One of the biggest nights in a First Nations musician’s calendar, the National Indigenous Music Awards (NIMAs) return in 2020, however, with a slight twist.

An event that normally attracts over 4,000 people, the NIMAs are turning to technology in the face of COVID-19.

Due current social distancing regulations, the NIMAs will this year be a virtual ceremony that will connect artists and audiences across the nation.

A new addition to the NIMAs team, Ben Graetz is the first Creative Director at the Awards.

The Iwaidja, Malak Malak and Badu Island man is a role model and powerful advocate for the First Nations, disability, LGBTIQA+ and creative communities and won the 2019 LGBTI Australia Awards Artist of the Year for his alter-ego, Miss Ellaneous.

Graetz is adding his new role to an already impressive resume which includes Artistic Director of the Darwin Pride Festival, Darwin Entertainment Centre, Garrmalang Festival and Arafura Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

Graetz spoke to NIT about the decision for the NIMAs to move forward as a virtual experience.

“Previously we were moving forward in a very different way and all of this happened. We stopped and went, ‘Okay, well the majority of the awards procedure is done remotely and online anyway.’ So, it’s really only the coming together for the event,” Graetz said.

“We can still do that, because at the end of the day awards ceremonies are about acknowledging and awarding our artists. Worst case scenario we can still do that, even if we can’t do it physically.

“For us, the priority is the health and wellbeing of our community—particularly the First Nations community. With COVID-19 things change by the hours, but at this stage, we plan for a really beautiful virtual event.”

“Whatever happens with the world, we will be responsive to that. At the end of the day, we will be acknowledging and awarding our incredible artists for all the hard work they have done.”

In a time where each day is different, many have turned to artists for guidance. Graetz said it seems only fitting to acknowledge and celebrate those who are guiding mob through the pandemic.

“People turn to the arts in [these] times to help them get through crisis. It is a really interesting time to be an artist, particularly in this country because it isn’t particularly seen as an essential job or an essential part of our community, but realistically we make up a big percentage of the revenue in our country and investing back into the country,” he said.

“To really not have that supported at the moment, it is a hard place to be in. But we know that artists will always find a way to be creative and get through it. Coming out the other side … we [will] use all of these emotions and experiences to feed our work.

“With Indigenous culture, it is a part of us, it is who we are. It is our stories, it is our culture, it is our knowledge and also it is one of Australia’s biggest import/exports.”

The NIMAs are set to showcase a diversity of genres and the deadly talent that lives in First Nations musicians.

“The line-up last year and the diversity was so incredible … Uncle Archie and Uncle Jack Charles, then you had all those new ones coming along. Eric Avery with his incredible classical playing, beautiful Garry Lang’s piece and Deborah Cheetham’s opera,” Graetz said.

“[It is] 80,000 years of resilience in a modern-day, contemporary platform and that fusion is just incredible. And you can still capture it all virtually as well.”

All First Nations music released between July 2019 and June 2020 is eligible for NIMA nomination. Nominations are now open at: www.indigenousmusic.com.au.

By Rachael Knowles