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"We will no longer be silent": SA arts workers make a plea for safety

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A group of women, trans and non-binary people working in South Australia’s arts sector have made an impassioned plea for a “zero tolerance” approach to sexual harassment and bullying in the industry.

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In a joint public statement released after a meeting of arts workers overnight, the group vows not to remain silent on sexual harassment, violence, entitlement and sexist and transphobic behaviours and languages in the arts industry ahead of Adelaide’s festival season.

“To the South Australian arts sector, we say: time is up, here too,” the statement reads.

“We say: the arts are not special and there is never a circumstance where someone should feel unsafe or silenced in the creation of art.

“We ask the arts sector to consider the deep and long-term effects that these experiences create, and that organisations implement mental health and well-being strategies as part of new policies and procedures.”

The statement, endorsed by Vitalstatistix director Emma Webb, ACE Open CEO Liz Nowell, Equity SA branch president Elizabeth Hay, independent creative producer Jennifer Greer Holmes and Writers SA Director Sarah Tooth, also calls for industry-wide action.

“We call on the organisations, funding bodies and individuals who make up the South Australian arts sector to commit to ensuring that our workplaces are safe for everyone,” the signatories say.

“We call on our colleagues and peers to embrace the cultural change and leadership that is required to fully deal with this scourge in our sector.”

The statement says that “we too share the commonplace experience and effects of workplace sexual harassment and assault”.

“While not all of us have had such experiences firsthand, we know that we are stronger when we stand united. We raise our voices in solidarity with those who have gone unheard.

“We understand these experiences to be fundamentally based in the operation of power: the power to hire, fire, blacklist, intimidate, shame and otherwise threaten our economic, physical and emotional security. This power operates at all levels of the arts, from large institutions to small artist run groups. It intersects with discrimination and violence affecting First Nations artists, queer artists, artists with disability and other artistic communities.”

The statement was released following a public meeting last night of about 70 South Australian women, trans and non-binary arts workers across a range of fields, and finishes with a declaration that: “We will no longer be silent in fear and just get on with the job.”

Webb described the meeting as “tough but inspiring.”

“Given sexual harassment, assault and predatory behaviour exists across all art forms it was important for us to bring all sectors together,” Webb told InDaily today.

“Sexual harassment is an extremely common issue for women across all workplaces and it’s important that we challenge that.

“We wanted to get the whole sector involved to do something about this in the state and to let the industry know that sexual harassment doesn’t have a place in any workforce.”

ACE Open CEO Liz Nowell said sexual harassment was “certainly prevalent” in the arts industry.

“In the arts and culture sector the personal and professional boundaries are sometimes blurred,” she said.

The meeting heard about a range of specific incidences of harassment in the industry, but the organisers did not wish to talk publicly about the details.

The statement also declared support for a move by Arts South Australia, the government’s arts agency, to make the adoption of a workplace anti-bullying and harassment policy a condition for anyone receiving government funding.

Coming into effect from 1 March this year, the policy would be a mandatory clause in all of the agency’s funding agreements, meaning funding would be conditional on the recipient demonstrating they are prepared to deal with issues affecting workplace safety for staff and contractors.

Executive director of Arts South Australia Peter Louca described the safety and wellbeing of the arts sector as being of “paramount importance”.

“Rather than being an onerous addition to the grant application process, Arts South Australia will provide support, advice and will collate and develop online resources to better inform individuals and organisations in developing or adapting a policy to help protect their employees or contractors,” he said.

“We are also planning to hold a workshop for the major funded organisations specifically on the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace and provide access to training resources for the whole South Australian sector.”

The policy comes as former Rocky Horror Show lead actor Craig McLachlan files defamation proceedings against Fairfax Media and the ABC following allegations of sexual harassment from his female co-stars.

 

The full statement from last night’s meeting:

PUBLIC STATEMENT
Released: 1 February 2018
Endorsed by: Women in the Arts Workplace Safety Meeting

This is a public statement by women, trans and non-binary people who work in the arts in South Australia. It has been endorsed by a public meeting to discuss workplace safety, held on 1st February 2018, at Vitalstatistix, Kaurna Country, Port Adelaide, South Australia.

This meeting has brought together artists and arts workers across multidisciplinary fields, including theatre, dance and contemporary performance, visual art, experimental art, music, writing, film, media, community-based arts, disability arts and other creative sectors.

We work in multiple spaces, including theatres, galleries, studios, concert halls and live music venues, online, on the streets, in schools and in hospitals, and in many other places throughout the South Australian community.

Some of us are artists, working independently or employed by arts organisations and other institutions; some of us are arts workers working within such organisations; some of us do many different roles, in order to make an income in what is increasingly a ‘gig economy’ in the arts in Australia.

We have gathered together to add our voices to the global and national #MeToo, #TimesUp and #MeNoMore movement. We too share the commonplace experience and effects of workplace sexual harassment and assault. While not all of us have had such experiences firsthand, we know that we are stronger when we stand united. We raise our voices in solidarity with those who have gone unheard.

We understand these experiences to be fundamentally based in the operation of power: the power to hire, fire, blacklist, intimidate, shame and otherwise threaten our economic, physical and emotional security. This power operates at all levels of the arts, from large institutions to small artist run groups. It intersects with discrimination and violence affecting First Nations artists, queer artists, artists with disability and other artistic communities.

We recognise the intersectionality of women, trans and non-binary artists and arts workers, and we support the dismantling of additional barriers caused by race, sexuality, disability, class or citizenship.

We know that women, trans and non-binary artists and arts workers often experience the effects of assault, harassment, bullying, gaslighting, and predatory behaviour alone, too fearful of retaliation to complain and without workplace support structures that can protect us. Not only do these experiences have grave and lifelong consequences for individuals, every time these behaviours are ignored, excused and allowed to continue they contribute to a toxic culture in our industry. We note that perpetrators of these behaviours can be cis men, cis women, trans and non-binary, straight and queer.

To the South Australian arts sector, we say: time is up, here too.

We say: it is time for zero tolerance of sexual harassment, violence, entitlement, and sexist and transphobic behaviours and language.

We say: the arts are not special and there is never a circumstance where someone should feel unsafe or silenced in the creation of art.

We say: we 100% support and believe the brave people who have reported their experiences, whether publicly, privately or anonymously.

We call on the organisations, funding bodies and individuals who make up the South Australian arts sector to commit to ensuring that our workplaces are safe for everyone; and that all workplaces implement workplace safety policies and procedures, and codes of behaviour, which aim to prevent abuses of power and that immediately deal with any reports of violent, predatory or sexist behaviour.

We ask the arts sector to consider the deep and long-term effects that these experiences create, and that organisations implement mental health and well-being strategies as part of new policies and procedures.

As we move into the festival season in South Australia, we call on festivals, venues, producers/presenters and artists to ensure that artists and other workers, and audiences, are provided with safety and inclusivity.

We congratulate Arts South Australia for their announcement today that from 1 March 2018, the development and implementation of workplace anti-bullying and anti-harassment policy and procedure will be a mandatory clause in all its funding agreements.

We ask the arts sector to actively work for the removal of the stigma, shame, fear and workplace vulnerability that prevents the reporting of harassment, assault and sexist behaviour. We call on our colleagues and peers to embrace the cultural change and leadership that is required to fully deal with this scourge in our sector.

We ask men to listen, believe, act, speak up, be non-complicit, to stand beside us, and to engage in the emotional labour that change requires and which we have been leading.

We stand in solidarity with women, trans and non-binary people who are working for workplace safety in all fields, not only the arts.

Women, trans and non-binary artists and arts workers are hardworking, passionate, dedicated, skilled and essential contributors to the arts in South Australia. To quote the #MeNoMore statement by the Australian music industry, “In the face of uncountable discrimination, harassment, violence, and the general menace of sexist jargon, we have gritted our teeth and gotten on with the job.”

We will no longer be silent in fear and just get on with the job. We will work across the arts, and in our sub-sectors, to ensure workplace safety and respect, and for justice and adequate support for victims and survivors.

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