. People find it really challenging. And so it IS exhausting because - not only are you educating - but then you have to reward afterwards so that people get comfortable. You essentially have to do this until you can get people to a point where they have set sail and are finally riding the wave of intercultural galactic amazement. I think that is why it is tiring. The other day an Australian person living in Utrecht said to me that she didn’t know anything about Aboriginal people and Aboriginal culture.  She said, ‘I’d really like to know more and I’d like to have conversations with people. What’s the best way to go about it?’. I said ‘Well, before you go around talking to people and asking lots of questions …’ (which I think I named ‘really exhausting’), ‘ … go and read books. Read books by people about culture, about our true history.” She then said, “Oh, that sounds really great. What books should I read?’. I followed with, “Well, you’d probably start with Aboriginal authors, that’s where you are going to get a truer narrative” and then she said “Well can you tell me who the Aboriginal authors are?” And finally I was like, “sis, you need to google some shit!”. This is exactly the kind of questions that are effing exhausting. And we’ve got google now! This is the awkward space. People are going to make mistakes. People are really scared to offend and it is a space where you can see this happening quite easily because the work is so very personal, dealing with identities, worldviews and peoples’ core beliefs. Whiteness and particular systems have taught us that there is such a thing as ‘proper’ communication. However, these social mores can get in the way of real communication.  Sometimes you actually have to go against all of your learnings in communication and drop all of your warm fuzzies about it, and just speak directly. Watching other people in inter-cultural communication spaces can be awkward as hell because people can’t drop their social mores. And so they don’t ever get their outcome. And then we’ve got a bigger problem. Suddenly we’ve now got four people dancing around the edges of someone who just needs clear communication but everyone is too more conscious to actually address the issue. This becomes their shit. Not the person that everyone is tip-toeing around’s shit; it’s other people’s shit and their inability to be able to adapt and drop some of that warm fluffy crap. That’s an example of the awkward space I’m talking about.

RH: It’s nuanced though isn’t it, when it is culturally safe or unsafe to be so direct?

CK: Well I suppose to progress there are always mistakes. You have to rely on the fact that you can maintain safety enough that people will say, ‘that hurt’, ‘this was wrong’, ‘this could be better’. You know? That’s what is required, what is safe. The safety is that you continually check in not only with yourself but the people around you. Which is how you might build a genuine relational aesthetic.

SB: And politeness, particularly English-style politeness, lets you get away with not doing that. Because it is assumed that the structure of the discussion has already resolved all of that, so you actually don’t need to be aware.

CK: That politeness has crossed over and is what is confusing people about political correctness. There is something to be said for how politeness doesn’t allow us to be awkward and politeness builds a container for fear. At the same time, I’d actually say manners, not politeness, can make a world of difference. But fear is a part of the problem. We were reading the other day about this idea that aesthetics is attached to ideologies, which I think makes complete sense.

RH: The Gallery - in capital T, capital G - has a protocol of politeness. Its design, its set up, the ideological principles under which it operates, including its aesthetic with all the white walls, and the works in frames - preserved and conserved - with the security guards, is really culturally biased within a particular way of seeing and doing.

CK: It comes back to power and the types of power and the type of ranking – who defines the aesthetic. The guides at galleries, arts patrons, highly-educated arts workers – they all have a high social rank and a lot of social power to direct how the space works, and people conform out of fear. This is a type of social rank that works in dominant culture. Then there are things like spiritual ranking. Blakfella culture has a much higher spiritual ranking than I would say whitefella culture does, and that comes from a sense of a collective worldview and higher purpose. Whitefellas have got their means about it but crikey all that religious stuff got crisscrossed with a capitalist notion that’s really stripped people of a freedom of devotion I think.

RH: Do you reckon you get spiritual shoppers coming to the Aboriginal Art market for a more genuine or ‘authentic’ experience?

CK: I think there must be something there. If I can say something that is off the cuff, but could be controversial? When you think about Aboriginal art –let’s look at Central Australia for example because it hits high in the art market. The same people would be looking at this kind of amazing colour. It’s a colour explosion; a feast for your eyes with all this stuff going on. And there is also a story that is apparent. But then underneath all of that, is this secret story that they know is even more powerful that they can’t attach to. I recall a conversation with a woman once. She was talking with another Aboriginal person, and they were talking around what it is that people are drawn and attached to in Aboriginal art. To be perfectly honest, they were doing all this big high-falutin’ conversation with very big art talk. And I cut through with a response which was simply: consciousness. If you simplify everything down you can identify the thing that means most, connects everything – it is thought, it is heart, it is feeling. Everything. It’s about a consciousness. That’s what is at the end of everything. It’s about higher purpose and why you are here – getting a touch esoteric – but I truly think people are trying to buy into a consciousness that they know exists beneath the canvas (if I can steal the Tjala Arts[iii] phrase) because in that canvas is something that they know exists, but that they have become detached from. It’s a systemic broad-scale detachment. Mic drop.

SB: So that search for spiritual nourishment, you’re saying, is real. And people are getting spiritually nourished through Indigenous art? I wonder if there is a really interesting issue about time and culture in relation to cultural safety? So if I think about whitefella artists, they are seen as – you know when they are innovative and contemporary and secular – as nevertheless part of tradition. There is no question of that distinction. You know, there is an art historical narrative about time which, you know, can tell the story from the most radical avant-garde stuff all the way back.

RH: You mean the cannon.

SB: Yeah, the cannon. And so there is tradition and tradition evolves. But it seems to me that when people look at Indigenous art they make a break, they make that distinction between a secular modernity - an urban style - or traditional. And it is actually about time, Indigenous people are being placed in a temporality which is not acknowledging the continuity of tradition.

CK: Waving fist in the air in agreement. I’ve got a real problem with that, the bloody art cannon. In the past, I have actually felt quite nervous talking about my issues with the art cannon. How the western history art cannon has this nice streamlined thing from French cave paintings up until now, with everything that is ‘other’ meaning: African, Asian, Aboriginal, Pacific – anything brown or other – sitting to the side of this cannon. So it is not a true cannon. I found it really unsettling to actually say those opinions in Europe recently though. With Europe the birth-place of all of these bloody ideas of time-lined cannons. It’s the cannon that puts us in that divided position. The cannon is in fact culturally unsafe. This cannon idea is a device of exclusion created through the reductive nature of fear. Fear has been allowed to define this ‘reality’. And if fear and hate reduce our decisions to only one or two options and creativity of decision-making is lost, then we are reduced to a very mechanical society. And that is a problem. Creativity is an anathema to this because it releases possibility.

RH: Libby[iv] was explaining something to us along these lines about neurobiological research, hey Cara? That it has been concluded that when you are in a space of fear your capacity contracts.

SB: So true.

CK: Totally, and this is why I am astounded that people can’t see the importance of creativity in everything, all the time. Cultural institutions have got a lot to answer for because they are at the foundation of segregating and excluding people. We have got a lot work to do about making arts and cultural institutions accessible and equitable for absolutely everybody.

RH: They are also at the epicenter of reflecting back to people as a society what we know about ourselves, because they are demonstrating how we articulate ourselves as a culture. Currently there is a lot being left out.

SB: In this discussion about cultural safety I am hearing a statement about cultural safety which is surprising to me in that, I guess knowing next to nothing about the topic before, I thought it was a form of recognition; that it was clearing a space for cultural knowledge. And what I am hearing more and more it is about risking knowledge and risking what's known. So it’s not that it’s not about recognition, but it’s actually something beyond that….

CK: Recognition is definitely a part of it. 

SB: ….which is a kind of a risky move. It’s actually risking the paradigms of what is assumed to be known about each other, and what is being recognised is the relationality of culture above and beyond any recognition of what is culturally safe for this person or that person or this cultural way of operating.

RH: Yes, because a culturally safe space is co-constructed. In Irihapeti Ramsden's[v] articulation of cultural safety she was always talking about ‘bi-cultural’, and whilst she applied her work to the bi-cultural experience of two interacting groups – the Māori and the Pākheā – in her own work, she was clear that bi-cultural exists in the relational space between two people.

However, in recognition of the unequal playing field upon which these relationships play out, she explicitly situated the power of determining if a space was or was not culturally safe with the person of lesser power in each particular relational context. So in her context, one of nurse and patient, it was largely – largely – clear-cut that it was the patient. This has been critiqued and problematized since. Recognition of the plurality of identities makes the field more complex to negotiate and binaries are necessarily unpacked. A process of reflexivity is implied in the cultural safety principle of seeking to minimize power imbalances, which is a nuanced process in practice.

SB: So it was actually there in the original discourse. So, I am thinking now that the ethical cultural work of training that Indigenous people are asked to do in the arts and cultural sector is a kind of ambivalent outcome of cultural safety discourse?

RH: Coming from my growing understanding of the journey of cultural safety, and I am not an expert, I think Cultural Safety would critique the idea of having a sole Indigenous voice within an institution explicitly and implicitly called upon to perform this kind of function you describe. This role would be considered inherently unsafe because it situates the Indigenous employee as an informant or an appointee to the role of speaking for and representing others which can be unsafe. This is why boards and committees can be helpful. Cultural Safety as a concept is explicitly not about knowledge acquisition of the ‘other’ as the primary focus. The primary focus is critical self-reflection so that people can become aware of their own impacts on others and attempt to circumvent the phenomena you have described above through putting the onus on the individual – in this case the white person - to be in the primary role of challenging themselves and decolonizing their own practice.

SB: Is Cultural Safety as a decolonising discourse enough? Does it need an anti-racist or anti-discriminatory agenda?

CK: I guess the more confident you become to have awkward conversations, the more confident you become to use more pointy language like ‘racial literacy’ as opposed to other things, ‘cultural awareness’ for example, or things like that. You are then able to work in a space beyond fear and know that you’re not to blame; but that there is an ethical imperative to confidently claim ownership of collective history. It’s not a big deal! Let’s just use history to inform our choices and get on with it. Because I think the language is really good. Racial literacy is a big one because it has the word ‘racial’ in it and tackles the specifics of colour-based discrimination and the euphemisms used to cover and conceal this. The way I see it, Cultural Safety can operate as both a jumping-off point and also as a compass you can return to when navigating more specific targeted agendas like racial literacy.  

RH: Yeah, the way I have come to understand it having been introduced to Racial Literacy through the lectures of Dianne Jones, Lilly Brown and Odette Kelada[vi] at the Working in First Nations Cultural Contexts workshop, is that Racial Literacy is a rich and deep critically reflective analysis of the language of race. I think that cultural safety and racial literacy overlap, complement each other, and yet are distinctly different in the way cultural safety provides a framework which supports intersectional critical reflection and links across historically siloed identifiers used to oppress. Where racial literacy delves, and importantly so, Cultural Safety connects. I think both are equally required. Racial Literacy is specifically about developing competency with language to address race because if you don’t have the language then you can neither engage, nor unpack. Perhaps cultural safety would benefit from a discourse of cultural literacy?

SB: Racial Literacy is not a term I’ve heard before.

CK: Its not a term I’d heard before either. I think there is a risk of excluding people if there’s a particular language around this conversation. This applies to all academia and is an issue with academia’s ‘other’ language, with words like ‘discourse’. It can become quite exclusive.

RH: Which is why decolonising academia is necessary in progressing cultural safety, if you are going to be working from a research field into any of these spaces.

CK: You know it goes back again with the new catch phrase around decolonising things. What does it mean to ‘decolonise’ a space and who is naming this? I know Blakfellas of various backgrounds are naming this but what does it actually mean to decolonise something? And by the way, again doesn’t ‘decolonise’ just use that nice warm fuzzy word of colony and colonisation, and so we are ‘decolonising’ something rather than owning a true history? Does decolonising mean everyone is involved? Is that about whiteness?  Is that about privilege? I think its about all of it isn’t it? I’m probably being a bit negative.

RH: For me, it goes back to the question of the legitimate use of the term. Because for you, in talking about ‘invasion’ as being a more appropriate term to use in relation to non-First Nations people coming to Australia in the first instance and enacting genocide and laying claim, the use of ‘colonisation’ is inappropriate politically and personally. And I totally agree. To make sufficient restitutions for the invasion of Australia is another thing entirely beyond any self-reflexive practice, and this demands its own conversation. To address however, where does ‘colonisation’ start and stop is a different query in my mind. My thinking is that in the current context the political utility of the term is what is important; because ‘colonisation’ is defined as ‘control’ and ‘domination’ - I use the words a bit interchangeably - I see ‘colonisation’ as being of women, of people of colour, of sex and gender diverse peoples of the neurologically diverse, of First Nations peoples globally, of refugees and asylum seekers, of sex workers et cetera. So I have a really broad understanding of what I think ‘colonising’ is, and therefore ‘de-colonising’ is removing colonisation, or removing domination, so that there are spaces of equity in the way that we operate interpersonally and institutionally.

CK: Then bring it on.

SB: And I’m also assuming that Cultural Safety and Racial Literacy would say that that there is Racial Literacy and Cultural Safety in a lot of spaces where those terms aren’t used (?)

RH: There is and always has been a lot going on which could be retrospectively labelled Cultural Safety, and there will always be, whether it is named as such or not. So when you talk to Feral Arts[vii], about their experience communicating across the sector, different manifestations of this same conversation are arising in different contexts across Australia. Similar language or similar points of importance are coming from the pre-discussions to Arts Front[viii] that people artists and arts workers with disability are having, people connected to Kultour[ix] are having, and First Nations artists and arts workers are having. You see at Footscray Arts Centre this year the first time that Working in First Nations in Cultural Contexts happened. Arts Front is happening. There is this sense of action, momentum and a recognition of power in that. So there is kind of a passion and an upswelling of interest, and it’s not that this hasn’t happened historically before, but there is a reinvigoration or a new energy to unify and come as a force at this stuff again. However I recently discussed the idea of Cultural Safety for the arts with a cultural worker, and she pointed out that another framework, another language, can easily be appropriated; and that introducing Cultural Safety to the arts could easily be a hollow exercise in developing a new rhetoric. She noted that words have been colonised successively, and so ‘diversity’ is now a term that has been overtaken and rendered somewhat meaningless. Paula Abood[x] and her were talking about what role bringing Cultural Safety into the mix would perform, and Paula’s position was that the importance of new language, or the reinvention or reclaiming of language, is that it can jolt people into recognition or a new sense of reality. I think the most important place that Cultural Safety could speak to or could sit in, which I think you are alluding to, is a space where it can affect government and institutional understanding. Whilst people in what has been dubbed ‘community arts and cultural development’ are often (though not always) working in ways towards cultural safety, I’m not sure that a clear and specific language has translated across activities and spaces, nor is it coming up in a unified capacity as a transferable practice framework into arts and culture within government or larger arts and cultural institutions. People are speaking in different spaces about ‘nothing about us without us’, like RISE (a refugee-run organisation for refugees, survivors and ex-detainees), but I feel a language that is filtering into something that makes sense across practices, fields and experiences at a national level might be missing.

SB: So it’s going to bring together a range of issues and power struggles that are related around experiences of discrimination, and it’s going to create a space in which people who have positions of power can actually do something about it or are called upon to come to the table to redress these discriminations.

RH: Well, yeah. Maybe. But you know we’re two people and largely, this thinking arose from experiences working in allied health, suicide prevention to be more specific. When I came across from that field to work professionally in the arts at a service provider level it was something that we, Cara and I, discussed over the dinner table and I thought might be useful more broadly. However, whether or not anyone else in the arts and cultural sector agrees remains to be seen. And I have no control over the will of people in the positions of power you speak about - opportunities are not always taken.

 

 

[i] The Dakota Access Pipleine is currently being built to transport oil from the Bakken Field of North Dakota to connect to pipelines in Illinois. According to the planned route, the fracked oil will be transported across the Missouri River several times. This will put peoples’ access to freshwater at risk of oil contamination. Members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and supporters from around the US have been have been protesting the construction. 

[ii] Working in First Nations Cultural Contexts run by Genevieve Grieves was commissioned by Footscray Community Arts Centre as part of GENERATE, ‘FCAC’S 10-part professional development series in contemporary community engaged arts practice’. It ran for the first time from Thursday 29 September – Saturday 1 October 2016. (Footscray Community Arts Centre, ‘Generate: Working in First Nations Cultural Contexts’, footscrayarts.com, Accessed on 25 November 2016, http://footscrayarts.com/event/generate-working-in-first-nations-cultural-contexts/)

[iii] The phrase ‘beneath the canvas’ came from the book: Nganampa Kampatjanka Unngu Beneath the canvas: the lives and stories of the Tjala artists. ‘Tjala Arts is an Aboriginal owned and managed corporation that sells artwork on behalf of its members’, artists of the community of Amata in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands which spans the remote north west desert region of South Australia. Tjala Arts is leading the sector in community driven curatorial practices that preference the intentions of Anangu artists in the appropriate presentation of their artworks. (Tjala Arts, ‘Tjala Arts: Our Art Centre’, tjalaarts.com.au, accessed on 25 November 2016, http://tjalaarts.com.au/site/our-art-centre)

[iv] Libby Harward aka ‘Mz Murri Cod’, is an Artist, Graffer, Director, Facilitator, Social Change Agent and founder of Creative Inclusive. Having studied a Graduate Certificate in Developmental Trauma, her arts practice explores ‘interpersonal neurobiology, attachment and trauma integration’. She is a ‘descendant of the Nughi people of Quandamooka (Moreton Bay)’ and also has English Australian heritage. (Harward, Libby. ‘Libby Harward aka “Mz Murri Cod” – Artist Profile’, creativeinclusive.com.au, accessed on 25 November 2016, http://www.creativeinclusive.com.au/index.php/drastic-artists/about)

[v] Dr Irihapeti Ramsden (1946–2003), was the Māori activist, nurse and educator who developed the concept of Cultural Safety in the context of nursing practice in Aoteroa/New Zealand from concerns raised at a series of Hui (meetings) on Māori Health in the late 80s.

[vi]  Dianne Jones, Lilly Brown and Dr Odette Kelada from the School Of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne gave lectures defining racial literacy, its importance and its relationship to art and culture at Working in First Nations Cultural Contexts.

[vii] ‘Feral Arts is a national community arts and cultural development (CACD) service organisation with a focus on supporting campaigns, connectedness and capacity building across the whole arts and cultural sector.’ Sarah Moynihan and Norm Horton are joint Executive Directors at Feral Arts. They have led the company since its inception in 1990. (Feral Arts, ‘Feral Arts’, feralarts.com.au, accessed on 25 November 2016, http://feralarts.com.au)

[viii] ‘Arts Front 2030 is a national, three-day gathering of artists, thinkers and change agents from across the country to help shape the future of culture and arts in Australia. More than 200 participants will come together in Melbourne to work on; developing a shared vision for culture and arts in 2030, building a national network of collaborators and planning joint campaigns and projects.’ It will be held from 23–25 November 2016 at Footscray Community Arts Centre, Melbourne, Australia. (Feral Arts, ‘Arts Front: About’, artsfront.com, accessed on 25 November 2016, http://artsfront.com)

[ix] ‘Kultour is a national organisation committed to advancing cultural diversity in the arts in Australia.’ Kultour is in the process of being renamed ‘Diversity Arts Australia’. (Kultour, ‘Kultour: Home’, kultour.com.au, accessed on 25 November 2016, http://kultour.com.au)

[x] ‘Dr Paula Abood is a community cultural development practitioner, writer and educator. She has worked with diverse communities in capacity building projects for 29 years.’ ‘She has coordinated, developed resources and taught on subjects including cultural diversity, advocacy, community development, human rights approaches in community work, and community cultural development at TAFE and in community education settings.’ (Arab Film Festival, ‘Arab Film Festival: The Team’, arabfilmfestival.com.au, accessed on 25 November 2016, http://arabfilmfestival.com.au/the-team/)