A few weeks ago I returned from the Northern Territory where I was working with ANKA the Association of Northern, Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists.
Slight departure from working in organisations in urban Melbourne and Sydney.
The CEO of ANKA; the indomitable Christina Davidson asked me to come and work with their Art Worker Extension Program, which has trained 50 indigenous art workers from remote communities to mentor and support local artists and work in the art centres.
My first response was to jump at the opportunity but then I paused; what does a white chick from Melbourne know that could possibly be of use to remote indigenous art workers?
My role was to work with the graduates to encourage a strengths based view of their career. Even the idea of a career is a challenge as there is a severe lack of opportunities and jobs – there is some work in cultural tourism as well as in art centres.
I placed my trust in her judgement and got on a plane, or a series of planes to Katherine.
What an experience to sit and be the “other”, the outsider not part of the dominant culture. I was confronted by my lack of knowledge of remote + indigenous culture. I wrestled with my fears of putting my foot in my mouth, of tying myself in knots with political correctness, whilst trying to make some small difference.
One thing that particularly struck me was the values statement on the wall:
Such a beautiful contrast to the many organisations where the values don’t make it far beyond a list of five generic words buried in a document. If I had to write the stereotypical list, I’d say:
Integrity, excellence, innovation, teamwork, collaboration
probably a little harsh as I know there are well-intentioned people beavering away at this stuff. Worse still is when these are plastered all over the wall and there is a whopping great chasm between what is espoused and what is actually lived: the say/do gap.
During my time at ANKA I really did experience being side by side “no one in front, no one behind” with indigenous Australians… being invited to participate in traditional dancing and trying to emulate the graceful moves of the women… sitting in the Board Meeting and being asked to share…. sitting under the mango tree and learning traditional weaving techniques with Lili as she was sharing her tradition with the women from another art centre.
What a privilege to get a tiny window inside the world of ANKA.