RT49 Editorial

Failures of imagination

Having only just returned from Melbourne after 11 days of working with young writers on responding to an exhausting, exhilarating and innovative 2002 Next Wave, and having walked straight into helping get RealTime 49 to the printer and onto the streets, there’s been little time to think about an editorial. So this will be brief.

One of the saddest things about Australia’s refugee crisis is the widespread lack of empathy for those seeking a haven from war and persecution. This amounts to a major, in fact a national, failure of imagination. How rare it is to hear questions asked about what it would be like to be a refugee, how you would handle it emotionally, who you would turn to for help and, yes, what it would mean financially.

However, there are a growing number of artists who are addressing the issues, answering these questions through their art, direct protest and some quirky activism. Bec Dean’s “The artist and the refugee” describes the political fictions by which refugees are trapped (not just in mandatory detention centres), the many ways artists are trying to undo them and where you can turn to participate. Kerrie Schaeffer reports on a Newcastle youth performance written by an Iraqui-Australian about the refugee experience. In Melbourne I saw Platform 27 & Melbourne Workers Theatre’s The Waiting Room, a gruelling recreation of life in a detention centre.

The second notable failure of imagination comes from the Cultural Ministers Council in the form of The Report to Ministers on an Examination of the Small-To-Medium Performing Arts Sector. The document produces a classic double bind. Yes, the sector is the key innovator in performance and it is in financial surplus (kind of). But, yes, the sector is experiencing a serious diminution of its capacity to innovate for want of funds, artist burnout etc. The solution? Nothing much. Everything (business planning, clearer government expectations, inter-government cooperation etc) but funds. Like the visual arts (also subject to an enquiry already signalling no new funds), the small-to-medium performing arts sector desperately needs additional, ongoing funds and the suggested reforms to government communication. It’s not just that the sector is disappointed by the lack of funds at the end of this particular rainbow, the word was out about that a while back, but it is shaken by the shoddy analysis and the perpetuation, in fact, of the double bind which applauds the work and keeps it in firmly and exploitatively in check. KG

RealTime issue #49 June-July 2002 pg. 3

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2002