On the 25th July, 2015, SAMAG held a wonderful event at Cockatoo Island, discussing new voices in the contemporary arts & how the arts industry should be more diverse and how we should be cultivating the next crop of emerging artistic talent.
Fiona Winning (Head of Programming at Sydney Festival) facilitated the event. Her opening remark was egoless, stating that her generation (creatives in their 50’s +) should move aside and provide a space for the next generation of artists, showing their support and engaging with multicultural artists. She praises Sydney Festival, Underbelly Arts, Playwriting Australia, Melbourne Fringe for their ‘diversity’ approaches.
Fiona introduced the next speaker, Simon Abrahams (Creative Director at Melbourne Fringe and the Chair of Theatre Network Victoria). He spoke how Melbourne Fringe is always on the look out for new artists, different from those in the past. He mentioned the Arts Nation statistics, that the average income for creative artists is 7K and artists from Non English speaking backgrounds is likely to be 40% less and artists with a disability earn 20% lesser than the national arts average. Simon believes in quotas in order to have diversity, an affirmative action in the arts industry. He believes that when applying for funding, like grants, always develop a relationship with the person on the other side. Funding bodies do need to fulfil their quotas and when applying don’t think they are doing you a favour in fulfulling your goals and dreams, in fact you are helping & assisting them. He encourages that artists adopt that kind of mind set. Simon said artists should make connections with their peers, create conversations of the big picture and understand the broader context by working with those who are experts in their fields. Melbourne Fringe opens on the 11th August, he encourages for us to look out for their diverse programme – which he is very proud of.
The second speaker was Erica Helper (the Associate Producer of Electrofringe) spoke on how she came late into the arts in her 20’s and that not many people were like her when she entered the Victorian College of the Arts, as they were white, middle class kids. She graduated from V.C.A. and then worked at the Opera House. Her passion is working with Indigenous and culturaly diverse artists. She believes we should open up existing programmes like the Emerging Artists programmes which just caters for the under 25 year olds. She mentioned how artists should world with different communities – “catch a train and get out of your own community!” She believes in the Lab model however a smaller version of it, if you are “going to go down in your ship, make sure it’s on a small scale. Be a sponge, soak up everything, that’s why I carry around a journal everywhere!”
Nick Atkins (Producer, New Work at Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre & Board member for PACT) spoke how he mainly works in Western Sydney and that 10% of the population is there! He believes in building new audiences, working with communities, pairing up established artists with emerging artists, giving out small commission opportunities to emerging artists and commissioning 2nd stage developments.
Roslyn Helper (the artistic Director of Electrofringe, an artist interested in the intersections between art, politics & technology). Roslyn in fact quit her full time job as an accountant to fulfil her artistic, creative dream. She believes in collaborative spaces, artists connecting with one another and their audiences. She doesn’t believe that artists should live in their quiet little bubbles. Roslyn encourages artists to use the internet, like the popular Instagram platform, looking at non linear pathways.
This was a wonderful event where diversity was highlighted – the importance of working with diverse artists, authentically.
(Note in some practices people adopt the phrase #Diversity when in fact they’re not even from a diverse background nor collaborating with artists from a diverse background. SAMAG and UNDERBELLY arts are practising what they preach. I congratulate them on this successful event).