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Image: Bunggul at Sydney Opera House
Photo: Victor Frankowski via Sydney Festival

We spoke with Steve Dow over Zoom the day after the Mid-Year Celebration of Journalism to discuss the importance of supporting mainstream arts reportage, the need for more diversity in arts criticism, and why we should be looking deeper at what constitutes “arts journalism”.

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following story contains references to deceased persons.

“I’m very conscious that I’m a cis gender, middle aged, white guy, and I’d really love to see a greater spectrum of arts voices writing, from indigenous backgrounds and other non-Anglo backgrounds”

“As arts journalists, we need to help people understand that the arts permeates every factor of our lives, whether it’s books or podcasts or comedy or music or theatre or visual arts”

The other pieces, one was a profile for The Saturday Paper on Rachel Griffiths, and we took a look into the Royal Commission into institutional responses into child abuse. That had particular resonance for Rachel, who’s one of our best known actors, because of her Catholicism and what that’s meant for her and her husband, for whom Catholicism is still important in their lives.

And the other piece was for Guardian Australia — thank you Steph Harmon and Stephanie Convery for publishing me there. It was based on Australia Day [at] Sydney Festival, [where] Festival Director Wesley Enoch had put together a vigil. There was a great celebration in honour of Dr. G Yunupingu at the Opera House, and The Vigil after that concert was down at the headlands past Barangaroo. It was just a nice way of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to get together as a third way, a different way to mark colonisation, invasion, if you like. That was an absolute pleasure and a privilege to write that one.

I would love to see something like that happening in every city. Wesley Enoch’s final year as the Sydney Festival Director is 2021, but his successor has promised that The Vigil will continue on. I mean, we’re sort of caught between the nationalistic, jingoistic Australia Day celebration and the very valid Invasion Day marches, which I’ve also walked along in and supported in my own quiet little whitebread way. But it would be nice to have something where we come together, where there are yarning circles and performers, poets, musicians and singers and so forth. I could really see that spreading, that would be fantastic to see that happen every year.

“Journalism needs to shine light in dark places, and that includes in the arts, which can be the subject of pork-barrelling at federal and state levels”

But the arts is the stuff of life, and perhaps the arts has a reputation as being somehow elitist. It’s not. More of us go to art galleries than go to footy, and those things can sit in harmony with one another. Perhaps we as arts journalists need to make it clear how important the arts is to people’s lives.

“The arts is the stuff of life, and perhaps the arts has a reputation as being somehow elitist. It’s not. More of us go to art galleries than go to footy”

Read the winner announcement here.

Read all the winners here.

Steve Dow
is a Melbourne-born, Sydney-based arts writer, whose profiles, features, essays, previews and reviews appear in The Saturday Paper, Guardian Australia, Meanjin, The Monthly, Good Weekend, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald Arts, Spectrum, Sunday Life, Limelight, Vault and Art Guide Australia. His career began with Syme Community Newspapers, and he has been a staff journalist with The Age, including long stints as a medical reporter and health editor. He believes the arts deserve a greater platform but are being wilfully neglected by the Federal Government, and journalists have a role in demonstrating the arts are the stuff of life.

Watch interviews with the winners of the 2020 Mid-Year Celebration of Journalism

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