This piece is published in partnership with Diversity Arts Australia (DARTS). DARTS invited participant writers to reflect on the Stories from the Future project, which gathers culturally and/or linguistically diverse creatives from across Australia to imagine equitable alternative futures for the arts. This project is a partnership between DARTS, the University of Sydney and state partners and receives core support from the Australia Council for the Arts, City of Parramatta Council and Liverpool City Council.
What would you change about the world if you could?
The year is 2050 and nothing much has changed. Twenty years in the grand scheme of things is not that long. There are no flying cars or hovercrafts. Our borders are still relatively set, and robots certainly don’t roam the earth…yet.
So, what could be different?
This was the question that was posed at the Stories from the Future program: A workshop selecting many artists across creative platforms to discuss and imagine a future where cultural diversity is present at every level in the arts.
Australia has a real problem with representation. Based on the findings of Screen Australia in 2016, 32 percent of Australians have a background other than Anglo-Celtic, but are only represented only 18 percent of the time in Australian television.
This underrepresentation is not just exclusive to cultural diversity, but other visible minorities, with only 5 percent of television characters identifying as LGBTQI+, compared to the estimated 11 percent of the population, and a dismal 4 percent of Australian television characters being identifiable as a person with a disability, compared to the estimated 18 percent in reality.
We all consume some type of art, and this skewed version of what our reality is presents a false narrative. It changes how we view what it means to ‘be Australian,’ to ‘look Australian.’
This was why I chose to attend Stories from the Future, so that I could be a part of the discussion, and meet other likeminded individuals to discuss ways we together could make fundamental change. I was so excited, then I was sent a request from the organisation:
‘Bring an object that connects you to your family, communities, and/or culture.’
This type of request is very common in the arts, especially when you’re collaborating. And I know why: asking strangers to work together is hard, and bringing something personal to share, no matter how small, is a great ice-breaker. Introductions are seemingly painless (you don’t have to listen to people reciting their CVs) and it lets everyone have their own moment, while still staying relatively on track. It’s tangible, visual and interesting.
However I, on the other hand, hate it.
There is an indescribable pressure that comes with this request, especially as a minority. There’s always that fear when you expect to the only one of your ‘kind’ in a room. The fear that the story you share won’t have the intended response. The fear that, no matter how funny or nonchalant you are, that cute anecdote you tell about your family, or that story about yourself, is neither cultural nor relatable, but weird, different, foreign.
The fear that your story, your personal story. The one you hoped would connect you with others does the exact opposite: it singles you out.
I grit my teeth, and think of the most mundane, culturally—but not too culturally—specific story about my object I can think of, and tell myself that I’m not going to be the weirdo. I’m not going to be singled out and be that person who becomes the outsider.
The workshop begins and we all sit in a circle smiling at each other nervously, hiding our objects in our bags, not yet ready to show them to the world. I recognise none of the faces, but something amazing has happened. Unlike the countless number of times I have been put in this situation, I’m not the only one. By which I mean the circle is filled with diverse faces, some that look like me, some like my next-door neighbours, some like the people whom I went to school with. The inside of this room is reflective to the outside I’m so often surrounded by, but never really see anywhere else and it makes me feel brave. There’s something so powerful in knowing you’re not alone.
I’m not sure what the future holds, but if we have more rooms like this one, of people who have been left out of the mainstream, sharing and connecting with each other, then I know we’re capable of incredible things.
My name is called. I pull out my object and take a big breath.
It’s time to tell my story.