The art of embracing diversity

By on February 9, 2014
Creative Conversations founder Cindy Beumer with refugee artist Melika Adel.

FRESH START: Cindy Beumer, right, and Melika Adel.

A BANYO mum is leading a drive to promote the benefits of cultural diversity in Australia by extending a helping hand to refugee artists in Brisbane, and then shining a spotlight on their talents.

Cindy Beumer founded Creative Conversations in 2012, born out of her passion for social justice, a desire to work within the arts community, and a love of other cultures from her many travels abroad.

“A lot of people don’t think beyond what you hear in the mainstream media and from politicians – that refugees are people who come on boats and cause us grief.

“The fact is that so many of them are educated and accomplished and have a lot to offer.

“Creative Conversations is one way we show that to the broader community.”

On the frontline

Mum-of-three Beumer took up the cause of refugee artists when she returned to Brisbane after living in London, where she worked at a 175-bed hostel for homeless people.

“I wanted front-line work,” she says of her UK job. “I’d spent all my life working in government where you’re just a cog in a large machine.” That included primary school teaching, workplace training, database development and supporting witnesses for the Environmental Protection Agency in court cases.

Now back teaching casually, she’s resolved to use her talents and energy to promote the benefits to Brisbane of cultural diversity, with art as the medium for her message. She says foreign influences enrich a society, and should be welcomed.

“Creative Conversation’s whole approach is through personal stories. You can’t disagree with personal stories. We’re not political, even though it’s set in a very political scene.”

Ms Beumer hopes Creative Conversations and its exhibitions can help correct the misconception, encouraged by some politicians, that there is an official queue that refugees who arrive by boat are somehow jumping.

“Nobody is correcting them,” she says, “and now people believe it.”

Art’s in the blood

Ms Beumer is well-versed in Queensland’s mainstream arts scene – she is the daughter of internationally acclaimed Caloundra-based watercolour artists Lois Beumer, whose work was often exhibited at the Red Hill Gallery in Brisbane.

Artists from a asylum-seeker background are often cut off from this mainstream, Cindy Beumer says, which hinders their ability to show their art to a wide audience or indeed to make a living from it.

Creative Conversations helps them through education (excursions and talks, for example) and through connections with established local artist who understand how the system works.

It can also help with subsidised art supplies through sponsorships.

She says art often helps the refugees to deal with the traumas of their past, and the distress of starting life over in a new country.

Showing at the State Library

The organisation curated its first exhibition, Art Talks, in November 2012 at the State Library of Queensland, with the opening hosted by Queensland media identity Jillian Whiting.

Their second exhibition will be staged in May this year, again at the State Library, and will feature about 50 works from artists from backgrounds including Iraqi, Iranian, Afghani, Guatemalan, Sudanese, Nigerian, Congolese and Sri Lankan.

“What we do is quite small but we are aiming high.

“I would love to get champions on board, people who have a public profile already, to champion what we’re about.

“Having said that, I want the artists to own it and it will go where they take it.”

She says she would like the refugee artists to visit school, and for students to create artworks in response.

Creative Conversation artists meet fortnightly at the Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland offices at West End.

About Nick Moore

Nick Moore is the editor of NorthernLife.com.au. He also edits the printed Great Wait. Nick started as a journalist in 1993 and has worked for Fairfax, News Corp and APN.

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