During this crisis, dance has seemly been missed during press conferences and, more importantly, amongst relief packages. Many of us have wondered if we have a voice at all when journalists continue to hound the government for news about the lifting of sports restrictions and when football can resume, but totally forget about live arts, theatre, dance and even the thousands of dance studios and their importance to our local communities. With restrictions being set and now beginning to lift, many have been frustrated that dance schools were lumped in with gym facilities and not education facilities, and exasperated by the fact that we don’t seem to have a classification or clear guidelines at all.
As such, there have been many discussions amongst the dance community about who’s advocating for us during this difficult time. Dance Informa is pleased to report that there are, in fact, many organisations advocating for dance companies, dancers and dance schools, and we’d like to give our readers an update on the latest work of the following organisations and how you can get involved.
Ausdance National lost its funding last year, but it was “decided that was a bit premature”, says Ausdance National President Paul Summers, so alongside some honorary life members, Summers is still working hard for dance, on a voluntary basis. “Advocacy has always been, and will continue to be, one of the strongest priorities for the organisation,” outlines Summers.
Ausdance National is part of the national network, with offices in most states and territories. New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and the ACT are particularly active. Unfortunately, South Australia and Western Australia are no longer funded by their state authorities, but they remain a part of the network also on a voluntary basis.
Julie Dyson, formerly the executive officer of Ausdance National and now the vice president, explains, “Over the past few months, what we have tried to do is pick up the threads of our advocacy, the history of 40 years, and reconnect with our contacts in Canberra. We are concerned that the Australian dance profile needs to be much higher. We have spent the last few weeks profiling Australian dance through media releases and letters to parliamentarians. We are profiling dance through a retrospective of Australian dance called From the Vault. We want to use it as evidence of the dance that has been lost, particularly from the independent sector.”
From the Vault highlights the work of some of Australia’s most innovative choreographers and demonstrates what has been lost over the last two decades as funding for dance has been diminishing. Ausdance urges dancers to participate in advocacy for dance, and is compiling From the Vault for this purpose. The Politics of Dance – an action plan can help you to speak up for dance, and you can use the new dance video archive to illustrate what has been lost over the last two decades.
“We have also shared information through collaboration with our peer arts advocacy organisations and have participated in national meetings and roundtables with the Australia Council and departments of the arts, sending in written questions about issues that have come before us,” adds Dyson.
The Ausdance network has worked particularly hard over the last month to establish guidelines for the safe return of studio teaching and rehearsals, which were recently released, with feedback from the federal health department. The document, found here, provides guidelines for practising dance safely whilst meeting the required health and safety guidelines in a new post-COVID environment.
And in light of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s recent remarks referring to dance teacher qualifications, Ausdance this week released an Open Letter to the National Cabinet, which can be read here.
As another means to lift the profile of dance, Ausdance is relaunching the Australian Dance Awards, after a hiatus last year. The awards will honour “works that were premiered in 2018 and 2019 with a possible presentation toward the end of the year, probably online,” Dyson tells us.
On a state level, Executive Director of Ausdance Victoria and Ausdance New South Wales Michelle Silby explains that Ausdance “liaises strongly in different times depending on the focus and the needs of various parts of the sector with either local government authorities, sometimes cities, and also state authorities, both in arts and cultural areas and departments but also more broadly in terms of health, education, well-being, youth and our particular focus at the moment is about creative ageing.”
Ausdance looks to the dance community for feedback and questions and reports that into papers and updates. “We talk to Creative Victoria and the Arts Minister here and various other ministers, and of course the Australia Council for the Arts,” Silby says. “At the Australia Council, it is a two-way conversation; we are trying to share what we are hearing with needs but also the incredible work that people in dance do every day, some of it quite unseen by the public or by governments.”
In addition to running educational programs for dance teachers, plus classes and events to build the profile of dance, Ausdance Victoria also sits on the Arts Council Victoria, which is a group of peak bodies who convenes and collectively talks to ministers and shadow ministers both at state and federal level.
Keep an eye on Ausdance’s website and social media, and join Ausdance in your state to support the valuable work of the organisation and keep up to date with all the valuable initiatives.
TAKE NOTE: Ausdance is doing a national COVID-19 impact survey for the dance sector, that you should take part in. “Ausdance, through Ausdance Queensland who’s running this survey, has a seat at the table of the research group within the Australia Council,” explains Dyson. The survey can be found here.
BlakDance is the peak body for Indigenous dance in Australia. For over a decade, BlakDance has consistently delivered generative and transformative sector events, and advocated for the development of the small to medium Indigenous dance sector, working nationally with a dedicated multiyear program.
“We connect up artists to industry decision-makers, program decision-makers and pollinate collaborators’ potential,” says Merindah Donnelly, executive producer at BlakDance. “We are proud to have a cultural council with local council and senior dance practitioners which ensures that First Nations cultural knowledge is a part of everyday business.”
As a result of an identified gap in producers for First Nation independent dance makers, BlakDance also has a producer development program that has supported Indigenous producers who will be the ones to assist the sector to take funding and touring over the next decade.
Since COVID-19, BlakDance has held over 120 consultations via teleconference or online gatherings.
“This continues to inform the way that we redesign our own internal programs and how we advocate broadly across the sector for recovery,” explains Donnelly.
Outside the First Nation sector, every week BlakDance also meets with a group of performing arts peak bodies and government, the Australian Council and 17 multi-disciplinary bodies across the country.
“If you are part of the First Nation dance sector, we are advocating from you; we urge you to get in touch with us and have a conversation with us about your needs,” says Donnelly.
MEDIA ENTERTAINMENT AND ARTS ALLIANCE
Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) is the Australian trade union and professional organisation which covers the media, entertainment, sports and arts industries. With a goal to empower Australia’s creative professionals, it is the largest union and industry advocate for performing artists through Actors Equity. For over 75 years, Equity has been protecting and improving actors, dancers and performers’ working conditions, lobbying and campaigning to improve the industries in which they work, hosting events, providing professional development and protecting job opportunities.
MEAA fights for members’ rights at work, ensures workplace health and safety, and protects wages and conditions. As a community, members also receive special negotiated discounts and access to special services and benefits across insurance, superannuation, legal assistance, accounting and more, and MEAA can be a wealth of advice and support during this crisis.
Andrew Crowely, lawyer and director of Actors’ Equity at MEAA, says, “Join the union! We are a member-based organisation, so we act for our members. You are able to make things happen by getting involved in the union.”
THEATRE NETWORK AUSTRALIA
Theatre Network Australia (TNA)’s vision is for “a safe, healthy performing arts sector,” shares Executive Director Nicole Beyer.
The leading industry development organisation for the performing arts, TNA is a national organisation, with a dedicated Victorian program, prioritising independent artists and small to medium companies.
“We have over 400 members, and over half of those are independent,” she explains. “Our members work in theatre, dance, circus, physical theatre, cabaret, youth theatre, different audiences and music theatre.”
TNA aims to strengthen artists and arts organisations, influence cultural policy, facilitate critical debate and networking, and advocates for a healthy and relevant sector.
“Our advocacy strategy is public policy influence within three levels of government, arts agencies and related agencies,” Beyer explains. “We work collaboratively with all political parties and the crossbenchers, and build relationships with advisers and their staff.”
TNA has released a comprehensive Strategic Plan which outlines initiatives, activities and programmes all designed to assist artists and companies, and the entire live theatre sector, including advocacy work, state and national gatherings, sector development, research and international strategy. See here.
LIVE PERFORMANCE AUSTRALIA
Live Performance Australia (LPA) is a national peak body with 400+ members across the country.
“We cover all the live performance genres. Dance is one of those, but we cover everything you can think of from cabaret to comedy, to musicals, to theatre, to dance,” explains Chief Executive Evelyn Richardson.
Based in Melbourne, LPA is committed to supporting the live performance industry. “We like to think of ourselves as your on-call in-house experts on industry issues such as workplace relations, workplace regulation, copyright, licensing, insurance and Australian Entertainment Visas,” the team shares on its website.
Apart from presenting the prestigious Helpmann Awards, which were sadly cancelled this year due to the crisis, LPA has a core focus on workplace relations, policy and regulatory reform.
“We are an employer association,” clarifies Richardson. “We are focused more on the employer and company side of what happens across the industry.”
Live performances have been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, and LPA has been working around the clock to advocate for the crippled sector and help its members during this tough time.
“We have tried very hard to get a crisis response from the Federal Government for the arts and entertainment sector,” Richardson shares. “We are working very hard now to ensure that during the reactivation and recovery phase we get that. Our focus is now the roadmap to reopening. Our priority is to get our venues and our industry reopening as soon as we can. We are doing that through talking with Federal Government but also the states because each of our sectors will reopen at the state level.”
Richardson adds, “Government right now, both federal and state level, is looking to industry to tell them how we want to reopen. We are working on that plan that we can walk through with them and the health officers. We are also working across the states on work, health and safety guidelines.”
AUSTRALIAN MAJOR PERFORMING ARTS GROUP
The Australian Major Performing Arts Group (AMPAG) is the representative body of Australia’s 28 major performing arts companies, giving its member companies a national voice and presence.
“Our focus is federal, and our focus is across all the performing arts organisations and subsidised sector,” outlines Bethwyn Serow, Executive Director.
Formed so the companies could work together on policy issues including ones which affect artistic quality and cost/revenue dynamics, AMPAG advocates for the sustainability of, and the public value delivered through, the major performing arts organisations with a mission to reinforce the relevance and sustainability of Australia’s major companies.
“We make sure that your voice is heard because it is very important. You have the power, so holler at me, and let’s make some stuff happen!” urges Serow.
By Deborah Searle of Dance Informa.