RMIT Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow Dr Grace McQuilten says inequity comes from various complexities involving social structures, economic systems and opportunity.
And there is an opportunity – through art – to showcase ethnic diversity and draw attention to the communities’ “human experience”, as well as provide job opportunities and education.
“Art influences design thinking, public policy, urban development, visual cultures, economic change and social policy, but its influence may not always be obvious or direct,” she says.
Based in the School of Art, McQuilten says her love of art comes from how it “challenges us and embraces risk, it explores ideas without a set outcome or goal, and it allows for the intensity of lived experience”.
“Art opens up possibilities for us to dream, to think differently, to imagine new worlds, and to negotiate our individual experiences with the world at large,” she says.
As founder, former CEO and current board member of The Social Studio in Melbourne, McQuilten is contributing directly to Melbourne’s immigrant communities.
The Social Studio is a fashion label, digital textile printing studio, shop and café in inner-city Collingwood.
The studio currently has 20 employees, with 85 per cent from refugee communities, and hosts a number of fashion, music and food events throughout the year across Melbourne.
“Through fashion, food, art and community, the studio unites distinct cultures in a celebration of knowledge, skills and diversity,” McQuilten says.
“Seeing children from housing estates engage with the Studio’s programs and the joy that brings is a very moving experience.”
In 2011, McQuilten was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to study international arts-based social enterprises in Cambodia, Africa, the UK and USA.
Her current research considers the social impact of art and its engagement with broader social and economic systems.
McQuilten’s forthcoming book co-authored with the University of Melbourne’s Dr Anthony White, Art as Enterprise: Social and Economic Engagement in Contemporary Art, will be released this year by IB Tauris (UK).
The book considers new economic models for the arts in the context of social practice, creative industries and transformations in the public realm.
Professionally, McQuilten comes from a diverse international background, having interned in New York at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Dia Centre for the Arts.
In Australia, she was co-editor of Al Muhajir / The Migrant Newspaper and has guest curated at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne.
The Social Studio will release a 250-page book, published by Melbourne Books, profiling the city’s diverse community of artists.
It will be launched at the Immigration Museum later this year.