Unconscious bias crippling the potential of the arts industry in Australia

AAR-MAV-Candy-Bowers-photo-by-Emma-Numan-Dr-Priya-SrinivasanThe Australian arts sector has a lot of catching up to do. For far too long there has been a systemic lack of representation of people of colour in positions of power in the arts that has completely overlooked the potential of individuals, stifled the growth of the industry and denied Australian art the richness that comes from a true representation of its community.

For real and tangible change to occur, the industry needs to interrogate and break down white power structures, decolonise arts leadership, drive inclusion in decision-making roles and make clear pathways to seniority.

Victoria’s leading organisation dedicated to the visibility of diverse art and artists, MAV is leading this seismic shift and appointing two highly experienced arts professionals and talented women of colour, Candy Bowers and Dr. Priya Srinivasan, into executive positions.

Finding success as a writer, performance artist and producer, Candy’s powerful voice will lead a bold artistic program that challenges and re-imagines MAV’s prevailing cultural narratives. Her long list of accomplishments in the arts hasn’t gone unnoticed by the community. Young people of colour look up to Candy and this high-level appointment allows the next generation to see what’s possible.

“It’s imperative for people of colour to see representations of themselves in positions of power. I have been working to shift oppression norms and fight intolerance since the very start of my career and I hope to lead a significant step towards change in this new role,” said Candy Bowers.

Dr. Priya Srinivasan is an academic and changemaker whose independent performance art prioritises the visibility of minority women and their histories. At MAV, Priya will be spearheading opportunities that enable partner organisations to strengthen their work in cultural equality.

There is an underswell of self-determined artists, producers and performers of colour in Australia who undeniably demonstrate the skills and qualities to make impactful leaders, yet an unconscious bias still exists that keeps leadership out of reach.

The industry is hiding behind the guise of ‘meritocracy’ – when meritocracy favours white Australians. MAV’s recent appointments challenge this rhetoric and set the standard for Australia’s major art organisations to follow or be left behind.

“There can be no question that people of colour are ready and eager to take up these challenges, to take the lead and to embed equity at the heart of our sector,” said Ms Pardo. “We look forward to seeing other sector organisations do the same.”

“As a leader of colour, it is important to me personally that leadership opportunities are not one-off. We need more such appointments, and not only in diversity arts organisations, if we are going to impact on the shameful statistics in our sector.”

“I’m looking to all my fellow leaders in the arts to commit to change, by investing in the talent that is already there,” said Ms Pardo.

What MAV is doing today sets the bar for increased cultural participation in the arts, driven from the top. The organisation is committed to diversity, equality, trust, courage and being outspoken about real threats to pluralism in Australia’s arts community.

For more information about MAV, visit: www.mav.org.au for details.

Image: Candy Bowers – photo by Emma Numan and Dr. Priya Srinivasan (supplied)