Juvenile Dentention, Lionel Richie and Art.

On Thursday night (October 13th) I hosted a trivia night at the Bowling Club on York St in Sydney. I’d never been there before but once inside the doors it felt strangely familiar; I could have easily been at Campbelltown Catholic Club or Wests in Leumeah. The event was put on by White Lion, an organization that work to ensure young people who have been inside the Juvenile Justice System find employment on the outside. They asked me to run the night as Lionel Richie and I obliged (only re-“femming” up for the last third of the night.) A couple of my favourite questions for your enjoyment: What is the only country in the World that has an acronym for a name: PAKISTAN! How many possible positions are on a rubics cube? 43 Quintillion! How old is KISS singer Gene Simmons new wife? 28!!!!

I heard a statistic during the night that 60% of young people who do not have employment after they’re released from jail re-offend, whereas only 6% who are gainfully employed re-offend. It’s a pretty massive difference. Then there’s the problem of “offences” over and under the age of 18. In a nutshell if we lose our kids to Adult prison we pretty much lose them for good. Some of the biggest issues for the young folk White Lion work with are environmental, home life, geography- the outside stuff that they cannot control. The overwhelming majority of young people in juvenile detention in Australia are black and poor (I could use euphemisms and specific demographics here, but lets face it poverty and colour are at the heart of the issue world wide.) I get into a lot of conversations with people (with white people in the arts in particular, my conversation with actor/playwright Kate Mulvany at last year’s Sydney Festival comes to mind) about the difference in experience between white and black Australia; they often concede to a double standard regarding the Indigenous experience but cannot agree with my position which is that all people of colour living in Australia have a hard time. Hell plenty of people of colour don’t want to concede this fact. It’s as if saying it out loud will make the elephant in the room start tap dancing, we don’t want to bring attention to that shit! There is also the argument that a “victim” mentality won’t get our communities anywhere, and what we need to do is find it in ourselves to transcend the systemic racism that permeates Australian culture. I believe that everything is everything. I believe that strong role models, hands on action and representation across culture are all crucial to changing the trajectory for people of colour in Australia. You cannot be what you cannot see. If you’re surrounded by the one picture it is very difficult to create an alternate vision, that’s why we need art and culture (i.e. the visionaries) to step in.

Folks may well ask, “what has art got to do with kids in jail?” or how can art possibly impact on young people who live such hard lives. So lets git into it- for me the value of art pretty much starts at pre-school, we spend our lives painting, playing in sand, climbing, dancing, singing, drawing, listening to stories and play-acting. Primary school follows a similar format- edging out the arts to focus on a few more of the social sciences as well. Yet by High School art becomes a choice, and often the choice between- visual art or drama or dance. What would happen if these subjects (these “soft” options) were mandatory? People would argue the point that the industry isn’t big enough to hold anymore Artists, they’re barely earning a living now! But I’m not talking about creating more Artists, I’m talking about creating bigger people. Art is a response to life, art is emotional, art is communication, art is difficult, art is lateral, art is direct, art is on the edge and at the centre, relevant and irrelevant, reverent and irreverent…arts is in the heart, eye, soul and mind of the beholder. Emotional and spoken literacy are key to my argument about the central place art should hold in any great community. Our ability to see (insight/ foresight/ hindsight) and be innovative is directly connected to art. Creativity is the centre of every industry- Architecture/ Engineering/ Law/ Landscape Gardening/ IT/ Education/ Design…. Human connection, communication, language, intercultural awareness and the ability to relate are at the centre of our personal development and relationships. Then there’s the magic, the flight, the moment when you discover what music does to your body, the way your soul leaps and heart beats and the tingle beneath your skin, the laughing, the crying, the ritual of coming together and sharing an experience- yet walking away with a myriad of thoughts, questions and interpretations.

This space gives us the capacity to live better.


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