Explore social justice, inspire and celebrate

I don’t hear the sound of the wealth trickling down. I hear the sound of the excluded still waiting.

The Edmund Rice Centre organised Justice Through the Arts to explore the role of artists in working towards social justice, human rights and eco-justice.

The event focused on the issues of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and reconciliation, refugees and asylum seekers and the urgent need to take action on climate change.

The Edmund Rice Centre is a research, community education, advocacy and network committed to the promotion of human dignity, social justice and eco-justice. Our focus is on working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, refugees, asylum seekers, young people and other excluded groups in society.

The event was held at the end of the first week of the 2016 federal election campaign. Master of ceremonies, former ABC journalist John Highfield, urged participants to remember that the arts can be used as a force of good, as well as bad.

He pointed out that during election campaigns, spin doctors use the arts to convey political messages that may not always be the truth – something to ponder over the next few weeks.

Given the number of students and teachers who took part in the day, it was fitting that there was a strong educational focus in the discussions. A major aim of the day was to ensure that the insights from presenters could be applied in the classroom.

For example, Melina Marchetta, the author of the internationally acclaimed Looking for Alibrandi discussed how her “work is designed to ignite discussion in the classroom…and get people talking”.

Even her fantasy novels include comment on issues in contemporary society.

The coproducer of Rabbit Proof Fence, Christine Olsen, provided powerful insights into the themes of the film. In response to a question about why she uses film to explore issues of social justice, Christine said: “When you’re making something, it’s because you have something to say. But there’s a way of doing it. I don’t like films that badger me. In Rabbit Proof Fence, the context is the stolen generations, but that film is about home and relationships”.

John Falzon, the CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society, delivered a stinging rebuke of society’s obsession with economics and materialism: “I don’t hear the sound of the wealth trickling down. I hear the sound of the excluded still waiting”.

Cassandra Gibbs from the Australian Catholic University, formerly Edmund Rice Indigenous Education Officer, explored the importance of Aboriginal art. Cassandra discussed the way in which art is at the heart of her identity: “It’s more than just about dots. It’s about family, it’s about county, it’s about who we are, it’s about my children.”

IEU was a supporter of this event. For further information about the way teachers and support staff can explore social justice issues through the arts, or in the classroom more generally, contact the Edmund Rice Centre on 8762 4200 or email erc@erc.org.au.

Dominic Ofner
Edmund Rice Centre