Jacob Boehme, Co-Creative Producer, Marram-nganjinu Biik-gurrin, and Creative Director, YIRRAMBOI

My name is Jacob Boehme. I am the first-born child of Karl Boehme: Narangga & Kaurna man, from the Yorke Peninsula and Adelaide Plains of South Australia, and Joan Fox: fifth generation ‘Australian’ of Irish and English heritage. Born on Wurundjeri country in Fitzroy and raised on Boon Wurrung land in Newport, I consider Nairm, Melbourne, my home.

There are but a handful of Indigenous arts professionals that fall under the title of ‘presenter’. A handful. And not all of us fit the traditional description, with traditional budgetary discretion, influence or an equitable share at the decision making table.

Currently, in Melbourne at least, we don’t have a dedicated Indigenous Arts venue or space for live performance, either owned or managed. At present, we have one mid-career Indigenous arts worker who holds an executive position at a ‘community arts’ organisation. At last count, we have 6 Indigenous Producers of live performance, working across Melbourne, with no programming authority or capacity. 

Programming decisions for major arts venues and festivals throughout Melbourne and the wider State of Victoria, are being made by non-Indigenous administrators, with limited networks and/or knowledge of the Indigenous arts sector and the complexities of contemporary Aboriginal (and urban) cultures. 

Most Indigenous artists are still at the beck and call of the non-Indigenous artists and companies... To get a show, to build a career, often you are being curated by a non-Indigenous person. Now that could be a wonderful benevolent dictator, it could be a carpetbagger who just wants to make lots of money out of you, there’s so many different ways, but the gatekeepers of your career are still not people who are sensitive to the cultural understandings of why you make the work and where it comes from.*  

In September 2016, the Australia Council for the Arts released shocking research as to how dire the situation is. The publication Showcasing Creativity: Programming and Presenting First Nations Performing Arts, revealed through national mapping of the programs of 135 Australian presenters, First Nations performing arts made up only 2% of the 6,000 works programmed in 2015. With almost half of Australian presenters not programming First Nations work at all.

Our presentation opportunities as Indigenous artists are limited.

The lack of Indigenous leadership in these roles has also, therefore, shaped the content and ‘acceptable’ narratives for Indigenous creative expression on Australian main stages, if it gets to presentation. 

The lack of equity and equal distribution of authority to determine our futures, and the future of our sector is obvious. And whilst our peers, mentors, Aunts and Uncs have made great strides in the advocacy of a more self-determined model, it still feels like we are forever at the beck and call of an administration that does not recognise, in fact, fears Indigenous leadership.

In order to achieve any of our goals, we need economic independence. What would a First Nations currency look like? How would it operate at a state, territory and national level? As our global alliances strengthen and grow, what is the possibility of an international First Nations currency? How would it operate? Like the EU? What exactly is our ‘currency’? Our knowledge? Do we put a price on culture? We have traded cultural knowledge as artistic expression within the arts sector: film, dance, theatre, visual arts, under the influence of foreign and dominant economies for quite some time now. We know that business. What does ours look like?

* Artist quote, Building Audiences Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Arts, Australia Council for the Arts August 2015 

See also