After working with newly arrived young people, migrants and refugees in the Toowoomba community for five years, Empire Theatre’s Youth Arts Director, Ari Palani has been named as a finalist for the Outstanding Individual Achiever Award in the Queensland Multicultural Awards.
One of just four finalists, Mr Palani was nominated for his Empire Theatre Youth Arts community engagement work at Harristown State High School in the English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) Department.
The program runs each week during the school term with classes of 15-20 students from varied backgrounds, including migrants developing English communication skills and young people who have left difficult situations and environments for political, spiritual, economic and safety reasons.
A culturally diverse migrant himself, Mr Palani uses the arts as his medium of choice, helping the community to build and express their cultural and artistic voices and has contributed to the resilience of his students and their families.
“It’s about using my skills and position as a multicultural artist to enhance the opportunities within our region and communities,” Mr Palani said.
“Particularly for young people, those opportunities include finding your voice, whether that be through language or a personal sense of agency and being an active part of building a community,” he said.
“For as many ups as you discover, there is a multitude of downs that you have to learn from.
“For the type of work that I do, you have to find the ups in the downs and you have find how you can use those to build each other up.
Mr Palani’s important work has extended to his acceptance and study of a Masters of Cultural Leadership at the prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA).
“Sometimes you get to see the big differences where the person you are working with feels like they have understood something new or complex or has expressed themselves in a way they didn’t feel confident in previously,” Mr Palani said.
“But in this type of work it’s the combination of the slight differences that make the huge impact,” he said.
“The common uniter inside this situation is we are all discovering how to speak to one another.
“There is a lot more that connects us than keeps us separate.”
Empire Theatres General Manager, Kerry Saul said he was pleased to see work done by Mr Palani through Empire Youth Arts receiving such a high level of recognition.
“This type of work, which is quite unique to Ari and to the Empire Youth Arts program, has a huge benefit, particularly for new members of our community,” Mr Saul said
“We are proud to deliver a program that engages and offers enjoyment of the arts to the wider community in the way that Ari has delivered,” he said.
“We are thrilled to be able to offer and help deliver a program that extends and offers enjoyment of the arts to the wider community.
“The success of the program and facilitators like Mr Palani show that the importance of the arts goes far beyond an audience sitting in the theatre.”
The Queensland Multicultural Awards recognise the valuable contributions of Queenslanders who support and promote a united, harmonious and inclusive Queensland community.
Winners of the Queensland Multicultural Awards will be announced on August 19.