Archives for category: Diversity


Chrissie Ianssen’s work as a practicing community and visual artist spans over four years; in her work for the New Neighbours’ Project and the Refugee Art Project, Ianssen has been influential in expanding Parramatta as a community cultural hub in Western Sydney.  Ianssen talks with arts interview about her work on these projects and her upcoming project which will see her relocate to her childhood suburb of Ryde.

Interview by Janette Gay

Can you tell us about the New Neighbours’ Project and the Refugee Art Project?

In mid 2011 the New Neighbours’ Project got started here in North Parramatta with funding and support from Parramatta Council who sourced disused demountable buildings from Housing NSW.  As part of Pop Up Parramatta these buildings were then converted into studio spaces and the project provided an opportunity for artists interested in working with the community to showcase their artwork.

I had been getting involved with a loose collective of people, mainly academics and artists who, with Safdar Ahmed, were the driving force behind the Refugee Art Project. These committed people go into Villawood Detention Centre and work with detainees on paintings, drawings and sculptures and then assist them to put on exhibitions. At that time a number of the asylum seekers had been released from detention and were keen to secure a studio space to continue their art.  The idea of expanding the space for exchange in visual arts arose.  The art space is run by the refugees who work here, hosting open days and organising exhibitions.  Through this project they get to be part of Sydney’s art world.

The New Neighbours’ Project continues to collaborate with the Refugee Art Project which recently held an exhibition, titled “Life in Limbo”.  One innovative piece in the exhibition, produced at the North Parramatta studios by recently released artist, Majid Rabet portrays the Anzac Bridge constructed partly using an angle grinder from spaghetti.  Finding tools is always a challenge, and whilst in detention Majid did not let this stop his creativity and he collected cat’s fur to make paint brushes.

The Refugee Art Project in many ways grew out of the frustration with government immigration policy and people wanted to take action that is positive and meaningful.  Detention runs roughshod over people’s ability to take part in everyday life and this project is a real antidote, enabling their experiences to be expressed through the medium of visual arts. 

How do you involve a diverse range of people in community arts initiatives?

Engaging people, particularly the specific refugee and migrant community is really organic, often ad hoc and chaotic, often with very little happening for months.  Community arts development needs to be evolutionary, keeping the community project alive and open ended during quiet times is critical.  That is why later this year we are aiming to broaden and reinvigorate participation through workshops run partnering with Majid, Cicada Press, College of Fine Arts (COFA) and DLux Media Arts.

What community arts projects are next for you?

I am now returning after 17 years to my home suburb Ryde, using this as the base for my next community project. Parramatta, Redfern and Darlinghurst might be seen as artistic hubs, but rarely Ryde.  When I was growing up, there wasn’t much happening for artistic people like me, so I am now keen to activate more awareness of contemporary arts in the area.

In many ways the idea for this Ryde project started back in 2010 when I was awarded the Parramatta Visual Artists Fellowship, which provides a 12 month stipend. There I created art based on the diversity of architecture and ornamentation, and the different ways the styles of other countries are placed over the top of the English architecture, such as Greek columns stuck on Federation houses.  But I mainly took photos of houses and didn’t meet the people inside and to be honest I felt a little like a trespasser.

In the Ryde project, I want to engage directly with people and the (Ryde) Council is assisting me to meet with a broad range of community members, many born overseas.  Their homes are showcases for keepsakes and ornaments they have bought with them or were handed down from family members.  They show the “migratory paths” of many Australians.  I am exploring past periods of design that are carried in mass produced objects and the narrative that is underneath.  The project is a real stretch for me as a painter but it indirectly builds on my Masters of Visual Arts which was about the abstraction of Norwegian knitting patterns. This work will come together in an exhibition in October this year at Brush Farm House, in Eastwood.


Zhang Di

Executive Director, Zhang Di (pictured on right)

Established in the 798 Art District in Beijing during 2004, White Space Beijing is a professional art agency that seeks to promote contemporary Chinese art to an international audience. With their long lines of groundbreaking curatorial projects, it is the gallery’s intention to establish a professional and stylish platform between artists and collectors, and play an important role in its cooperating artists’ respective careers. Executive Director Zhang Di talks to arts interview about the role of diversity in shaping the gallery and its exhibitions.

 Interview by Iris SiYi Shen

Tell me a little about the mission and activities of White Space?

“Mission” includes a lot of things. White Space is aimed at representing as much Chinese contemporary art as possible, and introducing great contemporary art to more people. It intends to establish a professional and stylish platform between artists and collectors, and to play an important role in its co-operating artists’ respective careers. The vitality of White Space lies in its youthfulness and diversity. The cooperation between our vigorous and creative team in collaboration with our young artists has created a whole new picture of Chinese contemporary art.

What does diversity means to you and White Space?

 The above mentioned “diversity” is still in the context of contemporary art, which means the plurality of human beings.

To elaborate the last question, what quality do you look for in selecting artists in terms of diversity?  

It’s a very specific question, but I don’t think there can ever be any quantitative criteria. We are very open-minded when choosing cooperating artists, that is to say, we don’t set limitations in any artwork’s genre, media, value system, culture or form. We encourage our artists to experiment in various things and try to explore the possibilities within them. We also give them as much support and convenience as we can. We find that a broad vision, a clear mind and great execution are important attributes for artists.

How do you find balance in representing artists that are culturally stimulating as well as commercially viable?

We won’t put special emphasis on this question. In the art industry, business is not contradictory to art in professional hands. We believe that art is a progressive social force. Even though business is a very important sector in the art system it can never be the ultimate goal.

Therefore we are very discreet in dealing with business issues and try to control this relationship. It is very subtle. For a gallery with solid attitude, sales could happen during the process of exhibiting and promoting artists or artworks. This exchange can also promote communication and education. It is serious and constructive.

As a commercial gallery, do you find it difficult to be consistently showcasing a diverse range of artists and their works? What are the challenges?

Chinese galleries often share certain responsibilities with art museums. We regularly hold 6-10 exhibitions every year, including various art forms. Of course we’ll meet a lot of difficulties, but it’s also interesting and much more fun this way.

To be frank, we find the public to be less responsive to mediums of performance such as installation and video art than they are to painting. We need a rather long time to promote it, to make more people understand and care for them. It needs quite a lot expertise, patience, and perseverance.


Andrew Clark, Deputy Director, Programming and Corporate Services, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA)

Andrew Clark is the Deputy Director, Programming and Corporate Services at Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA). Clark joined the gallery in 1989 and has worked towards and witnessed QAGOMA’s continuous growth in audience numbers and its importance as an international institution. Clark talks to arts interview about audiences and diversity.

Interview by Alex Bellemore

 QAGOMA has become well known for being an audience-focused institution. How important is audience engagement for the success of contemporary art institutions?

Successful -but also meaningful -audience engagement is at the core of our role. In the last two decades, art museums have undergone enormous shifts in the ways they consider their roles and the potential role of museums in people’s everyday lives. Even more than our desire to do this – our audiences have demanded that we change. There have been many theories, dissertations and critiques as to the nature of this shift, but essentially, it can be summed up quite simply: in the twenty-first century, museums are no longer primarily about objects, they are for people.

What are the most important considerations in your role when developing public programming?

There are a few key considerations: Art, artists, museum and audience. We see the role of the gallery to put audiences in touch with artists and their ideas – to take on different roles for different audiences. The art museum today must have multiple voices and work on various platforms to engage their audiences.

We try and extend audience engagement as far as it can go, constantly thinking about ways to innovate. The overarching philosophy of the gallery’s Children’s Art Centre, for example, is that ‘art is for everyone’, but this notion drives all of our programming, for visitors young and old.

Increasingly, art museums are becoming aware they can  extend their role into the social realm, offering new ways for people to meet one another and have a meaningful experience in the museum while also simply enjoying a good time.  ‘Up Late’ Friday night opening events incorporate live contemporary music, talks and a bar into the exhibition-viewing experience, while theGOMA Talks evening discussions include social media into live events that tackle contemporary topics beyond the arts. Both of these enable a broader engagement with our audiences, and provide interactive opportunities that respond to audiences’ interests and address the competitive market of social interaction that museums now operate within and must acknowledge.

How do you rank the importance of attracting local audiences compared with attracting outer state or international audiences?

All audiences – local, regional, national, international and even virtual – are crucial to the life of the art museum. We are trying to not only attract visitation to the gallery and boost cultural tourism, but also offer ways for those who cannot be here in Brisbane. We are increasingly webcasting our public programs (lectures, discussions and talks) online so that people who can’t make it to the gallery can still experience the program live. We also run a very successful touring program of Children’s Art Centre activities, which is developed specifically for children and families in regional and remote Queensland. This is a very rewarding program that aims to extend the gallery into the home and the community more broadly, and aims to make art a part of the whole community of Queensland, beyond Brisbane. As I mentioned earlier, we have many stakeholders, but we are the state gallery and take our responsibility to the people of Queensland very seriously.

What are the broad diversity considerations and goals for QAGOMA?

Audience diversity is extremely important and we are always looking for new avenues to develop stronger connections with audiences. We do this by providing an incredible array of programs and events including our Toddler Tuesday, New Wave Teens and My Gen 50+ programs to involve the young, the old, and everyone in between. We also undertake a number of initiatives to engage with those who have a disability or impairment, such as our Auslan-interpreted tours. It’s vital we seek avenues to broaden the cultural diversity of our audiences.  Exhibitions like the Asia Pacific Triennial are key to this.

Since the date of this interview, Andrew Clark has taken up a new position as the Deputy Director at the National Gallery of Victoria

Lisa cooper

Photo: Harold David

Dr Lisa Cooper is a Sydney-based artist who works in video, paint, sculpture and flowers, whose works have included custom-sized crowns for the Sydney Theatre Company, video projects on Cockatoo Island and a jewellery range called ‘The Butcher’s Daughter’. She holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in Fine Art from the College of Fine Arts at UNSW. Dr Cooper spoke to arts interview about diversity in her work and the challenges faced by artists working in different mediums.

Interview by Elinor King

Can you tell us about yourself and your experience?

I am equally motivated by the conceptual and philosophical concerns of art and the material and perceptible aspects of art making. In my practice I work with video, paint, sculpture and flowers. My most recent ancestors have worked in trade; a boner, a butcher, a milkman, a seamstress… I have worked with a charcutier [a type of butcher that generally specialises in pork], bakers and florists. I consider my work in sculpture and by extension my work with flowers to be a powerful link to my father’s work as a butcher and to my great-great grandfather’s work (he was once the quickest boner in NSW – the most adept at ‘sculpting’ a carcass). Through much undulation and application the strands of my quotidian life (floristry) and my work as an artist have seemed to converge in my third decade of life and my instinct is that this is right.

You have worked in a diverse range of mediums in your art practice. What draws you to working in a particular media, for example gold?

The mediums that I work in are mostly intuited as well as being dictated by the statement or intention of the work. As in painting where one chooses a colour to make a mark, I am both seduced by the material itself and compelled by the intention of the work. Bodies of work in repetitious medium such as my work in gold do however border on obsession. Obsession and repetition are the same for me as concentration, which in the context of art has the quality of a prayer.

Obviously I am drawn to materials for their inherent symbology and associations, for example the grand poetic metaphor of flowers and the myriad significance of individual blooms.

What are the challenges that you face when working with different types of mediums?

Though the mediums may seem disparate and are of course materially distinct, they kind of harmonise the logic of a body of work as well as my practice as a whole. There is a strong thread of concerns and intentions that links the interdisciplinary output of my practice.

You currently work a lot with flowers. How did this come about, and what are you currently working on?

I have always found the scope of flowers to be extraordinary as they may be ‘divinely’ beautiful and so evidence some kind of unearthly or sublime inception, and yet they are thoroughly of the earth. At the pivotal moments of life we give flowers as a gift, I think a comfort, for their elegant description of the phenomenon of life and the certainty of death – a powerful Memento Mori.I am currently working on ‘Memento Mori tattoos’ in paint and video. I am also running a flower business called DOCTOR COOPER, for bunches of flowers, installations, and flowers in all and every context.

Do you think that it is important for an artist to be diverse in the ways in which they express themselves?

I think it’s important for an artist to be whoever they are. What make you distinct are your instincts and proclivities.

Do you believe that being flexible can hinder your artistic practice?

I think that both flexibility and inflexibility well placed are fundamental to artistic practice. In the very act of making art there is a type of elasticity that occurs whereby one is kind of drawn away and then pulled back to the original and central concern of the work. From the nexus of a project, through research and experimentation comes a labyrinth of new concerns and points of departure. In order to sufficiently develop an idea from inception to completion (or as close as one can get to it) the quality of flexibility or fluidity is essential. Within my own practice an inflexible kind of obsessive theme such as abstract and material ‘gold’ will lead me toward seemingly unlinked production.


Bridget Smyth is the Director of the Design Team at the City of Sydney, charged with the responsibility of making Sydney look great! This team sets a strategic framework for shaping Sydney’s future in response to a number of factors such as climate change, congestion, mobility, cultural programs and public art. A major goal of the Design Team is to integrate public art into the fabric of the city, as encapsulated by their Laneway Art projects. This program has contributed immensely to the reinvigoration of Sydney’s forgotten laneways over the past five years. Bridget Smyth tells arts interview how diversity shapes the City of Sydney’s policies and programs.

Interview by Vi Girgis

For a city like Sydney, why is it important to have diverse cultural programs?

What is so interesting about Sydney is that it truly is a multicultural city. The amount of different language groups in Sydney is just one indication of this. For instance, Chinatown and the way it is growing is a great example, it is not just Chinatown anymore, and I think that is really exciting. The City of Sydney is at the heart of the metropolitan area and it therefore must feel truly open to everyone in that way. The work we do, in terms of how we shape city spaces and the heart of the city, needs to really underpin diversity so it feels engaging, vibrant, and is an open place for all members of our community.

When programming new projects what do you look for and hope to achieve in terms of diversity?

One of the really interesting ways in which we work here at the City is that I do not always feel like I have a predetermined ‘thing’ where “This project is going to do this, this and this.” We certainly have strategic outcomes, and the Sustainable Sydney 2030 program has a whole lot of targets that we are trying to meet, so that ‘big picture’ is predetermined. But the way we shape a space – the way it looks and the kinds of artists we are going to work with – is open. That is what makes the work we do so exciting! The way we start to develop such thinking is through consultation with the community, so we do not say for instance, “the space there is going to be pink and blue and these are the people who are going to use it.” We have a framework, and through engagement with the community it usually gets layered and enriched. It is sometimes quite surprising what comes out at the end.

How do you attract and develop new audiences?

I like to think of our role at the City Design Team as dealing with the hardware of the city; it is almost like we are the stage builders and other areas of the Council who run events and cultural programming deal with the software. But even though there is that distinction, if the hardware and the stage are not right, then no one is going to come and perform. So in the way that we design public spaces, we are very conscious of providing flexibility in the use of spaces. The colour and light of the city is its fleeting, ephemeral nature. The more flexible, accessible, open, and sometimes, the more attractive an amenity is – has shade and people want to use it – helps build audiences. But the audiences themselves cannot be predetermined.

What are some of the pitfalls to avoid when developing new cultural programs?

First of all, the City needs to be really clear about what is happening in the diverse and broader range of cultural activities in Sydney. The last thing we want to do is to duplicate what others are able to do better. For example, in the visual arts, there is already a great biennale [Biennale of Sydney], so why would the City want to reproduce that? Knowing who your partners are and who the other players are in the city is also really important. Another big pitfall is not being open-minded. If you are not open-minded when programming something culturally, you might miss an opportunity to work with someone new and to look at something differently. Sometimes people get comfortable with what they do and they just keep repeating it. So the biggest pitfall is not being open-minded and not being prepared to change to make sure there is freshness, flexibility and difference.

Interested in more on diversity and the arts?

craig walsh

This week renowned Australian digital media artist Craig Walsh talks to arts interview about the impact of diversity on his two year touring artist residency ‘Craig Walsh: Digital Odyssey, a Museum of Contemporary Art touring project’.

Interview by Vanessa Anthea Macris 

How does the technology you utilise in your work help connect with diverse audiences?

I think that technology or tools are always secondary to the concepts that you explore. Having said that, what made a huge difference with Digital Odyssey was the ability to create work digitally and then be able to share it with the community. For example, if we created video projection pieces or documentation of video projection work that we collaborated on with the community, we could actually provide copies of the work to everyone involved. The digital medium allows for sharing and I think that was very practical because it enabled the community to work with it further or utilise it in other ways. Quite often technology can be misused, but in our application it was used really successfully.

Can you give an example of the community you have worked with that went on to use the digital work you created?

Digital Odyssey started off in Murray Bridge, South Australia in February 2010. We worked closely with a group there, who were collecting oral histories from the local new migrant community. Through the process we developed a few projects and one of them was the ‘Home Project’. It was a video portraiture project/assemblage installation relating to the notion of home and what home means to individuals. The installation took place in the local op-shop in town. Following on from the realisation of the work, the concept was taken on by the local oral history group and they applied for grants to get computers and cameras so that they could continue on with the home project. Indeed, the group was able to utilise all the content that we had already developed for the installation while we were there. This way, there was the continuation of the concept, but also I suppose, the skills were shared for e.g. animation techniques that we used. This is just one example of how there was a follow on from the production of a collaborative work, and then how the community took and extended on it.

The Digital Odyssey project really celebrates the diversity of the landscape and population. By responding directly to the environment, was your creative output enhanced or limited?

The way that Digital Odyssey project formed meant that we actually had quite a tight schedule. From the initial project we developed a couple of proposals, which were to be taken as a formal and conceptual structure to each of the communities, but then input from the community actually formed those works to be quite specific and localised. The process was more about developing concepts and a dialogue between these concepts and locations, which became really interesting and important. When we talked to members of the community as part of the Home Project about their notion of home, they obviously responded very differently depending on a location. Responses from people living in Winton, North Queensland compared to Cairns, Ballarat or Hobart are very different. The project in many ways gave individuals in these communities expression through the artwork about their own situation as well as the situation of the community. So it does celebrate diversity, but it celebrates within a context, which is accessible to everyone from every community. This is what is most interesting about these projects; many of them took place in every community and there were different responses based around similar concepts. To me, that shows how diverse these communities are, and I think you only really experience or understand that through doing a project like this and spending large amounts of time in regional Australia.

Can you describe some highlights of the Digital Odyssey project? Did you encounter any elements within your work that seem to guarantee success in terms of the audience engagement?

The project was all consuming and so it is not always easy to identify the benefits or successful elements. We are still going through the vast amount of work that was generated; we created 16 new projects over 18 months. This is a huge body of work and we are still documenting it. Now is the time to distil it, have a look at it and see what it is. A publication will be formed where we can really analyse what took place. For me personally, the opportunity to take this sort of work to regional Australia to develop projects and collaborate closely with regional communities was a really grounding experience. It links me with a sense of place as I perhaps was feeling a little disconnected with the Contemporary art world. It has been a great benefit to me and my practice, and helped me look at what is relative to this continent. Creating work that is relative to Australia, engaging and collaborating with remote communities was a major strength of the project. Other highlights of the project include mentorships with young regional artists, master classes and of course the public outcomes, which affect the broader community. Overall, I feel as though it is an effective model for having a major impact and influence on the communities that we spent time with.

Further reading on arts and diversity:

debbie darnell

Debbie Darnell is the senior policy and programs officer of Participation for Equity and Health section of VicHealth (Victorian Health Promotion Foundation). She works in the race-based discrimination area, specifically with the Arts About Us program and the Building Bridges program. Debbie spoke to arts interview about the Arts About Us program and how art supports VicHealth in promoting diversity.

Interview by Iris Siyi Shen

What is your role in Vic Health?

My role is to work with artists and arts organisations funded by VicHealth to develop projects that start conversations around the harmful effects of race-based discrimination and the benefit of cultural diversity.

VicHealth is keen to support this work because we know that exposure to ethnic and race-based discrimination is linked to anxiety and depression. There is emerging evidence of a link between discrimination and poor physical health such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. Race-based discrimination can also lead to poor self-esteem and stress, which in turn affects physical and mental health.

Discrimination can prevent access to education, employment, social support, and participation in sports, cultural and civic activities – all of the things we need for good health.

We believe health is a fundamental human right and that is why we form partnerships to tackle race-based discrimination. Our activity is geared towards promoting good health and safety, and preventing ill health.

What is the Arts About Us program and how does it support VicHealth in promoting diversity and health strategies?

Arts About Us currently provides three-year funding to 17 community and arts organisations, which have partnered with VicHealth to deliver the pilot phase of the program. This program champions the many benefits of cultural diversity and highlights the harm race-based discrimination causes.

Each project creates and showcases art that strengthens cultural understanding, celebrates cultural diversity, and generates discussion about race-based discrimination. For many years VicHealth has developed strong partnerships with arts organisations to increase participation in arts activities, break down social isolation and build social connectedness. This has included supporting Indigenous, migrant, and refugee communities to strengthen and present their arts and culture. Arts About Us takes this approach a step further by using various artistic pursuits to communicate about cultural diversity, race-based discrimination, and intercultural relations to a wider audience.

Can you provide a successful example that VicHealth has funded, which demonstrates such advocacy in action?

Arts About Us organisations are as diverse as The Torch, the City of Greater Dandenong, A.R.A.B., La Mama and Museum Victoria. Now into their third year all organisations have developed strong programs showcasing outstanding work in their field.

A specific example is Regional Arts Victoria (RAV). Through the Arts About Us program, RAV commissioned works by two of Australia’s leading producers: The Merger, by Damian Callinan and The Caravan Burlesque, by legendary burlesque production house, Finucane & Smith. Both productions have been ‘built to tour’ and will visit regional and remote communities across Australia over the next two years. Each production explores themes of cultural diversity and discrimination, but approaches this task from extremely different perspectives: The Merger tells the story of the Bodgey Creek football club, a club that attempts to stave off a take-over bid by recruiting players from the Asylum Seekers Refuge Centre. Caravan Burlesque is a pop up Parisian salon that challenges cultural stereotyping and breaks down artificial barriers between people.

 In your opinion, what were the challenges in initiating and implementing the Arts About Us program and how does the arts help reach a more diverse group than a standard health strategy? 

While the arts provide a good setting in which to prevent discrimination, research suggests that there is some potential to ‘do harm’ in this area. It is important to identify and match the content of arts activities and communications carefully to increase the likelihood of messages being accepted, and to reduce the risk of reinforcing negative views and stereotypes.

Health promotion uses different communications strategies for different messages and audiences, and constantly refreshes itself. People are attracted to the arts because they are entertaining and can equally create opportunities for dialogue and ‘food-for-thought’. They connect with people on their terms, rather than imposing ideas and messages, and reach people who might otherwise have limited opportunities to connect with issues of diversity.

Producer Artistic Merit is also developing a road-show. This will allow us to reach a much wider audience across rural and regional Victoria. The art projects that will be part of the road-show are mobile touring to traditional and non-traditional venues (sports clubs, outdoor spaces etc.) providing a range of interests that will hopefully allow us to have ‘something for everyone’. The Arts About Us pilot is currently being evaluated and will continue into mid-2012. We will look at the evaluation to work out the direction of the program in the future. The inclusion of a road-show next year will provide greater opportunity for audiences in rural and regional Victoria to enjoy the creativity within the program.

Further reading on diversity and the arts:


Denise Montgomery is the founder and president of CultureThrive, a consulting practice focusing on organisational development, program development and implementation, audience development, and communications for arts and cultural organisations. Denise presented a terrific keynote address about audience diversity as part of the 2010 OzCo marketing summit, specifically citing her experience as the Director of Communications & Marketing at the MCA San Diego, as a case study for how museums can broaden audiences. Here she chats to arts interview about diversity.

 Interview by Krista Huebner

What has led MCASD to look at audience diversity as a major strategic objective? And when you talk about ‘diversity’, what are you referring to specifically?

For the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD)—and for me as a practitioner—diversity is about the audience being a reflection of the community we are serving. Because MCASD’s audiences were not as ethnically diverse as the region in which the museum is located, ethnic diversity was our primary focus. MCASD had been a “lily white” organisation in a posh enclave of San Diego, and the organisation successfully redefined itself in the context of California’s high cultural diversity and San Diego’s close proximity to Mexico. [San Diego is 17 miles from Mexico and the San Ysidro border crossing, which is the busiest international border crossing in the world.]

What are some of the practices you implemented in your time at MCASD in order to achieve this strategic objective?

Since the early 1990s, MCASD has been engaged in a series of artistic and institutional initiatives to expand Latino and other diverse audiences and to embrace the bicultural, bilingual community served by the Museum. This has involved a large number of exhibitions, programs, and partnerships and has been woven throughout all aspects of the Museum as a priority. Three major steps to achieving greater ethnic diversity were opening an additional location in downtown San Diego, becoming a bilingual institution through text panels, publications, many visitor services staff, and a substantial commitment to ethnically diverse exhibitions and programming. In other words, this has not been “the Frida Kahlo Syndrome”, where there is a major exhibition and outreach to a targeted audience, but that audience never hears from the organisation again.

I love the statement “Seek to build relationships, not transactions.” The targeted outreach must be looked at as an entry point for relationship building, where it is conveyed to the audience that they are welcome at all times and that the organisation hopes they will return, and that there are many programs potentially of interest. I championed sustained outreach and recognition that diverse audiences are most likely cultural omnivores, with diverse arts and entertainment diets. It is a mistake to assume that audiences are strictly interested in programming that is of their ethnic heritage, although that programming can be a gateway and an important part of the programmatic mix.

Because Diversity itself is such a broad topic, how did you define what success meant to you? i.e. what sorts of metrics did you use to determine whether you’d become “more diverse” as a Museum?

MCASD looked at the ethnic composition of Museum attendees in the galleries as well as programs. One program that has been very successful for young adult audience development—and that young adult audience has been very diverse—is TNT (Thursday Night Thing). Music is a major lure to this evening event, and the Museum regularly programs a diverse line-up of bands and artist talks. Yes, cocktails are served, but people also really check out the art and listen to the artist talks. TNT regularly attracts 1,000+ people, and the multicultural arts and entertainment line-up is integral to this program.

MCASD evolved from attracting virtually no Latino audience to having steady, double-digit percentage Latino attendance for many years running. In an increasingly diverse society, multicultural audience development is important regardless of proximity to border. MCASD as an organisation deserves great credit for making and sustaining a long-term commitment to multicultural audience development. The long-term commitment is essential – this is not just about spikes in attendance.

What are other effective approaches to multicultural audience development?

Research shows that family programming results in organisations twice as likely to draw multicultural audience. Many ethnically diverse families are looking for multigenerational activities. When I spoke in Melbourne also in 2010, a number of people in the audience said it was this point about family programming that really turned on some light bulbs for them.

Another approach that can be effective is to building on a well-known and beloved holiday within a culture and to create programming around it. The Denver Art Museum and Denver Public Library have partnered with the Mexican Consulate and other organisations in a very successful annual Dia del Nino celebration that draws more than 5,000 people each year. This strategy can increase people’s comfort level in coming to a venue for the first time because there is familiarity with the holiday. It also signals “You are Welcome Here”.

You worked as the Director of the city of Denver’s cultural office, how did the issue of diversity shape your work there and the creation of Create Denver?

Working in the public sector I was especially cognisant of how the arts can create pathways to understanding among ethnically diverse groups of people. I was also very focused on access. I love that the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes people’s right to experience arts and culture, and I felt it was part of my responsibility working in City government to try to give all people in the community opportunities to experience the arts in their lives.

I worked to have the City-organised programs reflect the community and Denver’s unique cultural heritage. We introduced a Five Points Jazz concert that has grown into a major annual event each spring that is a celebration of Denver’s jazz heritage, and we launched a Latino Rhythms Concert that has become a favourite annual tradition in the community. I also increased the diversity of the appointees on the City’s Commission on Cultural Affairs and of the staff of the Office of Cultural Affairs.

Further reading on diversity and the arts: