In 2009, an innovative pilot program which endeavors to provide development opportunities to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people engaged in creative industries was launched by the British Council. This program, Accelerate, offers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the opportunity to travel to the UK for professional development and to build lasting connections between the two countries. Three years down the track, the program has gone from strength to strength.
As Director of the British Council in Australia Nick Marchand says, one of the beliefs underpinning the program is that “future leaders need the time and support to develop their own career plans, explore their leadership strengths and weaknesses, and build local and international networks.”
The British Council also recognises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander creative artists, art administrators and others in the industry are often not represented in senior levels of management and leadership in the Australian art sector. Positive signs that this trend is being redressed are already beginning to show, with alumni from past years of the program having formed strong collaborative projects with The Globe Theatre, Welsh National Theatre and the River of Music performances on the River Thames prior to the London Olympics this year.
The creative sector in Australia is somewhat limited, and artists often struggle to transcend barriers to success. As such, the international quality of this program is of great value to artists. One of last year’s participants speaks highly of Accelerate as “It introduced me to the rest of the world.”
In 2012, the Accelerate Program attracted 40 applicants, with 14 shortlisted and around five individuals to be selected later this year to take part in the UK residency. Shortlisted candidates have the chance to put the UK devised theories on cultural leadership including the technique of ‘action learning’ into practice over a weekend workshop. Over a few days, the shortlisted cohort will work collectively to develop creative strategies for addressing real challenges they face, each contributing their own unique skills and knowledge.
The applicants specialise in a wide array of disciplines. In 2012, Accelerate has brought together individuals involved in design, fashion, graphic, photography, new media, theatre, architecture and dance.
Isaac Drandic is the director of the Ilbijerri Theatre Company, and has been shortlisted for this year’s program. Ilbijerri is the longest running Indigenous Theatre Company in Australia, and the only one in Victoria.
Drandic speaks excitedly of being involved in the world of Indigenous theatre at the moment, which he says is “growing and growing”. Ilbijerri has recently staged exciting high profile collaborations at the Sydney Opera House and with the Melbourne International Arts Festival, all of which raise the profile of Indigenous actors, playwrights and the stories they tell.
Ilbijerri’s recent show Binjareb Pinjarra tackled some raw themes, including the disputed histories of Australia, with humour and strength. Drandic talks about the show as “a response to the challenge to the history books,” drawing particularly on the experience of cast members and their curiosity to learn more about the Pinjarra incident. This incident, which took place in Pinjarra, Western Australia, was initially recorded as a ‘battle’ but is now considered by contemporary historians to have been a massacre of Aboriginal people.
Keeping in mind the emerging success of companies like Ilbijerri and Bangarra Dance Company in Australia and abroad, there is evidence that many people are interested in Indigenous stories. In Drandic’s words “there is a great hunger out there for it.” Further to the function of theatre and the arts as a source of entertainment, there is also an inherent educational opportunity.
Asking Drandic what he thinks is unique about Indigenous theatre he tells of how “A lot of Indigenous theatre has a direct call to the audience. It allows the audience into the storyteller’s relationship with the story that they’re telling. It becomes this personal thing. It’s part of your history and your story.”
Drandic, if successful, will join a host of talented Indigenous artists and creative practitioners to take to the UK sometime in the next few months. Drandic will be able to take his message, and the message of many Indigenous Australians, to a broader stage, and receive the support necessary to make Indigenous stories a permanent part of the Australian arts scene. The long-term goal is to make Indigenous theatre as prominent and respected as Western creative traditions.
It has been calculated that 1.3 million people in the UK are employed in creative industries. The scope and impact of this industry for creating employment, encouraging a dialogue with the public and generating an image of Australia for cultural consumers abroad show why it is important to address the disparities of access and representation faced by Indigenous Australians within this employment field.
The message is a simple one; Indigenous creatives should be empowered to go abroad, be brave and bold and to hope that through intercultural experiences these individuals will accelerate the development of our domestic sector.