For First Nations people, making art is part of telling your story – art is not separate from culture, but part of the same thing. Traditional or contemporary, its holistic nature makes it the natural instrument for Aboriginal people to pass on knowledge and wisdom, revitalise language, reconnect young people with their culture and find the pathways to build resilience.
It is also the most powerful of tools to assist us all to better understand and respect our First Nations people and to reflect on the place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and rights in our nation’s story.
First Nations artists and art have figured prominently in our programs since the beginning— the staged version of Bran Nue Dae was a highlight of the first subscription season in 1993, annual exhibition programs have never been without indigenous content and important projects like See Saw were part of the early landscape. However, there was a greater role to be played by a leadership organisation.
Taking it up a notch in 2010, with the introduction of our Indigenous Arts and Cultural Engagement program, and adding an indigenous guiding hand to the team, we took the first step in embedding respect for First Nations culture across everything we do.
The dual-naming of the national conference Kumuwuki/Big Wave in 2012 was a landmark moment in regional arts, and the first time a First Nations people had showcased their culture and their relationship to country, in the community in which they live.
Knowing that we needed to continue our journey of learning, our national benchmark Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) was launched in 2014, formalising our commitment to being responsive and respectful of cultural needs and rights through partnerships, dialogue and action.
With all this humming away in the background, the principal role of our two aboriginal producers is to find the pathways for Aboriginal people to build resilience – economically, physically, emotionally and spiritually – through artmaking which tackles contemporary issues, often around grief and loss, providing a place of safety where traditional cultural practice is respected and Aboriginal people take charge of their own healing.
Country Arts SA recognises and respects that we are living and creating on Aboriginal Lands and we are committed to working together to honour their living cultures.
We know that non-Indigenous people must take the lead in reconciliation over the past and for the future and that there is still much work to be done. But we’re proud to have made a start.
Written and researched by Jo Pike for Country Arts SA