ACCELERATE 2016 participants (L-R): Kamarra Bell-Wykes, Travis De Vries, Jonathon Saunders, Glenn Iseger-Pilkington, Jilda Andrews and Francoise Lane. Photo by Mark Gambino ©

British Council 2016

ACCELERATE was a tailored leadership skills development programme for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working within the creative industries. It began in 2009 and finished in 2016. ACCELERATE was a partnership between the British Council with the Australia Council for the Arts and state arts agencies.

Find out more about the programme by reading the 2018 Impact and Evaluation Report


The programme was aimed at Indigenous arts professionals from across Australia who had at least five years’ experience in the creative industries and were able to demonstrate a bold vision for where they wanted to take their career and their community. It aimed to empower its alumni with the recognition, skills and networks to drive their own careers, both internationally and at home. 

ACCELERATE drew on the UK’s experience in cultural leadership programmes and the British Council’s connections into the UK’s strong cultural and creative sectors to create a bespoke provision for continuous professional development.

Participants underwent intensive leadership development residentials, tailored leadership programs, mentoring with respected UK cultural leaders, and professional placements in targeted UK organisations.

The programme has been instrumental in platforming a pool of talent deep and wide in Indigenous culture, with 35 leaders undertaking the programme between 2009 and 2016. Alumni have gone on to excel in their fields and are represented in many leading institutions including the National Gallery Australia, National Museum of Australia, Regional Arts NSW, the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia to and the Blak & Bright Festival, as well as in the creative industries, animation, fashion and music. They have worked with UK companies and organisations in theatre, dance, museums, animation and design.

Past participants have called ACCELERATE ‘transformational’ and ‘life-changing’. Award-winning Australian choreographer, dancer and writer Jacob Boehme was one of five indigenous arts leaders to take part in the 2012 round of the programme. Jacob says the programme gave him a clearer sense of direction.

“The ACCELERATE experience offered me time to really listen to myself and determine exactly what my truth is,” he says. “It provided me with an opportunity to review and identify my goals, accessing steps and strategies to achieve them. I was guided to honestly examine limiting behaviours that were sometimes preventing me from standing in my truth."

The Australia Council for Arts was a founding partner of the initiative and provided financial support, advice and guidance throughout. Lydia Miller, Executive Director of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts at the Australia Council, says, “Indigenous cultural leadership deserves recognition and support because keeping culture strong is one of the most challenging, rewarding and universally important human endeavours. The Australia Council has been pleased to collaborate with the British Council on ACCELERATE as an important platform for First Nations arts leaders to develop their skills and engage in global dialogue.”

Over the years, ACCELERATE was supported by Create NSW, Arts Queensland, Creative Victoria, Arts NT, and the Department of Culture and the Arts WA with additional support from private partners including British Airways, BT Global Services, SBS NITV and Virgin Atlantic.

Reflections from Francoise

Francoise Lane

Francoise Lane is a Torres Strait Islander woman whose maternal family are from Hammond Island. In 2011, after several years working as a freelance commercial and residential designer and consultant in Alice Springs and Cairns, she co-founded Indij Design, a 100% indigenous owned architectural and interior design practice. Francoise also specialises in textile design and surface patterns and, in 2013, she developed Indij Prints, a range of bespoke prints that are inspired by her connection to the Torres Strait Islands and are adaptable for interior and architectural application. Her UK professional development programme included meetings with Clothworkers Centre for the Conservation of Textiles and Dovecote Studios in Edinburgh and a visit to Cockpit Arts' open studios. 

Q: What has been your ACCELERATE highlight?

The highlight of the ACCELERATE experience has been the opportunity to explore the creative work being produced by textile artists and designer makers where they are pushing the boundaries of their industry’s traditional work. I am particularly inspired by those who invest themselves in their work through self expression or commentary on their world around them. This has got me thinking about how I can translate this into my future surface pattern and textile designs. Meeting with Emily Millichip, a fashion designer from Edinburgh, was wonderful. Her interest in anthropology and research into indigenous beliefs had synergies with my surface pattern work integrating connection to my island home. It was mutually inspirational meeting of kindred spirits!

Q: Has the UK programme been what you’d expected it to be?

I came with the expectation of being out of my comfort zone - a new city, new people, new creative scene and navigating a unknown public transport system. I came with an open mind to experience whatever opportunities the ACCELERATE programme provided to the full. A digital textile manufacturer suggested I view particular works of printmakers in Glasgow as a follow on from our meeting – so I did this. The work that he spoke of has influenced a direction of prints that I will explore in the next year. Did I expect this inspiration? No, but I am so glad it’s happened.

Q: Tell us what you’ve learned from your ACCELERATE experience?

What I’ve learned…so much about the industry and myself. The designer maker industry faces many of the same challenges as Australia but in my opinion is more sophisticated in it’s application of surface print to product. Manufacturers and department stores such as Heals sell the products of artist/designer makers which is great for market exposure.

There has also been affirmation about the direction of my design practice responding to cultural factors influencing a ‘safe’or inclusive experience of the built environment. This was affirmed when I visited the Design Museum’s Love or Fear Exhibition.

So much information has been taken in on this experience. In the quiet reflective time I notice that there are patterns to the information which have most impacted me over the last few weeks. I am learning that this pattern is going to take further shape over the next few weeks and months to sharpen my future creative direction. The creative and personal journey continues after ACCELERATE…

Reflections from Kamarra

Kamarra Bell-Wykes

Kamarra Bell-Wykes is a Yagera and Butchulla woman from South-East Queensland as well as descending from South Sea Islander, English, Welsh and Polish blood lines. During her career as a performer and playwright, Kamarra has received numerous awards for her work. She has written award-winning health education shows around issues as such as intravenous drug use, body modification and Hepatitis C, writing for prison, school and Aboriginal community audiences to empower the de-marginalized and inform the mainstream. Kamarra has also worked as a teacher and youth worker in a number of communities in the Northern Territory. As Education and Learning Manager at ILBIJERRI Theatre Company, Kamarra has been building and managing its education program, MARGUK. During her ACCELERATE UK programme, she with the Artistic Director of Pilot Theatre in York; participated in a drama workshop with a group of women at a community house for women with mental health conditions with Javaad Alipoor from Northern Lines in Bradford; attended a series of meetings with National Theatre of Wales to investigate their community engagement models and processes; atteded a writers' group, scratch rehearsal and event with Tamasha Theatre Company; and attended a range of community and main stage theatre shows.

Q: Tell us what you’ve found most interesting about your trip?

All of the experiences have been stimulating and informative for their own various reasons, whether it be insight into the challenges and successes of the companies I've visited or learning about the range of different operating models - particularly the community consultation of National Theatre of Wales and the artistic development and school engagement programs utilised by Tamasha - and thinking about how variations of these maybe incorporated into the working structures of ILBIJERRI. 

I have also found that the informal dinner and drinks conversations between the formal schedule have provided amazing insight into the post-colonial context and diversity inclusion in the UK and realising that, although the details of the situations are different and happening on a larger scale, many of the issues remain the same - specifically, the challenges around authentic representation of diversity on the stage in both performers and narratives and the tension around audience engagement, who we are making work for and who is actually coming to see it. 

Q: What has been your ACCELERATE highlight?

I think that I would identify the highlight of my experience as the conversations had during my mentor sessions with Diane Morgan, the Artistic Director of nitroBEAT

Diane is an amazing woman (of colour) who is only 44, a single mother and, after “accidentally” forging a career for herself as an arts producer and facilitator in a range of UK theatre companies, she has been a driving force behind the successful rejuvenation and transformation of nitroBEAT. 

Diane’s journey, personality, and mentoring styles were all perfectly matched to me. There are so many parallels in our personal and professional experiences as well our shifting perspectives around who we are and how we fit into the arts sector.

I expressed to her my concerns about the concept of being called a “leader” and told her that, personally, this isn’t something I have ever really associated myself with and perhaps I would think of myself as a leader for the unleadable. Diane also articulated her struggle with this concept but told me that, whether she liked it or not, her innate qualities (qualities that she also saw in me) meant that is something that was unavoidable. “You may not want to run a company," she said. "But one day you will. I see that in you.”

Q: Tell us something you’ve learned about yourself through your ACCELERATE UK experience?

My mentor, Diane, really pushed me to interrogate my personal vision for my career outside of my work with ILBIJERRI and encouraged me to think about the ACCELERATE experience as a way of helping me to develop/achieve this vision. This conversation really helped me to shape the rest of my experience to think about what type of company or work would I create if I was given the option to do that. This really positioned me to look at the conversations and experiences of ACCELERATE through a very different filter. 

This was a really unexpected and a positive development. Who am I outside of the parameters of ILBIJERRI? Where do I see myself in five years? Who do I want to be working with and what type of work do I hope to create? 

Further information about the 2016 programme

The 2016 participants were selected from a nation-wide call for applications and were announced as part of a special celebration held at Melbourne's Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre on 16 August 2016.  The 2016 ACCELERATE programme, which comprises two stages: an Australian Leadership Intensive and the UK Programme.

Australian Leadership Intensive: 17 – 19 August 2016

Immediately after the announcement event, the participants attended three days of intensive training workshops in Australia to develop their understanding of leadership and to expand ideas for their individual UK programmes. 

Over three days, the group undertook facilitated sessions that explored what leadership means in UK and Australian contexts, and discussed what it means to be a leader within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. These sessions were designed to provide the participants with practical leadership skills to help them analyse the strengths and weaknesses of their own personal leadership styles, outline sustainable and ambitious career pathways and identify the personal and professional obstacles to achieving them.

Sessions were led by UK-based expert Mark Wright from People Create, with support from British Council staff and ACCELERATE alumni, who shared their own experiences and offered advice to the new cohort. 

UK Programme: November 11 – December 5 2016

The UK Programme provided an opportunity for participants to make international connections, to observe different leadership styles and structures, and to gain broader insight into their own fields and professional practices.

In 2016, the ACCELERATE UK Programme included:

• Two further days of leadership development training with Mark Wright of People Create 

• Professional placements with leading UK organisations and institutions

• Group and individual meetings, including one-on-one mentorship

Individual programmes were tailored to realise the vision outlined in the participants’ applications. On completion of the programme, participants form part of the national ACCELERATE alumni network, with access to continued support, training and international opportunities.

Related international First Nations events

In July 2016, First Nations arts leaders from around the world came together at a cultural leadership forum produced and presented by alumni of the ACCELERATE leadership and development programme. Yirama Yangga-na (a local Dharawal phrase meaning “spirit singing”) was a three-day creative laboratory and cultural event held at the University of Wollongong, connecting Australian Indigenous creatives with First Nations delegates from Taiwan, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Canada and New Zealand.  

The forum provided a platform for leaders to share, interrogate and develop their knowledge about Indigenous creative leadership and cultural practices. Issues discussed included the de-colonisation First Nations art; artistic freedom versus cultural taboos; and participation, understanding and acceptance of First Nations arts practicies in the international arena. Find out more here.

In May 2017, Marram-nganjinu Biik-gurrin (meaning 'We are Country') reignited conversations that began at Yirama Yangga-na. Over 100 First Nations cultural and creative leaders from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Taiwan, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, USA, Guam, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Wales and Scotland came together on the lands of the Kulin Nation in Melbourne at Marram-nganjinu Biik-gurrin Cultural Summit and Creation Lab during YIRRAMBOI First Nations Arts Festival.

Delegates of the Summit took up the challenge to explore and define what a collective cultural future looks like for First Nations, and the leadership strategies that are needed. The position that only First Nations can define their futures was supported within the Summit through a range of provocations, cultural think thanks and futures statements.

The group will continue the momentum harnessed to progress the actions arising from the Summit over the coming months, with another summit suggested by the group for 2019. We look forward to these outcomes, which will deliver a solid foundation for the future with a distinctive First Nations collective voice.

The five-day creation lab, which ran in tandem with the Summit, culminated with the 20 selected participants showcasing their collaborations in development to an invited audience at Testing Grounds, Southbank. The delegates explored their practice in a collaborative environment, challenging the methodologies of western dramaturgy.

Marram-nganjinu Biik-gurrin was presented by alumni of the British Council’s ACCELERATE leadership development programme. It was proudly supported by the British Council and the Australia Council for the Arts, in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Create NSW and City of Melbourne. View images from Marram-nganjinu Biik-gurrin on our Flickr Channel.


See also

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