30 October 2015

DIVA…from the heart

In 1991 David Wilkins, Penny Clifford and Ian Jopson wanted to organise an event to celebrate Sydney’s amazing drag queens, their work and the many talents of the people who made up the local gay entertainment industry. They kicked off a community organisation that has existed because of the effort of many volunteers over the years with support from numerous community venues, LGBTI media and local small business.
Over the course of those first few years, David, Penny and Ian realised that the endeavour was too big for three people to handle and as such, they formalised the event, created a committee structure and a not-for-profit company to organise the annual awards night. 
The company’s constitution ensured that the Drag Industry Variety Awards, or DIVA as it became known, remained independent, relevant and focused on the key goals of recognising achievements within and contributions to Sydney’s drag industry for these 25 years. 
It hasn’t all been plain sailing. Hitting a bump in the road in 2008, the old company that had produced the event for 18 years was wound up. The event we celebrate now is under the stewardship of Greg Steele aka Sheila Bliege, who bravely stepped up to carry it forward, supported by a team of dedicated and passionate people. 
Indeed, DIVA 2015 is a time for us to honour all the wonderful volunteers who over the years have worked hard, and with love, to assist this community organisation reach and maintain an important place in Sydney’s vibrant and diverse LGBTI tapestry. 

DIVA Boards, in any given year, have been made up of an average of six directors who each take hands on responsibility for a segment of the company’s business: chairperson, secretary/treasurer, marketing/communications, event management, creative director and awards judging. It’s a very hands-on, grass roots, community-based setup.
 Over the last 25 years, approximately 32 people have served as DIVA directors, which means individuals have given an average five years of their free time. All past and present DIVA directors talk about the experience in terms of how friendships are made and continue as a legacy of their involvement. 
I recall speaking with my friend Ian, one of the co-founders, at our local gym about DIVA and wondered about how I can help. I thought to myself, ‘Is this something interesting to get involved with?’ Today I’m pleased I jumped in for some years, just like many others in our community.
I have benefitted in a ways more than I could imagine. I made friends and colleagues that might not have been on my path or radar. I know this story is similar for many other DIVA volunteers. We still catch up and enjoy re-acquainting.
 With the 25th anniversary of DIVA upon us, I spoke with my friend in New York and asked him how he looks back on his baby.
“I can’t think back upon my 14 years with DIVA without a huge smile on my face and an overall feeling of accomplishment,” Jopson said. 
“The glamour, the spectacle, the sheer tomfoolery and gay abandon will stay with me for the rest of my life.
“I’ve been in NYC for over 12 years now, so it seems like another life, but I still think back with great affection for everyone who worked on DIVA with me over the years. 
“After shedding blood, sweat and glitter to pull off those gigs, sometimes by the skin of our teeth, nothing compares to the feeling of watching the spectacle unfold in front of your eyes, and watching the enjoyment of the guests – absolute magic.”
So as DIVA marks this special milestone, let’s acknowledge the spirit of community volunteerism, and say thanks to all of these 32 people and many others, and celebrate. Hip hip hooray! 

Stu Doherty ex DIVA Chair, Colleen Windsor, Ian Jopson DIVA Founder

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