The Museum of Freedom and Tolerance was pleased to host a session during the 2018 UWA Social Impact Summit.  We were fortunate to be joined by the production team behind Same Drum, the Principal and starring students from the Intensive English Language Centre at Aranmore, as well as community arts specialists Pilar Kasat and Lilly Blue.

Here is an extract from our talk and a few photos from the event!


“The Museum of Freedom and Tolerance has a mission to dismantle prejudice and intolerance across Australia and promote the kind of cohesive and plural society where everyone has the freedom to live peacefully, free from racial and religious discrimination.

We believe in two things: that in times of social upheaval, it is up to civic institutions to step up and exercise their responsibility as places of safe, and values-driven discourse; and secondly, that the creative arts, that story telling and visual and sensory expression are incredibly important in creating the conditions of empowerment and expression, empathy and compassion that we need to inspire long term cultural change.

We are constantly looking for different and innovative ways to tell stories for change; stories about race, religion and prejudice, stories from the past and from the present, stories that transcend language and connect people at an intrinsically human level.  And this search actually involves a lot of relearning: going back to the transformational ways that traditional cultures shared knowledge and told stories for thousands of years.

In an information-saturated world; we need to continue to share important stories in a way that people see them, hear them, and are willing to change their behaviour in response to them, that impacts hearts as well as minds.

Our new In Visible Ink platform is being designed to amplify and preserve the positive representation of multiple narratives of diversity in our Australian community, particularly where they are not visible to the mainstream, to break down barriers and encourage people to see ‘difference’ in a non-threatening and beneficial way, to see that there is so much more to unite us than to divide.

And while this may seem for many of us like common sense, it is sadly not the case.

Richard Flanagan in this year’s national press club speech, stated that “politics, which ought to have as its highest calling the task of holding society together, has retreated to repeating divisive myths that have no foundation in the truth, and so, finally only serves to contribute to forces that could yet destroy us. Or worse, openly stoking needless fear and xenophobia for short-term electoral advantage.”

Victoria’s equal opportunity and human rights commissioner commented last week on how a resurgence in reports of racially motivated incidents can be linked to sensationalised coverage of the “African gangs crisis”.  New data shows the number of race-related inquiries to the commission in the last financial year to have increased by 34% compared with the previous 12 months, while formal complaints had risen 76%.

Commentary suggesting Victorians were too scared to go out for dinner was seen as damaging by the Commissioner because it was “designed to be divisive”.  She has spoken of African mothers distressed about the types of comments made to their kids at school.

It’s far from local, we are countering a global phenomenon, where discrimination is being normalized.

The New York Times writer Michiko Kakutani has observed that:

“Nationalism, tribalism, dislocation, fear of social change and the hatred of outsiders are on the rise again as people, locked in their partisan silos and filter bubbles, are losing a sense of shared reality and ability to communicate across social and sectarian lines.”

In many parts of the world, the sense of threat posed by the ‘out-group’ is being stoked; the dehumanising of the ‘other’.  Social media platforms, on the plus side, have made it easier for us all to have a voice, but are also exploited by far right groups preaching ‘white supremacy and racial anger’.

As Michiko quotes, there is an ‘asymmetry of passion’ on social media: most people won’t devote hours reinforcing the obvious. Extremists are the ones committed most to their cause.  And it doesn’t matter if that they say is true, in the words of Barack Obama earlier this week, “people just make stuff up”.

This may be a generalization, but where identity politics uses the fragmented and multiple realities that we all live with to divide, we believe the arts in all its forms can unite, to create shared experiences and act as a foil against prejudice and dehumanization; to see things from different angles – to literally help us make music together.

The American activists Tanya Selvaratnam and Kali Holloway wrote that “artists have a long history of standing at the forefront of movements for social justice. By challenging long-held ideas and provoking new ones, by changing perspectives and inspiring understanding, art can change society in ways almost nothing else can. Art and action don’t exist in siloed spaces, but are in fact dependent on each other. Music, writing, and beautiful visual works open up room for political change.”

There are numerous great examples of this around us, where people are dealing with potentially confronting issues in different ways.

The new Deathscapes site by Curtin academic Suvendrini Perera, whose aim through art and literature and commentary is to end death in custody in settler states, deaths in police cells, prisons and detention centres.   Also All You Can’t See, which invites artists to submit works in response to individual excerpts from the Nauru Files.  The NGV Show Frontier Wars, which has defied traditional museum convention and classified the makers of many historical cultural objects from ‘unknown’ to ‘once known’.

The power of visual imagery in all its forms to create impact and change, has been proved.  (Art helps you see).

The academic Dan Crimston wrote in The Conversation about the impact of seeing the Thai soccer team, over and over on screen. We cared because we saw them, their story was humanized for us, given a narrative, we felt compassion.

He contrasted this to the number of children held in detention in Australia: invisible and unseen.  So it’s hard for the majority to develop an empathy driven response, and in fact we have been counseled against compassion for their plight; to “look away” from the crying babies, as Fox News told Trump. (“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears.  It was their final, most essential command.” George Orwell, 1984)

Other recent studies, by Australian academics Emma Thomas and Craig McCarthy and English academic Laura Smith, prove Dan’s theories. They measured the impact of the image of the Syrian toddler who washed up on a beach in 2015, reporting a 3000% surge in World Vision donations in Australia as a result.

The image, used by itself and by many artists, of the young immigrant girl at the Mexican border recently also caused waves around the world, and resulted in significant funding for the support of the ‘border crossers’.

The authors of this study believe there are 3 factors to creating social change through imagery, both in the media and created by the arts community.

  1. The emotion that is provoked
  2. How it impacts your own identity – I am the sort of person that responds to this
  3. A belief in acting together with your community – together we can be the change we wish to see in the world

Their findings prove that while interacting through social media on these subjects could be construed as a superficial exercise in a world fatigued by trauma, it’s not.  But we have to keep up the efforts, keep up the levels of discussion, keep creating the empathy on key issues so they are not forgotten as we all move on to the next ‘thing’.  We have to ‘devote the hours’ to reinforcing what might be obvious to us in as creative a way as possible.

In this session we are going to talk with artist and filmmaker Poppy Van Oorde-Grainger and her team about community arts in particular, and the difference that she hopes to make in the world by creating beautiful, empowering works that increase the positive representation of diversity in our community and our empathetic connection to this diversity.

Her project is Same Drum, an amazing music video she directed and produced with students from Aranmore Catholic College’s Intensive English Centre, sung in English and three African languages.  Aranmore is proudly, a school of 148 languages.

Poppy is a filmmaker and artist specialising in collaborating with communities. Her work has been broadcast on Nickelodeon, SBS and ABC and presented at numerous festivals including the London International Festival of Theatre, Japan Media Arts Festival, ImagineNATIVE in Canada and Arts Electronic in Austria. Poppy won the Fremantle Print Award in 2002 and the Australia Council Kirk Robson Award in 2010.

Poppy’s filmmaking process was externally evaluated by the research and evaluation team at DADAA, which showed that her methodology of collaborating with communities had increased the participants’ sense of belonging and self-esteem and facilitated their ongoing participation in arts and in the wider community.”

Watch Same Drum by clicking the image below!





At the end of the session, participants were asked to write their thoughts on Post It notes.  Here is some of what they said:

“Art is a solution to disharmony”

“Art allows you to find that thing that connects everyone and share it”

“Change is a conscious commitment.  We need to drive it in all areas of our lives.  Always challenge the norm and never get too comfortable.”

“We’re on the brink of enormous change… how do we be ready?  Arts will be needed in a different way”

“How do we shift profound moments of learning from unseen places into the spotlight?”

“Bravery; imagination; generosity. Arts for social change = head, heart, hands.  Put the arts into everything we do as humans.”

“Social change is an art form”

“Art can awaken us to our own lives; awaken us to experience so we can hear”

“Be brave, imaginative and generous… give voice to a new narrative”

“Art awakens us to experience, so we can hear the voices of others”

“Collective creation about things matters”

“Generosity: say yes to anything!”

“We all need to put wide awakeness into action”

“The unconverted are the people who struggle to trust the process.  How do arts organisations/ individuals build this trust while keeping process messy?”

“The process is as important as the outcome”

“Arts can enable stories to emerge: be outside the bubble.”

“Arts creates the space for belonging and inclusion.”

“Arts is essential to our future (EQ, empathy, creativity)”