• Wesley Enoch hosts a series of roundtables for Indigenous artists and creatives. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
The Australia Council for the Arts has started a weekly series of roundtables for First Nations artists and creatives to check in with each other and network during the Coronavirus pandemic.
By
Keira Jenkins

Source:
NITV News
17 Apr 2020 - 5:51 PM  UPDATED 17 Apr 2020 - 5:51 PM

Every Friday afternoon First Nations artists and creatives gather online, discussing the impact of COVID-19 on the Indigenous arts sector.

The roundtables were started by the Australian Council for the Arts in March, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts executive director Lydia Miller said, they were started in response to distress from the Indigenous arts community.

"It came about because people were very distressed," she told NITV News.

"It was really to open up the channel and say 'who wants to join this conversation, let's all connect' basically. 

"I think, because we've got a really diverse sector, we've got music, dance, theatre, literature, visual arts, community development, that is so diverse so how can all of us come together to support practice and also identify what our needs are and how do we let this digital space respond.

"So we've committed to hosting a number of roundtables to the end of June."

Some of the themes for the roundtables have included mental and spiritual health, industry responses to COVID-19 and youth. 

The latest roundtable focused on advocating the arts, and was hosted by First Nations Arts Strategy Panel chair Wesley Enoch and Australia Council for the Arts deputy chair Lee-Ann Buckskin.

There were about 180 people online for the discussion, which branched from how COVID-19 is affecting the arts community and where to get support, including the Austalia Council for the Arts' own Resilience Fund.

 

The panel included two guest speakers - Nukunu writer Jared Thomas, and Torres Strait Islander radio station manager Diat Alferink.

Mr Thomas spoke about the effect the virus is having on his work - he was meant to be promoting his book 'Game Day', which he wrote with basketballer Patty Mills, in the US, but travel bans meant he couldn't go ahead with those plans.

But Mr Thomas said he's choosing to see the current measures as an opportunity.

"Writing has kept me going through the most difficult points in my life," he said.

"This isn't one of them - not yet. We speak about art as a therapy, as a way of wellbeing. Now, in particular, is a time for art to be our medicine. To serve as our medicine.

This moment has presented challenges and setbacks to us all.

"As a writer, it depends a lot on isolation, so this is the perfect time to be writing, developing my craft, and improving."

'Our time is now'

Ms Alferink also spoke about the ways COVID-19 has changed life on her home of Thursday Island.

"I feel like we're in a bit of a protected bubble," she said.

"We have the daily updates of the Coronavirus on TV, and life continues with a few altered behaviours and procedures to ensure our safety and our wellbeing.

We're sanitising our hands before we go into the childcare, we're sanitising our hands outside the shop, we're restricting our public access to our workplace here at the radio station.

"We're not visiting our Elders or the sick. But nobody's wearing  masks - yet. The panic buying has just hit us in the last two weeks.

"Toilet paper, along with rice, pasta,  tinned food, is all being snapped up as soon as the barge from Cairns is loaded off."

But Ms Alferink said she also has faith in the resilience of her community, and First Nations people across the country to keep going in challenging times.

"It's like we've been shaken up - our world of crisis has been forced to be more innovative, even more, as First Nations people," she said.

"And the thought that we are dealing with it, we already were resilient and fighting the good fight - that really, I think, it's all been a rehearsal, and our time is actually now."

The First Nations roundtables are held every Friday from 2pm-3pm, and Ms Miller said everyone is welcome to participate.

"We've had around 200 people on those roundtables each session," she said.

"That's a really good connection and people are talking to one another and I think they inspire one another about what's happening as well as empathise with one another and be supportive because this can be an incredibly challenging time."

'Stand with us': First Nations performers call for support amid COVID-19 pandemic
The arts sector was one of the first hit by the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia, and industry professionals say it's likely to be one of the last to recover. In the meantime, they're asking for support in their time of need.