Intercultural Collaboration: An Ocean of Possibilities

Dr Laura Brearley

Intercultural collaboration is a slippery and elusive art. I find it a spacious and revealing place to work. It sings to me and draws me in and on. I think it was a mixture of naivety and courage that led me to working in this field. I am a singer, song-writer and creative researcher with an Anglo-Celtic and Scandinavian heritage. What I have learned over the years is that an ocean of possibilities is available when we open our hearts and take the risk to make genuine contact.

Anything can emerge when trust is laced with risk. What we share and what makes us different has room to come alive. There are no formulas for success and this, I think, is a good thing. The riskiness of it keeps us awake and alert.

The capacity to listen and the qualities of trust, respect and openness are central to fruitful intercultural arts collaborations. This is never more so than when the intercultural collaborations are between First Nation community members and people from other cultural backgrounds. We work together against the backdrop of colonisation, the massacres and government policies of enforced dispossession and attempted cultural genocide. The impact of these policies continues today and are evident in disproportionate rates of incarceration and inequities in health, economic and educational opportunities. The list of inequities goes on and is still being experienced by First Nation peoples in Australia and across the world. 

There are many compelling reasons why trust takes a long time to build in intercultural collaborations. Collaborations across cultures can create a bridge for connection, but it can be a perilous crossing. The potential risks of neo-colonial appropriation and misunderstanding are ever-present. The space in-between is where reconciliation can occur.

I have come to see that trust is everything. It is slowly gained and easily lost. Trust is what keeps the conversation alive. There are so many reasons not to trust in this world but in my experience, a kind of magic emerges from the in-between spaces when music and art are involved and an interdisciplinary approach is taken. A spaciousness appears. The reasons not to trust will always be there, but creative engagement and active participation can enable people to see and be seen, to hear and be heard. This is what bridges are made of and this, I believe, is why the work is worth doing. 

There was an opportunity to have a direct experience of these in-between spaces at the Intercultural Arts Program of the Island Whale Festival, held on the 5th – 7th July in Cowes on Phillip Island. The Island Whale Festival, now in its third year, celebrates the arrival of humpback whales and southern right whales in the coastal waters off Phillip Island as they migrate north to the warmer waters off Queensland.

The Intercultural Arts Program of the Island Whale Festival was designed to bring people of all ages and cultural backgrounds together through music, art, science and a love of the natural world. Steve Parker named the Intercultural Arts Program of the 2019 Island Whale Festival, ‘Balert Yirramboi’, which translates as ‘Strong Future’, literally ‘Strong Tomorrow’. Steve is a Traditional Custodian, an artist and musician and one of the Directors of the Yowengarra Bun Wurrung Balug Clans Aboriginal Corporation. Steve has lived on Millowl (Phillip Island) all his life.

Activities of ‘Balert Yirramboi’ included Ceremonies, Drumming Circles, Music and Dance, Song Circles, Song Exchanges, Concerts, a Street Parade and a Collaborative Artspace weaving together music, art and science. Elders and Special Guest Artists lead the activities, all of which were designed to deepen intercultural understanding, strengthen community and raise environmental awareness.

The 2019 Intercultural Arts Program of the Island Whale Festival was auspiced by Community Music Victoria, an organisation dedicated to bringing people together and strengthening communities through the power of music.

Here’s a link to a short film ‘Singing with Whales’ from the Intercultural Arts Program at the 2018 Island Whale Festival. https://vimeo.com/288066243

We acknowledge the power and beauty of the Bunurong/Boon Wurrung Country on which this event takes place. We honour and thank all the Ancestors and Elders who have lived on this land and sung it into being the strong place that it is.

Dr Laura Brearley leads a song at the 2018 CMVic Music Camp

**The latter part of this article was updated by CMVic on August 1, to reflect the fact that the 2019 Whale Festival is now a past event.

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