A genuine multicultural boss

An elder statesman of arts and multiculturalism, Mike Zafiropoulos, talks to FOTIS KAPETOPOULOS upon retiring from Regional Arts Victoria.

One person that could effortlessly be titled a ‘multicultural leader’ is the outgoing Chairperson of Regional Arts Victoria (RAV) Mike Zafiropoulos, who was farewelled by the Governor of Victoria and a range of dignitaries last week.

Mike Zafiropoulos has carved out a significant career over the last 35 plus years as one of the nation’s most energetic advocates of cultural diversity in the arts and the media.

In the late 1970s as the Mayor of Fitzroy, then an inner Melbourne migrant working class suburb, he established Australia’s first multicultural festival, Festival of All Nations.
Zafiropoulos was also the first chairperson of Hellenic Week the precursor of Glendi Antipodes Festival and later the first chairperson of Multicultural Arts Victoria.

He has been a tireless champion of multiculturalism. Unlike many of his peers he has been successful through astute and quiet diplomacy and exceptional brokerage skills and leaves a substantial legacy behind.

Making cultural diversity a focus in Regional Arts Victoria was one of his most enduring legacies
“Cultural diversity was something I brought into RAV’s focus, but cultural diversity is something that I bring into all organisations I have led,” he said to Neos Kosmos English Edition (NKEE).

Zafiropoulos has held senior positions in the Public Service and until recently was the General Manager of SBS Melbourne.

He believes placing culturally diverse leaders in culturally diverse organisations is like preaching to the converted.

“Any one with a culturally diverse background who goes into a mainstream organisation brings in a new way of doing things which benefits those organisations.

 The important thing is to make mainstream arts and media organisations representative of real Australia.”

RAV benefited from his multicultural brokerage skills, it has tripled its affiliates and as Zafiropoulos said to NKEE, “It has an enlightened approach to programming and it now receives more funding from state and federal bodies.”

He highlighted how at last year’s regional arts showcase Multicultural Arts Victoria was there with new groups, something that “has never happened before.”

He is keen to stress the diversity of Australia’s regional areas.

“Too many people make assumption that regional people are less diverse” but as he underscores, the regions are “populated by multicultural people and like multicultural arts, regional arts seek recognition.”

Zafiropoulos is politically savvy enough to know that one must first listen to constituents before programming and creating.

He describes how when in Marysville, to talk to the locals about artists “they discovered my broadcasting background and asked me to advise them on the development of a radio station.”

So naturally he put on his SBS hat and went about securing licensing and funds for a new local regional broadcaster, UGFM.

As Zafiropoulos points out, “One way to win the hearts of any one sceptical with multiculturalism is to deliver services which affect all Australians to show them that multiculturalism is for all Australians.”
One of the most enduring memories Zafiropoulos takes away from his period with RAV was the “warmth of country people.

“It feels that I migrated from multicultural arts to regional arts  and that once again I was advocating for change and recognition for marginalized artists.”

Zafiropoulos has been warning of retirement for years but it seems that like all excellent  ‘Multicultural Boss’  who try to retire, people always find a reason to bring him back.

Zafiropoulos has a list of board directorships as long as your arm.

He currently serves  on the board of Eye and Ear Hospital; he chairs the Multicultural Arts Policy Advisory Committee for the State Government and is on the City of Melbourne Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation. where he chairs the social needs committee of the foundation that grants funds to communities and groups of need.

“I thought I would have more time to do things,” he says in a jovial tone of exasperation, “ but I can’t stop really, as soon as I left the RAV I was invited to chair Channel 31.”
It seems that Mike Zafiropoulos will always be one multicultural boss that can inspire all to the value of diversity in the arts and media.