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Fair Play

08 Sep 2020

Fair Play Image

By Marco Holden Jeffery

The state government has announced this year’s participants in its Fair Play initiative; a six-month program designed to promote diversity and inclusivity in the arts.

Ten arts organisations, including the Arts Precinct’s Malthouse Theatre and dance company Chunky Move, will receive mentorship from Diversity Arts Australia to improve access and representation and help the organisations meet their equity goals.

Diversity Arts Australia executive director Lena Nahlous said the program was “truly groundbreaking” at a time when conversations about diversity in powerful institutions were at the forefront of public discussion.

“Fair Play encourages systemic change by empowering and supporting organisations to develop the foundations and strategies they need to participate in more equitable creative industries,” Nahlous said.

Mentors, drawing from their lived experience as creative practitioners, will work closely with the organisations to develop strategies for greater engagement with marginalised groups, particularly from indigenous Australians, culturally and linguistically diverse groups and people with a disability.

Malthouse Theatre executive producer Sarah Neal said the theatre was “thrilled” to be selected for the Fair Play initiative and believed the lockdown was the perfect time to “reflect on structures and power” within the organisation.

“It’s an opportunity to look much more closely beyond the programming side and think about the structures at play that are preventing full inclusion of people who are not currently engaged in Malthouse,” she said.

Inclusivity had been high on the agenda at the Malthouse in recent years, however Neal recognised there was always room for improvement and hoped to use the initiative to work towards a full equity plan.

“My feeling is that plans are great but actions are the most important thing,” she said.

Although the shutdown was providing time for development and reevaluation at the Malthouse, Neal said they were itching to get back to presenting shows as soon as possible, with an outdoor stage planned for COVID-safe performances over summer.

“We’re not an orchestra, we can’t just jump on stage and pull our instruments out, so we’re doing a lot of work in creative development so we’re good to go when we can get back,” she said.

And one of the best ways to promote inclusivity was to “get the community back to connecting with the company and the artists we work with”.

Chunky Move executive director Kristy Ayre said the Fair Play inclusion had come at the perfect time, when the dance company was celebrating its 25th anniversary and reflecting on what sort of organisation it wanted to be going forward.

“There has always been good intent at Chunky Move and there certainly is a history of some kind of representation, but it’s not enough, and I wouldn’t say we truly reflect the community we’re a part of,” she said.

“But we are really committed to having a safe and equitable space for our employees, our community and our audience.”

The time for change felt right, and the disruption of the pandemic was allowing organisations across the arts sector to reassess their approaches to programming, hiring and their internal power structures.

“It’s all well and good to say you’re inclusive and accessible but is that the way you’re perceived externally?” Ayre said.

While the company couldn’t put on a season of productions, Chunky Move was continuing to engage with creators in the dancing community, funding a $6000 three-month home residency for 12 independent choreographers.

The project was more framed around research, development and experimentation than delivering a final outcome, with presentations expected later in September to be in whatever form the choreographer liked.

“To keep people working was the idea, because for some creators part of their way of staying healthy and feeling good is continuing their creative practice,” Ayre said.

A former dancer with the company herself, Ayre and the rest of the Chunky Move team were taking the time to celebrate the company’s anniversary.

Although plans to bring together their most illustrious alumni were thwarted, the company was putting together an online archive and appreciation of their previous work.

“We wanted to make sure we could bring the full, rich history of the company’s work and people to the forefront,” Ayre said.

“I felt like there was this danger of all that getting forgotten and buried.”

For more visit diversityarts.org.au/project/fair-play

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