Policy Blog: Multicultural Arts

By Alex Masso, April 2012

In preparation for the Multicultural Arts Forum in Sydney, and the upcoming release of the National Cultural Policy, I thought I would look at some of the issues raised by three of the key Mulicultural Arts bodies in Australia: Brisbane Multicultural Arts Centre (BEMAC), Kultour, and Multicultural Arts Victoria (MAV).  Kultour is the national body, with representation from MAV, BEMAC, and others.

All of their submissions referred to Australia's multicultural policy, released last year, and other relevant documents such as the UNESCO Convention on the Pretoection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.  The overriding impression I had from reading the three submissions were that a) Australia's cultural diversity, and multicultural arts, is real and incredibly rich, b) the National Cultural Policy is an opportunity to put into action the assertion that Australia respects and supports cultural diversity,  and c) there is unrealised potential in the sector, which organisations such as these are well aware of.


The following is my summary of these submissions.  For more detail, of course the links the these submissions and further reading are at the bottom of this page.


The findings of the Multicultural Arts Symposium, held in 2009, can be found in summary on the last page of BEMAC’s submission. Among them:

  • “Cultural diversity is a key driver of innovation in the Arts”
  • “Culturally diverse audiences are growing the arts – not the converse!”
  • There is a “strong need for ongoing discourse about cultural diversity in the arts and as part of broader national debate” and representation of CALD backgrounds is needed on all Boards and assessment panels.
  • “Refugee Arts and the need for visibility of these artists and communities” is a key issue.
  • A number of potential initiatives have been identified, including the transfer of skills and knowledge, meaningful engagement with technology, showcase opportunities for CALD artists, professional development, and dedicated arts funding for intercultural and CALD work across a number of government departments and jurisdictions.

Policy Documents

“Cultural heritage as the wellspring of creativity – Creation draws on the roots of cultural tradition, but flourishes in contact with other cultures. For this reason, heritage in all its forms must be preserved, enhanced and handed on to future generations as a record of human experiences and aspirations, so as to foster creativity in all its diversity and to inspire genuine dialogue among cultures” Article 7 UNESCO convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

“Today, one in four of Australia’s 22 million people were born overseas, 44 per cent were born overseas or have a parent who was and four million speak a language other than English. We speak over 260 languages and identify with more than 270 ancestries. Australia is and will remain a multicultural society” (People of Australia Multicultural Policy)

Government commitment:

The Australian Government will reprioritise the existing scope of the Diversity and Social Cohesion Program to include funding for multicultural arts and festivals small grants. Multicultural arts and festivals provide opportunities for Australians of all backgrounds to come together and experience different cultural experiences. This encourages social cohesion and mutual understanding. $500 000 over the four financial years will be allocated to these grants to encourage and support community groups to express their cultural heritages and traditions.



Brisbane Multicultural Arts Centre in collaboration with Ethnic Communities Council Queensland, ACCESS Community Services, Multicultural Development Association, The Romero Centre, Multilink Community Services and Gold Coast MAGIC.


We support the development of a National Cultural Policy, because:

The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions indentifies access, participation and celebration of the Arts in all their diverse forms is a human right. Our collective alignment with Simon Crean’s statement that “arts are fundamental to our way of life and all Australians – no matter who they are or where they live - should have access to arts and culture in all its many forms” provides the context for our support for the development of a National Cultural Policy. It is within this context and the dual sector knowledge we collectively share around arts and the migrant and refugee milieu, that we contribute our feedback to this process.

This submission states that “Our diversity is our defining point of difference. It does, and will continue to, play a critical role in the development of this nation and provides a unique and exciting opportunity to respond to a changing global landscape.”   Mention is made of recent policies from Federal and State Governments addressing Multiculturalism, but also that “diversity is not adequately reflected in practice or addressed in detail at a policy level.”

A three-pronged approached, suggested by BEMAC’s submission to the National Cultural Policy, would focus on Access & Equity, Development & Support and Leadership.

2) Kultour

The national network of multicultural arts bodies and presenting organisations.


Kultour’s submission also references the People of Australia Multicultural Policy, and quotes: “The Australian Government is unwavering in its commitment to a multicultural Australia. Australia’s multicultural composition is at the heart of our national identity and is intrinsic to our history and character.”

Notwithstanding this affirmation, says Kultour, “it is manifested more prominently in other industries such as health and sport.” They suggest that there is remains great unrealised potential “for great and diverse Australian arts to be produced and enjoyed”.

The submission proposes that government takes “a rights-based approach to the creation and implementation of a national cultural policy”

They bring the perspective of four levers which are “affirmation of the importance of cultural diversity to Australia”:

  1. Legal Case (it is the law – Racial Discrimination Act 1975)
  2. Moral Case (“it is the right thing to do and it enables us to have pride in our diversity”)
  3. Business Case (to paraphrase, Australia has an opportunity to seize in its cultural diversity, as suggested by BEMAC’s suggestion about the tourism potential, as well as cultural and commercial ties with the rest of the world).
  4. Creative Case (“because it helps us to do what we do better”)

The three-pronged approach (Leadership, Access & Equity, Development & Support) is also mentioned.

3) Multicultural Arts Victoria (MAV)


“MAV defines multiculturalism as providing all Australians, irrespective of their cultural backgrounds, with the opportunity to feel valued and to able to participate actively in the cultural aspects of Australian society. Multiculturalism therefore means creating opportunities for culturally and linguistically diverse communities through diverse performances, programs and art forms, so that they can develop as artists, expanding their career and opportunities for greater social integration.” Building Community Engagement, Mix It Up Program Evaluation2006-2010 Rentschler, Fujimoto, Azmat, Deakin University 2011

Like BEMAC and Kultour, MAV refers to the People of Australia Multicultural Policy and points to the great potential in multicultural arts: ”While the social, cultural and economic benefits of our diversity have been acknowledged, MAV believes the real and potential benefits have not yet been effectively optimised across the board.”

They suggest that although the arts are already very much a part of Australian society, there is a lack of equity and access, “there is significant scope to more broadly promote the value of the arts and to expand the ability of all Australians to enjoy the arts,” and welcomes the potential of technology to facilitate access for CALD communities.

Some recommendations:

I have deliberately not copied all of the recommendations.  These are the ones which seem particularly relevant to us at the Music in Communities Network, and/or seemed to be of central importance to these organisations.

  • Creation of a multicultural action plan for The Office of Arts, Australia Council for the Arts and for the organisations they fund, including state funding bodies. With deliverables, targets and measures. (BEMAC, similar from Kultour)
  • Support for state-based peak bodies and the national body, Kultour, representing Multicultural Arts (BEMAC, Kultour, MAV)
  • “Visible, accessible and flexible sector development funding to support culturally diverse artists in the creation of new work, platforms and pathways to diversify the arts sector creating a vibrant and resilient cultural landscape for all Australians.” (BEMAC); “Increased investment in the arts and diversity sector. A commitment of ongoing financial support from all three levels of government is required in order to redress the historical imbalance to CALD arts.” (MAV)
  • Support for international promotion of Australian arts and culture reflecting the multiple identities of Australia through dedicated programs across the Department of Foreign Affairs, Austrade, and other portfolios outside the arts. (BEMAC, Kultour)
  • Cross-government investment in arts-based practice which addresses goals relevant to a variety of sectors. (BEMAC, and referred to by others)
  • Develop a cultural tourism industry that reflects our diversity, see ‘the World in Australia’. (BEMAC). MAV adds that “Cultural tourism is also a vital element in supporting a nation’s economy and it is important to make specific mention of Aboriginal history and cultural diversity as elements of Australian culture which must be included in the thinking and development of cultural tourism.”
  • Broaden definitions of the Arts steering away from categorisations that reinforce elitism and silos, and acknowledge the role all art-forms (not just core arts) play in the creation of a culturally engaged society encompassing grassroots community arts practice, heritage arts, hybrid practices, emerging technologies and the creative industries. (Kultour)
  • Invest in Longitudinal Research to gather data and analyses on the impact and role of diversity in the arts through a Cultural Diversity in the Arts Index (Kultour)
  • To support the development of pilot programs and new ways of working that bring the core arts together in partnership with multicultural/community arts to create new pathways and skills development in the Arts (MAV)

National Cultural Policy Goals

GOAL 1: To ensure that what the Government supports — and how this support is provided — reflects the diversity of a 21st century Australia, and protects and supports Indigenous culture.

BEMAC states that this is “most critical of all the Goals articulated in the discussion paper”. “Rather than this being articulated as a goal, it should underpin the entire Policy as a positioning statement, with articulated strategies and actions across each of the policy goals.” Kultour asserts that “Cultural diversity is not an end but a means. Therefore, it cannot exist only within one goal (Goal 1), but rather must underpin the entire vision and framework of Australia’s National Cultural Policy for the next ten years.”

On diversity, Kultour points out: “Minister Crean commented on Artscape program on the ABC on 18 October 2011 as discussing the future of our nation: we must diversify or die,” but adds “Australia is diverse; we do not have to create this…by embracing diversity, we turn these challenges into opportunities.”

GOAL 2: To encourage the use of emerging technologies and new ideas that support the development of new artworks and the creative industries, and that enable more people to access and participate in arts and culture.

BEMAC states that “Innovation in all forms should be enabled and encouraged” however they have “some hesitation…to identify this as a specific goal, rather than a strategy that could be applied across the goals of the Policy.”

An interesting statement from Kultour: ”The key driver is new ideas to encourage forms of innovation, new and emerging models including but not limited to technologies. We believe that technology is a means rather than an end.” They suggest Investment in “access and capacity building” when dealing with emerging technologies, for example “Allocations of 1% of the National Broadband Network budget for content and training to achieve connectivity across distance and access for all at a creative level and at a civil society level.”

MAV states that “new technologies can go a long way to making our arts dynamic and ensure inclusion as well as innovation”


GOAL 3: To support excellence and world-class endeavour, and strengthen the role that the arts play in telling Australian stories both here and overseas

BEMAC: Whilst the definitions of “Australian stories” and “excellence” and who does that defining in this goal could prove problematic; we agree the expression of our individual and collective identity is what makes us uniquely ‘Australian” and these stories should be told.

Kultour states that “Excellence” is problematic unless the definition of excellence is fluid and porous, and cites Arts Council England’s Achieving Great Art for Everyone (Strategic Framework) which defines excellence as “the opposite of safe, routine and imitative”.

MAV points out the difficulty in “defining and presenting the concept of “Australian” which can often “fall back on tried and tested, overly simplistic representations of our country and community do not show our diversity.”

GOAL 4: To increase and strengthen the capacity of the arts to contribute to our society and economy

BEMAC suggest “arts should be integrated across our education systems, facilitating the development of new audiences, creative and critical thinkers, appreciation for our diversity as a nation through the engagement in broad cultural and artistic content, and the strengthening of the sector broadly as a result.”

    Further reading:

    People of Australia Multicultural Policy (PDF) (Feb 2011)

    Queensland Multicultural Policy – A Multicultural Future For Us All (PDF) (January 2012)

    UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression (October 2005)

    Arts Council England’s Achieving Great Art For Everyone (Strategic Framework) (2011)

    BEMAC’s Submission

    Kultour’s Submission

    Multicultural Arts Victoria’s Submission

    P10-13 of Kultour’s Submission (Addendum) contains some interesting material.

    Australia Council "Arts in a Multicultural Australia" Policy (2006)