We’re well into arts festival season here at Peril, and it’s always nice to know how festival organisers, directors and production teams consider Asian Australian creative and audiences. As a part of this, we’re chatting with festival directors and organisers about the way that they approach issues of diversity, representation and engagement, particularly in relation to the Asian Australian community. Sarah Gory, Director of the Queensland Poetry Festival, is the first respondent to our questions about the role of the arts, program development, and audience feedback. The Queensland Poetry Festival runs from August 23-25 in Brisbane, Queensland.
What does your festival see as the role of the arts in supporting (or otherwise) diverse representations of Australian culture?
I think it is important for the arts to support diverse representations of Australian culture for a number of reasons, not least because failing to do so means that the arts, and hence it audiences, will miss out on a wealth of artistic talent if they fail to engage with and support artists of diverse cultural identities.
It’s also a case of how diverse representations will beget further engagement. The more that young Australians of diverse cultural backgrounds are able to see and identify with artists in the public sphere, the more they will feel that is a path/career/trajectory they are able to take themselves.
The issue is, of course, how to achieve genuine engagement and representation to avoid tokenism or misrepresentation. Having people of diverse backgrounds and identities in influential roles (on Boards, councils, as Directors, etc.) is a good first step.
I know that different arts bodies have different objectives, but from the perspective of a festival like QPF, part of our remit is to showcase a representative snapshot of contemporary Australian poetic practice. Australia is a wonderfully, and increasingly, multicultural country, so unless we are able to engage with Australian artists of diverse identities and support diverse representations of Australian culture, we’re going to end up with a festival that only showcases a narrow proportion of the poetic community.
Can you give us a brief overview of the festival and what it offers Asian Australian audiences in terms of programming?
Queensland Poetry Festival 2013 is set across three days in the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. Aside from the workshops and the opening night, Set Fire To The Air, the festival is entirely free. It is primarily a festival of spoken word and performance, and is designed to be accessible and easy to wander into. We also have some fantastic installations this year. You can access the full program online.
For Asian Australian audiences we have a few poets who may be of particular interest:
Vuong Pham is a local Brisbane poet. His first collection, Refugee Prayer, was released this year by Another Lost Shark Press as part of the Brisbane New Voices series. As the title of the collection suggests, Refugee Prayer deals explicitly with Vuong and his families experience coming to Australia from Asia – he will be reading pieces from the collection at QPF.
Vuong will be reading at Language of Light (Sunday 25 Aug, 11am)
Also appearing at the festival is Asian American poet and novelist Tao Lin. Tao is the hipster pin-up boy at the moment, so we’re excited to have him! I haven’t actually read Taipei yet, but as the name suggests it is set in Taiwan, with the main character exploring his own Taiwanese heritage. Tao Lin himself is of Taiwanese heritage.
Why do you think that these offerings would be of interest to Asian Australian audiences?
See above! I particularly think the themes in some of Vuong’s work would directly appeal to Asian Australian audiences. With Tao Lin, his poetry varies in theme and doesn’t necessarily address his heritage or identity, but it may be interesting for Asian Australian audiences to connect with an Asian American artist.
Do you actively seek representation from CALD or other historically marginalised groups in your programming committees/board/staff/volunteer teams?
The answer, I’m actually slightly ashamed to say, is no. For the program committee and the board, our goal has been to seek a diverse representation of poetic genre (slam poets, spoken word, page poets, performance poets). I do always try and ensure we have a gender balance in the program committee, but have never given attention to the cultural diversity of the committee or the board.
Given my answer to the first question, this is definitely something that I will be addressing in 2014.
Since I’ve come on as Director in 2011 though, we have sought representation from CALD and other historically marginalised groups in our artist line ups, to a degree of success. Each year we do have poets on the program from diverse backgrounds.
QPF is programmed through an open ‘expression of interest’ process, which means that the vast majority of the poets on the program sent up an application to be a part of the festival. When we don’t receive applications from CALD communities, we don’t end up with a very culturally diverse program. The answer to this is forming better networks with CALD communities and artists of diverse cultural backgrounds. And of course having representative on our program committee would definitely support this goal!
Have you ever solicited or received feedback from CALD or other historically marginalised groups in terms of your festival?
We have definitely received such feedback – a number of people commented after the 2011 festival at the lack of Indigenous Australian voices on the program and so we sought to program at least three Indigenous voices in the 2012 program.
It will be interested to hear what kind of feedback we get this year!
Editorial note: Eleanor Jackson is a volunteer member of the Queensland Poetry Festival program committee.