7 Dec 2020 Sector & Advocacy

Empowering children as cultural citizens

A Tangle production photo. A child with short dark hair is suspended upside down amongst hundreds of strands of colourful elastic. They are smiling at the camera.

An introductory note from Sue Giles AM

On World Children’s Day (20 November), I listened to a panel speak on the invisibility of children’s risk and well-being during COVID19; a panel that spoke passionately and with a terrible sense of frustration about the ever-widening gaps in our responsibility to children and young people. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed by governments all over the world including Australia, is a vital commitment to the social place, safety and basic rights of children everywhere and not enough is being done to make sure that these rights are upheld.  

As well as being Polyglot’s Artistic Director, I’m Vice President of ASSITEJ International, the global association of practitioners in theatre and performance for, with and by children and young people. Recently, in international collaboration with our members, we created a Manifesto addressing Articles 13 and 31 of the declaration, urging all sectors of society to uphold the rights of children and young people to arts and culture and to self-expression and participation.  

There is a deep and powerful link between the Arts and the well-being of children and young people. We work with emotions, curiosity and ideas, enabling exploration, risk-taking, vulnerability and delight. We are nimble and responsive to the energy and desire lines of children. We can offer safety for confidences and wildness for those who wish to fling themselves into the fray. We know what young people have to offer and how we can learn from them.

We urge you to make your voice heard in defending the rights of the child to their place in our world; as contributors and people who have opinions, who care, who need their lives now to be what we have declared they should be.

(Continued after video)

Polyglot Theatre is looking forward to a bright 2021. Together with other arts organisations and the incredible independent artists, technicians and administrators who light up our industry, we are working towards a more resilient arts sector in Australia. We are confident that we can all emerge from the effects of COVID-19 stronger and better placed to serve our audiences.

We are also excited about how we can further empower children post-lockdown. Many decisions were made for them and about them during the height of the crisis, with little age-appropriate information provided. Polyglot’s vision is a world where children are powerful: socially, culturally and artistically. We believe children must be involved in all levels of decision-making about their rights and freedoms.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states:

Article 12

  • States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
  • For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.

Article 13

  • The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.

Article 31

  • States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
  • States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

Children have a globally recognised right to access and participate in artistic and cultural experiences. They are cultural citizens.

However, federal funding for Australian theatre companies that serve children is being whittled away. Over the past ten years, more than 25 youth arts and TYA companies have had their government funding removed. In April, the Australia Council for the Arts defunded five significant organisations making art with and for young people: Polyglot Theatre, St Martins, Barking Gecko, Australian Theatre for Young People, and Shopfront.

In light of the effects of the pandemic and funding cuts globally, ASSITEJ – the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People – released a Manifesto. ‘…much more needs to be done to meet all countries’ obligations with respect to Articles 13 and 31… Children and young people have the right to access and participate in the arts, even and especially in times of crisis.’

It is artists and arts organisations who create the experiences that help us all, children and adults, understand the world. It is through art that we discover and reflect on new ideas and ways of thinking, and it is through art that we explore change and its profound impact on society. Participation in the arts strengthens childrens’ capacity, from their mental health to school engagement, creative thinking, their social connection and sense of belonging, confidence and literacy. Supporting art made with and for children directly empowers children and creates a robust foundation for their bright futures.

If empowering children and supporting their rights as cultural citizens is important to you, we encourage you to advocate for change.

Read and share the ASSITEJ Manifesto

“More than ever, taking action in favor of an equal and equitable access to arts and culture is an indispensable requirement, as we want our children to live in a sustainable and healthy world.”

Sign the petition

No sporting code in the world would say: “There isn’t enough money for our sport, we need to cut our youth programs.” But that’s what we’re doing with our $111 billion-dollar creative industries.

The Federal Government needs to address the lack of funding for youth arts and TYA companies. Join Polyglot and #takethestage on behalf of our young people by signing this petition.

Write to your local Federal representative

Share your thoughts about this critical issue

Support the Australian arts sector 

The Theatre Network Australia website is a rich resource of performing arts advocacy information. Share the importance of youth arts and TYA companies with your network.

Acknowledgment of country

Polyglot acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we live and create, and we pay our respects to Elders past and present. For more than 65,000 years, children and families have created and played here, and we are grateful to make our art on this country too.